New New Year’s Resolutions for Safety Professionals

By Phil La Duke

Note: I am posting a couple of days early since so many are eager for resolutions.

Four years ago I posted New Year’s resolutions for Safety Professionals and it continues to get a lot of traffic this time of year. I while I still believe the resolutions I wrote back then are important, I think it’s high time I update them. So here are my resolutions for Safety Professionals for 2017:

Resolution #1: Less Focus Teaching And More on Coaching

We tend to train workers and then cut them loose into the workplace. From learning to walk to learning the most complex thing we know, we didn’t learn it by sitting in a classroom listening to an expert prattle on and on. Furthermore, we didn’t learn it in a single event. We as safety professionals have to team with the training professionals to construct adult learning that leverages structured coaching (not shadow training). We need to provide workers with feedback, but not in the cheese-ball safety observation way, but in a way that verifies that the workers’ truly understand how to do the job correctly (which by definition means safely).

Resolution #2: Wage War On Complaceny

In my 2013 post I discussed the dangers of complacency. In my opinion complacency around safety (“we’re safe enough since we didn’t kill anyone recently”) is the number one threat to worker well being in the coming year, but it’s not worker complacency it’s organizational complacency. We’ve been so busy congratulating ourselves on the great job we’re doing that we have become blasé about the dangers of non-standard work or even overt risks in our workplace.

Resolution #3: Less Observation More Conversation

Despite the years of effort and reams and reams of virtual trees killed condemning traditional BBS, pockets still exist. Stop having people watch coworker work and engage workers in meaningful conversations about safety. Find out what keeps them up at night and what they are tired of reporting and being ignored. Treat adults like grown ups and they will surprise you.

Resolution #4: Unify

No one can argue like a safety professional. We need to find a path to unification and concentrate on the things on which we can all agree instead of the things on which we don’t. From the outside looking in, we look like a bunch of childish boobs who can’t even agree on the simplest lexicon; this most stop.

Resolution #5: Do It Because It’s Right

Too often we fall into the trap where we default to the “the law tells we have to” which begs the question, “what if we don’t?” Instead we need to be led by our own (and the company’s) values. Never tell your leaders, “this is the right thing to do” because it implies a moral superiority on your part. Instead, you might try saying, “I will prefer to be guided by our shared values”. It’s tough for a leader to say, “to hell with our values, let’s do the bare minimum.” If you are guided by your values you will never disappoint yourself.

Resolution #6: Do It Right

Do your job. I have always said the key to success is to get half the people in the organization to do their jobs, half the time. But that’s not enough when it comes to safety, we also need to do our job correctly.

Resolution #6: Embrace the “Healthy” Side of Health and Safety

I think that this particular resolution that I wrote in 2012 is still germane to safety so I am carrying it over. There are a lot of safety professionals who have the word Health (or at least the initial H) in their titles. But even though it is ostensibly the responsibility of the Safety professional, scare little is done to improve the physical condition of the workers.  Even if there isn’t budget for improving worker health there is certainly a financial incentive for improving worker health.  Sometimes workers resent campaigns aimed at getting them healthier. Safety professionals should resolve to reduce the stress in the workplace and to make worker’s lives better by keeping them healthier and feeling better.

Resolution #7: Find the Balance

I’ve met too many safety professionals who are so devoted to the safety of others that they lose sight of their own well-being. Next year find the work-life balance that works not only for you, but for those around you. You’re job is important but you can’t do it well unless you learn how to balance all the important things in your life.

Resolution #8: Drive the Lunatics Out of Safety

We have been running from the LinkedIn bullies, safety snake-oil salesmen, and out-and-out ranting lunatics for too long. I can think of at least 10 of the top minds in safety who have been driven from LinkedIn because of honest to God mentally ill people who use Social Networking as there own deranged soap box. We can no longer sit idly by as our profession is highjacked by these social maladroits, pompous windbags, and profiteers. We need to report them to LinkedIn, we need to write to the safety associations and let them know that speakers selling their Big Red Book Of Nonsense aren’t technical sessions they are commercials. Finally we need to make it clear that while thought provocation is appropriate personal insults, death threats, and email comments that look like they have been written by a meth head baboon (which go, in the case of one who I am sure is reading this) directly into the spam folder unread by me. We have to confront these trolls even when the comments aren’t directed at us unfriend them, stop following their Tweets, block them from LinkendIn and rid the profession of them forever, in other words we need to group up.

Peace unto all of you and happy new year.

Who Are You?

Who are you? It’s a seemingly simple question, but one that the safety community struggles with daily.   It’s a problem when we don’t know who we are because if we don’t know who we are then we cannot accurately communicate who we are because when decision makers don’t know who we are, and what our precise role is, they make bad decisions. When leaders make bad decisions about safety it increases risk and it kills people.

The Zealot

The safety zealot is an idealist, and while that term is a compliment in many contexts, in the context of safety it is not. Safety zealots are inflexible, rigid creatures who see anyone that disagrees as evil and dangerous. Safety zealots are often at odds with company leaders because the leaders know view the zealots as harmless fools at best and lunatics at best. The zealot wants it all and will stop at nothing to get it. Zealots are dangerous because they are unreasonable—they are uncompromising and anything less than perfect is a failure. They tend to see others as uncaring or at least not caring enough.

The Crusader

The safety crusader believes that the safety of workers is his or her job 24-7 and that this responsibility extends beyond the workforce and intrudes into the personal lives of the workers, safety at home, safety in the hobbies and pass times of the workers. The crusader sees him/herself as the one true champion of the worker and believes that making the work force safe is the role of every safety practitioner. Crusaders believes the only reason to make the work place safer is because it is the “right thing to do”, and to talk about safety in terms of cost savings is crass and cold-hearted.

The Philosopher

The safety philosopher likes to argue about things that at a practical level really don’t make much of a difference in actual improvement in safety. Safety philosophers will argue vehemently one inconsequential point against another. Safety philosophers tend to spend hours online shouting down anyone who disagrees with their chosen beliefs set.

The Pragmatist

The pragmatist knows that safety isn’t cut and dry and that if safety is the absence of injuries you can never really measure it. The pragmatist may face battle after battle with leaders who have been swayed by one of the other kinds of safety practitioners. The safety pragmatist understands that zero injuries may be possible, but achieving it and sustaining it usually isn’t practical. The pragmatist understands that his or her job is to reduce risk, and protect both worker and the company. We need more safety pragmatists.

The Accountant

Safety accountants are enamored by numbers. They make pretty charts of body counts and love to show off how much things have improved (or are improving) without really calculating all the costs. The accountants are good at manipulating numbers to make it seem like they are doing a better job than they are.

The Safety Cop

Safety cops believe that if everyone would just follow the safety rules that everything would be wonderful. Safety cops live in a world of rules, infractions, and ruthless disciplinary action for noncompliance. These safety practitioners are often frustrated because operations don’t through the book at people who don’t follow the rules. Safety cops also tend to see the injured workers as careless or reckless dopes without the sense God gave geese. They see workers as the enemy or as children that have to be watched and disciplined constantly.

The Safety Storm Trooper

The Safety Storm Trooper sees him/herself as the thin red line between the lying workers who fake injuries so they can lie around and fraudulently collect disability. When a worker is injured on a Monday, the Safety Storm Trooper defaults to the belief that the injury actually happened while the worker was roofing his brother-in-laws house. Safety Storm Trooper works tirelessly to prevent workers from collecting money from the company.

So Which One Are You?

If you are being really honest you probably are seeing yourself in one or more of these roles. I think we all find ourselves playing one or more of these roles once in a while, the danger becomes when we start playing one role to the exclusion of all others.

If you are interested in reading more of my work check out my articles in Entrepreneur magazine  You can help me out a lot by sharing these articles from within the article.


As (Not) Seen In Entrepreneur Magazine

By Phil La Duke

There will be a safety blog post this week, I promise.  Busy weekend as you can imagine. But perhaps you can get your Phil fix and help me out in the process.  While my articles in Entrepreneur get critical praise, the measure of whether or not my articles are successful is largely based on how many “shares” it gets and in my case very view people share my articles from within the article. So in this season of giving why not give one of these 60 some odd articles and SHARE from within the article.  This is after all the season of sharing.

Destroying the Cult of Safety

By Phil La Duke

Many people have challenged my position that we need to treat safety as a business element, something that has a cost associated with it and that cost has to be managed. My critics say I am too cold blooded, that there is so much more to safety than saving money: it’s the right thing to do.  First of all, when you tell an executive that we have to do this or that because, “It’s the right thing to do” you do two things.  First you insult the executive by implying that he or she doesn’t know right from wrong, and second you are asking the executive to take your word for it instead of putting together a business case.

I have never once met an executive who said, “You know, I would LOVE to hurt more workers, maybe even kill some, but we just don’t have the money for that.” Executives KNOW safety is the right thing to do, and unless your company is run by Satan, they probably are prepared to make the workplace as safe as is practicable. I take some guff for advocating making the workplace only as safe as is practicable.  Shouldn’t we make every effort to eliminate all injuries? No.  To do so would be ruinously costly to the company the only way to sustained zero-injuries is through the elimination of all hazards such that we have eliminated all risk and reduced the possibility of injury to zero.  You can achieve sustained zero injuries by bankrupting the company and putting it out of business.  The unemployed seldom get hurt on the job. But the allure of zero has achieved cult like status among safety nitwits and it is spreading like a cancer to the executive suite.  It needs to be eradicated.

I have endured, both in writing and in person, the sanctimonious lectures of the soft-headed bleeding hearts who insist that zero-injuries is the way, and the truth, and the light. I’m not buying it.  Money is the way to get leadership’s attention, but the problem is, most people don’t know how to calculate the cost and use the formula’s provided by OSHA or the National Safety Council.  Unfortunately for those who use those multipliers many executives will look at those costs and say, those aren’t OUR numbers, and well…they’re right.

It doesn’t take long to calculate the cost of injuries and it’s not hard if you know where to look. I guess I should make the point that there are three kinds of costs: direct, indirect, and associated costs.  I can argue which costs are in which category all day and frankly that’s the kind of purely academic argument that makes some National Conferences so pointless.  Sufficed to say I could argue these points all day…but I’m not gonna.

So where do we begin? We have to deal primarily with direct costs and only those indirect costs that can be accurately quantified. This isn’t as difficult as it might seem although some people in your organization may guard their secret information like some Tolkien villain.  We generally know how long it took to respond to an injury—I have gone so far as to require the incident investigation to identify the time of the injury and the time that work resumed. If we know how much time we spent and we know the wages of the people involved we have a firm cost for an individual injury.  It won’t take long to convince leadership that the money they are spending on worker injuries far exceeds insurance co-pays or Workers’ Compensation costs.

Here is an example of a VERY simplified version of a tool I use to determine the cost of injuries.

injury-calculatorAs you can see wages are far more than just those wasted paying an injured worker to be treated.  In many organizations an uninjured worker must escort the injured worker to the hospital or clinic and wait there for the injured person to be treated.  Of course in addition to wages there are costs associated with treating the worker which can also be substantial, and finally there are operational losses—like the case of a person who cut his hand while working at a grain silo and the entire several tons of grain was tainted and could no longer be sold. Or it might be the material used to make car seats that must be scrapped because it is now blood stained.

As I said, it’s easy to see how one can get legitimately calculate an alarmingly high number for each injury. One piece of advice, however, don’t push it too far.  While every penny counts if you push the envelop of quantifiable costs you can lose all credibility.  Your calculations need to be like Ivory Soap—99.44% pure. Just like the grain with a couple of drops of blood in it just a little bullshit taints the entire figure. What’s more is it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have to exaggerate the costs.  The money will speak for itself, and oh yeah, it really IS the right thing to do.

5 Reasons We Should Be Taking Culture Fit Seriously

This isn’t a piece that I wrote, but it compliments the sentiments I wrote in

Talent Thread

culture imageAt 24 Seven we ensure our clients and candidates will have lasting partnerships. We’ve outlined the five key characteristics to look for in a company. Finding the right culture fit takes time, but it’s the greatest investment you’ll make.

  1. Low Turnover:

When it comes to your interview, don’t be afraid to ask how long the previous person worked in that role. Ideally, you want to learn and grow in a position for at least two years. Joining a company with happy co-workers who are passionate about what they do will make you want to work harder.

  1. Great Training:

It’s also important to ask what kind of training programs the company offers. Learning a new skill not only raises your worth in the eyes of corporate America, but can give you a personal boost of self-confidence. If your company doesn’t offer the training that you are interested in don’t be discouraged, a…

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We Made The Mess We’re In

By Phil La Duke

I’ve started this blog post six times. Each time I begin I get so despondent over the state of safety that I can’t continue.  Maybe my seventh attempt will be a charm.  This will be less a coherent narrative and more like Martin Luther nailing his points on the cathedral door.

    1. We can’t succeed with leaders who don’t support safety. I can already hear the applause from frustrated safety practitioners from around the globe, but before we blame the leaders we need ask ourselves why leaders don’t support safety. Ask 100 leaders if they support safety and they will answer unanimously that they support safety 100%. But as I have explored in previous articles that while everyone supports safety there is a huge gulf between philosophical support (“I believe that everyone should go to work in the same shape they came into work!”) and operational support (“shutting down production for 30 minutes will cost a fortune but I refuse to risk injuring a worker for the sake of production.”). We need both kinds of support for safety from leadership.
    2. Leaders won’t support what they don’t understand. As near as I can tell, there isn’t a single MBA program that teaches the fundamentals of workers safety, and even if there were, they would probably get it wrong. So how do leaders learn about safety? From us, and let’s face it, a lot of us are boobs without the sense God gave geese. We have promulgated the idea that a) most injuries are caused by unsafe behaviors, and b) behavior modification allows us to increased desired behaviors through a system of rewards; ergo c) if Safety provides sufficient incentives for working safely and disincentives for not working safely we will greatly improve the safety of our workplace.
    3. We taught leaders the wrong things about safety. Even if we no longer believe this (or never did) this belief system is so deeply ingrained into our leader’s view of safety that we need to make a concerted effort to reeducate them. Now at this point some of the dimmer bulbs among you are questioning what is wrong with the idea that if we can only make people follow the rules we can have safety? I’ve said it before and I will say it again:
        1. All injuries are caused by behavior; get over it. When was the last time someone you know got injured doing nothing? Sometime last never? So the idea that somehow the safety of one’s actions are binary (safe or unsafe is absurd)
        2. Many behaviors are not conscious decisions. Have you ever been distracted? Driving along deep in thought about the worries of the day, and then suddenly realize that you blew through a stop sign without even slowing down? Have you ever been in a traffic accident? Did you do it on purpose? The reality is this: no amount of behavior modification will keep us from making mistakes and yes causing or being a victim or accidents. (I’ve heard safety professionals smugly announce that they don’t believe in accidents. Well I do. I also believe in imbeciles who think they can magically reprogram the human brain.
        3. Safety can’t be measured in body counts. We as a profession have done a stellar job convincing people that safety is the absence of injury; if we can’t see it then it doesn’t exist. I live in Detroit and I am proud of my home town. That having been said, I can take your children and leave them over night in a bad part of town in an unlocked door. By the body count reasoning, if nothing bad happened to them, then they were safe. If I still haven’t convinced you that there is a boat load more to safety than people not dying load your kids in the car and set a course for Detroit. We’ll try my little experiment, and there’s a pretty good chance that maybe nothing bad will befall them.
        4. Rules don’t trump a robust process and good training. Assuming you still believe in the Hierarchy of controls (or at the very least believe that we implement controls so that people won’t get harmed) then you must accept the fact that when someone is injured one or more of our controls failed. It’s also worth noting that the average Boob-Based Safety proponent spends most of his or her time working on the BOTTOM of the Hierarchy of Controls the very things that we have been saying for over a century are the LEAST effective way of protecting a worker. So effectively, we have taught our leaders to spend the most effort on the least effective ways to keep people safe. WE ARE GENIUSES!!! While we’re at it why not increase production by shortening the work day and smashing the automation?
        5. Past performance is a poor indicator of future success. I once had an irascible attendee at one of my speeches who insisted that a lack of injuries was the very definition of safety. I responded by congratulating him. When he asked why, I explained that according to his line of thinking he could never die in a car crash since he had been driving for decades and had never died in a car crash. “Hell,” I added, “you just might be immortal since you haven’t died yet.”


    4. We made this mess; we have to clean it up. This has just struck terror into the hearts of many safety professionals. Just when we get leaders to listen to us and to “get it” we have to reeducate them on exactly what “it” is. They will think we’re idiots, and you know what? In most cases they just might be right.



Deming on Safety Point 14: The Transformation is Everyone’s Job

By Phil La Duke By far the most universal belief in worker safety is that safety is impossible without top management commitment and action.  It’s also the most offered excuse for the failure of a …

Source: Deming on Safety Point 14: The Transformation is Everyone’s Job