Phil La Duke
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence
I have often said, put three safety nerds in a room and you will end up with seven opinions. This is conceptually fine—after all we are all entitled to our own opininons however stupid they may be. But we aren’t entitled to our own facts. Facts must be sacrosanct in safety because supposition and snake oil get people killed. I want you to think about that for a second. When people make up theories and models and money-making schemes in safety it puts the very people we are charged with protecting in jeopardy of being harmed, and scientifically speaking most of the theories out there aren’t really theories, instead they are hypothesis. What’s the difference between a hypothesis and a theory? “In science, a theory is a tested, well-substantiated, unifying explanation for a set of verified, proven factors. A theory is always backed by evidence; a hypothesis is only a suggested possible outcome, and is testable and falsifiable. … Scientific laws explain things, but they do not describe them.“
If we look at some of our most cherished beliefs in safety the BEST we can say is that they seem to make sense; only under closer scrutiny they don’t.
Henry Heinrich’s theories aren’t really theories at all. That statement is not meant to vilify the man, it’s just that what has been long accepted as fact is really just supposition. People have strong allegiance to Heinrich; he has become as much a folk hero as DB Cooper or Pretty Boy Floyd, and that’s fine, but instead of worshiping the man why aren’t we trying to replicate his work and justify his findings. Some people are. Carsten Bush, Fred Manuel, Alan Quilly have all contributed substantially to the study of Heinrich’s notions (I am hesitant to call them hypothesis) but in the end most of us fall into the Heinrich was a god versus Heinrich was a monster argument.
I’ve been guilty of fanning the flames and I am unrepentant. I don’t believe we should build an entire business discipline on the work of one man, who studied one population, in one industry and take that as Gospel. People criticism Heinrich for not taking notes, an assertion that cannot be proven. People criticize him for being a devotee of eugenics, and while that has an ugly connotation now, it was once—like phrenology or spiritualism—an accepted science. What proof do we have that he believed in the intrinsic inferiority of a given ethnicity or race of some people? I think that his finding worker ethnicity as a root cause (or even contributor) to an injury strongly suggests this, but a suggestion or an inference is not proof. I could go on and on about the criticisms of Heinrich, but he was a pioneer in our field and for that he deserves a modicum of respect.
But we have taken so many concepts and without a shred of scientific evidence ascribed a universality to them. Take safety observations. Paying someone to watch another person work and provide some sort of feedback as to the safety with which the worker performs the required steps is downright insulting, pits worker against worker, and creates a sort of a snitch mentality. But positioned differently, the Behavioral Observation could be an important tool in evaluating the competence of workers, not as a tattle-tale exercise or an exercise in bureaucracy, but as a way of coaching workers who may have drifted from the standard and also as a way of validating the SOP. Of course the person doing the observation needs to know how to do the job, but that is not an insurmountable obstacle.
We need to stick to things that can not only be proven, but replicated and verified. One study does not provide universal truth, opinions should be treated as hypothesis until they can be scientifically studied and shaped into theories which after enough time and study should become the Laws of Safety.
Let me illustrate what I mean. There was a time when the connection between worker deaths and a failure to lock out was a hypothesis; someone looked at the data and thought, “I bet if these dead and seriously injured workers had only taken a moment to isolate the energy and somehow prevent it from electrocuting, crushing, or otherwise causing equipment to kill or cripple a worker I think we could reduce these kinds of injuries. At this point the hypothesis was that if one isolated hazardous energy one reduced the risk of a catastrophic outcome. After examining fatalities where people were locked out versus the number of people who worked without locking out, researchers came up with the theory that locking out/isolating hazardous energy greatly protected workers. Unfortunately, that research proved nothing. It’s still a theory that people who lock out are safer than those who don’t. I know this sounds like heresy but we don’t have an accurate idea (or maybe we do, but essentially we are just guessing) as to the total population of the people who worked without locking out and survived. So at best this becomes a theory. A theory bolstered by the fact that the incidence of people killed while locked out is, I must believe (but again, have no proof) that this is the case. To prove that locking out saves lives we would require a control group (a group of workers who NEVER locked out) and the experimental group (a group of workers who always locked out). From there we could count how many people died from not locking out and have proof that locking out results in fewer deaths than not locking out. Such an experiment is grossly negligent and unethical to the point of criminality, none-the-less it is the only way to prove our theory.
Lack of a critical piece of data is where the predictive element of Heinrich’s pyramid falls apart; we don’t know how many near misses we have with any certainty and therefore cannot postulate the statistical probability of fatalities.
Certainly there are some things that are so obvious that we can take them as true just by using common sense. This leads us to some dangerous areas. Remember there was a time when common sense told us that Eastern and Southern Europeans, Blacks, Jews, and women were intrinsically intellectually inferior to others. Common sense told us that the bumps on a person’s head could be used to predict whether or not the person would be predisposed to a life of crime, and that the world is flat.
Belief without proof is religion and if that’s how we want to address worker safety why don’t we just sit in our offices and pray; it’s as likely to produce positive results as a hypothesis, thunk up by an academic, without anything approaching proof.
I am proud to announce the hard launch by Marriah Publishing of my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives and HR leads (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.)
It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble
I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights.The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence. But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is pepper with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.)
Of course, my first book is still for sale, and you might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rain forest and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly. All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine is gone, and you can basically only go back 2 years on my blog (8 year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is new material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more it can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Noble.com.