Safety Is a Thankless Job


By Phil La Duke

On April 19th I will make my 10th consecutive speaking appearance at the Michigan Safety Conference in Grand Rapids Michigan; this speech quite likely will be my last public appearance (it most certainly will be the only public appearance I will be making in 2016).  I have already have either submitted or am writing my 100th published article (I have 96 currently in print, ISHN has 4 as yet unpublished works, and Entrepreneur another 2, and I am working on a piece for Health & Safety International), and this is my 188th blog post.  That’s represents approximately 300,000 words in print, and (when coupled with my speaking engagement) close to a million hours of effort without compensation. Pro bono work offered in hopes of bettering the Safety Function. These milestones will go largely unnoticed and certainly uncelebrated within and without the safety community.

This sure sounds like it’s shaping up to be a mopey, “woe is me” “no one appreciates me” crybaby  post;  I can assure you it won’t be.  I titled this post, Safety is a Thankless Job, because there are plenty of famous wind bags and snake oil salesmen out there who have published just as much and spoken just as often (albeit for profit) who in their arrogance genuinely believe that they did it alone, and that their geniuses go largely under appreciated.  To be sure I am an arrogant son of a…well uncharacteristic decorum doesn’t permit me to finish that sentiment…but I am not so arrogant as to think I could have accomplished this alone.

So in the spirit of gratitude I want to say thank you to anyone reading this, including the pompous puss-bag to whom I affectionately refer to as “Crank Cox” who reads my work religiously, only to bad mouth it and personally attack me on LinkedIn. Over the years I’ve questioned some of Safety’s most cherished practices and challenged safety professionals to rethink some of the things they do and hold true.  Without the blithering idiots who attack my work, I wouldn’t have the thousands of devoted readers.  So love me or hate me, my first thank you has to go out to each and everyone of you takes time out of your life to read my work.

But my work wouldn’t exist at all without some notable people who deserve special recognition. (If I left someone out it’s either that I honestly forgot or I’m not all that grateful for their “support”).

I have to start with Rick Vlasic, the Chairman and  CEO of O/E who told me that he wanted me to start blogging.  I refused telling him that blogs were the inane blathering of people too untalented to get legitimately published and that blogs were nothing more than “self-indulgent bullshit”. He insisted that it was part of my job, so I did it because it wasn’t worth fighting over.

Barb Fleming, has been a dear friend and supporter who not only introduced me to The Michigan Safety Conference, but also organized (along with Laura Martin) my first speech at Automation Alley. A venue that got me national attention and made it easier to get gigs at places not only like ASSE and the National Safety Council, but also at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and several prestigious international conferences.

Speaking of international venues, I have to thank,  Erica Toms who literally saved my life on more occasions than I can count, and encouraged me to keep writing when I was so sick of the aggravation that I would have easily quit. It was Erica and I who found out how to use key words that robot clipping services looked for and how to use them to feed the Google algorithm to get my work published.

Brett Radlicki has been a friend and supporter from day one and even contributed the illustration for my very first published magazine article, “What’s Wrong With Safety and How to Fix It.”

And then came the editors. It was Mike Riley,  who first recognized that my snarky style and willingness to take on the sacred cows of safety was something his readers either wanted or needed to hear.  Mike was infinitely patient as I blew deadlines and submitted work so rife with typos it looked like it was typed by an arthritic orangutan. Mike had enough confidence in me to give me a monthly column, The Safe Side but more importantly Mike let me explore whatever I wanted to in safety, and was honest with me.  His opinion of my work ranged from “brilliant” to “bland and repetitive’. Sadly the column was dropped after around 45 articles, Mike felt that the pressures of a monthly deadline were preventing me from doing my best work.  Then the magazine was sold and while I have six stories in the can, they will likely never see the light of day.

Perhaps the best creative collaboration I have ever had was with Chris Sanford, the executive editor of Facility Safety Management magazine.  When I met Chris at a trade show and talked to him about the writing I had been doing, he said, “why don’t you write something for me; if it’s crap I won’t run it.”  Chris is an old school editor and perhaps the best thing I’ve ever published, 4 Reasons 8 Lessons, was a disjointed and muddled piece until Chris took his red pen to it.  Chris has always been able to artfully  convey what I was trying to say even when I struggled.  Alas,  the magazine has knuckled under to the belief that the average reader can’t digest  more than 500 word articles, and complex safety concepts don’t always lend themselves to sound bites.  In the event that all my dribble is ever published in a book form I hope that Chris will consider editing it.

Perhaps the two people who are most responsible for you ever seeing word one of my work are Dave Johnson and Dave Collins.  Dave Johnson has published my blogs, added me to list distinguished thought leaders and up and comers in safety.  Dave is one hell of a fine journalist who looks beyond stories of industrial accidents but foments debate,  and tries (tirelessly and often in vain) to help his readers make sense of the soup of chaos that is worker Health & Safety.  His work is uncompromised by advertisers and his editorials ask questions that safety practitioners need to hear.  Dave makes ISHN one of the freshest and most important safety media outlets.  But more than all of this Dave understands the emerging and ever increasing importance of social networking and blogging in  the emergence and refinement of safety thought leadership. As media changes, Dave Johnson will always be at its forefront.  Dave Collins approached me to guest blog for his  I was  reluctant but Dave’s persistence is without peer.  Dave is the king of safety bloggers—with a million hits a year I defy anyone to challenge this statement.  Dave shy’s away from traditional views of safety and his blog makes mine look like an insignificant speck in the blogesphere.  He is taking safety to new frontiers and bringing safety thought leadership to a true global audience.  He has frequent contributions from Dr. Rob Long who manages to proffer insightful opinions based on research and his own storied experience.  Rob is well on his way to taking his place on the pantheon of thinkers like Dekker, Drucker, and Deming.  What I find remarkable about Rob is that he can defend his positions without responding like a pissy crybaby like some safety cult leaders  I could mention, but 1 part professionalism and 9 parts not wanting to get sued prevents (read cowardice) me for calling out the imbecile by name.

This is getting to sound like an academy award speech  and I can hear the music coming up so I will rap it up, certainly Hilda Koskiewicz who has helped me be successful in speaking at the National Safety Council. Dr. Jim Leeman, who has been a friend and mentor and who allowed me to guest lecture to his master’s students at Tulane. Dr. Judith Erickson who along with many is a devoted reader who never fails to further the sometimes contentious discussions. Peter Jan Bots who leads the largest Safety group on LinkedIn who made me one of four feature bloggers and introduced my work to thousands of people (most of whom hated it) and finally Dr. Paul Marciano a friend, early and eager supporter and best selling author whose work while not directly about safety has profound implications for making the workplace safer.

I promised to wrap it up, but I would be remiss without including Mark Donnelly who is perhaps my most avid and devoted reader.  Mark, like me, has an interesting take on safety, has been mocked and insulted for speaking his mine, and has a God-given gift for pissing people off.

There are many others, others not mentioned here, who in there own ways have shaped and molded my body of work over the past ten years, I don’t mean to diminish these contributions in any way.

Perhaps I give myself too much credit here, but as I look at these people and what they have contributed to the world of safety  I’m both humbled to be in their company.  What’s more, as I look at these people it feels like I am looking at the beginning of a new age of safety, a renaissance if you will.  As I reflect on these people and what they have meant to me, what they have meant to the safety function I feel like we all owe them a debt of gratitude, perhaps too great to express in this crumby blog.  Many of these people are frustrated and burnt out, they feel like asking questions about traditional safety practices or offering a better way is a bit like pushing a rope up hill.  I hope they never give up and I know that history will vindicate them and make the Crank Coxes and the Snake Oil salesmen look like Cotton Mathers.




It’s Just Candy


By Phil La Duke

The safety is well known safety lore, how old man (Éleuthère Irénée) du Pont was a pioneer in worker safety because he a) manufactured dynamite and b) employed family and friends. As much as anyone, up to an including,  Herbert William Heinrich, Du Pont has come to symbolize safety, particularly Behavior Based Safety (BBS).  I (along with many others, including OSHA) have openly criticized BBS for its failings, not the least of which is the tendency of BBS to encourage people to under-report injuries and for…well not working  very well.

I’ll warn you, this will sound strange coming from me, but it occurs to me that while many of the most devoted BBS fanatics are soft-headed, mouth-breathing, imbeciles one or two of them may not be that far off. Stay with me. Let’s say you are a 19th century manufacturer of dynamite, using rudimentary, pre-modern manufacturing techniques.  Your business is basically cooking up a batch of goo that you dry into a power and package into explosive sticks, that—if you are lucky—won’t blow up before you get them to the customer. If everyone involves doesn’t do exactly as they are supposed to the whole operation literally blows up.  This isn’t a case where if someone messes up we have a near miss, or a first aid case, or even a single fatality, rather someone messes up and we’re scrapping chunks of uncle Pierre off a church steeple 2 miles away.  So people are careful.  REAL careful, the supervisors make sure everyone is careful, the managers make sure people are careful, and the workers themselves remind each other to be careful. Why? Because in the words of Tom Waits, “It’s the same with men as with horses and dogs, nothing wants to die.”

Things are much the same, or at least they should be, in high consequence industries. If a single error can result in another Chernobyl or Texas City or Deepwater Horizon then it makes sense that every creature with a pulse at the facility has a vested interest in making sure nothing goes wrong and causes an international disaster. So yeah, if you are in a one strike and everyone within a 20 mile radius is out kind of industry, maybe some sort of BBS makes sense.

Except most of us don’t work in those kind of industries and so our corporate cultures are a lot more tolerant of risk; I used to build seats for General Motors (I literally screwed for a living and came home sore) on the assembly line. If I made a mistake nobody much cared.  Sure if I created scrap (like if I tore the fabric on a seat—which incidentally I never did) someone might chew my butt out for ruining a $30 part, but everybody knew that it was just a piece of cloth and that GM could spare the $30 bucks).  The idea that I could screw up and get someone hurt was pretty laughable, and the idea that I could screw up and kill 30 or so co-workers was beyond absurd; and even in the most bizarre, science fiction scenario a zombie apocalypse was thousands of times more likely that a mistake I might make in the assembly of the front seat of a Cadillac would wipe out Southwest Detroit.

And yet the safety pundits want us to treat building seats, transporting parcels, driving busses, and erecting sky scrapers with the same scrutiny and care as if we were cooking 19th century dynamite.

There are cultures out there where worker’s safety matters. Not out of self-preservation but out of genuine decency (there are far more out there that pretend  that they value workers because it’s the right thing to do, but in general that is a steaming heap of freshly squeezed bull excrement).  I’ve seen these places and they are remarkable, but I’ve seen far more hellish landscapes where pride is an alien concept and safety is just something management talks about.

I used to work in Organizational Development, and in the course of that phase of my career I had the pleasure of meeting and working with some genuine screwballs. It was a fantastic experience that made me the person I am today.  There are two incidents from those days that resonate with me (and by resonate, I mean in the true sense; they echo through my mind sometimes loudly, sometimes barely audible they ebb and they flow, but they are always with me.  The first is when a woman who came out of healthcare came to work with us.  She was all business but a sweet and generous woman, but the work weighed heavily on her.  Until one day the burden seemed to have been magically lifted, a friend asked her what precipitated this transformation and she smiled softly and said, “ I realized last night that if I make a mistake nobody is going to die.” You see, she had worked for many years training nurses and other clinicians in the tools and techniques of medicine and surgery.   If, for example, she inadvertently left out a step, or forgot to mention a certain critical task a patient could die.  But the work we did was different, we were writing supervisory skills training so the worst case scenario if we made a mistake was a crappy supervisor remained a crappy supervisor.  In fact, it wasn’t even THAT consequential.  If we made a mistake and left something out, 95% of the course remained effective, so in a way the worst case scenario was that a crappy supervisor might still greatly improve.  For all intents and purposes if we made a mistake not only would nobody be harmed, but in most cases most people wouldn’t even notice.  The second incident was related to me second hand by someone whose friend had worked in a candy factory.  This friend of a friend was something of a perfectionist and she believed that her training had to be 100% correct; perfection was the only acceptable goal and it was killing her until one day it occurred to her: “It’s only candy”.  As I have said, I often think of these two scenarios and I think it applies to safety: the stronger the probability that someone will die from even the smallest deviation from the process the greater the discipline to that process must be.

I’m not saying that we should become cavalier about our jobs and not worry about predicting and preventing injuries, but I AM saying that we can’t live in a safety bubble. Just because du Pont (the person, not the company—I’m not looking to get sued here) did something and it worked doesn’t mean that it will work for us, or even if it will for us that it is worth the time and expense to pursue it.  I’m not defending “save enough” approaches to safety, but every redundant safety system we put into place costs us money. Those of us who have to have a hardscrabble, knock-down drag-out fight for a $50 expenditure knows that it is getting harder and harder to justify every purchase so if we are looking to make our workplace as safe as it should be we need to spend it smarter and more effectively.  And by the way it wouldn’t kill you to spend some of it on me; I work too hard not to get paid for what I do.

So ask yourself this, am I making dynamite or candy, am I building seats or teaching someone surgery? Does this approach to safety REALLY fit my environment? Stop trying to turn you’re organization into the dynamite factory; some of us just make candy.

True Or False: Your Evaluation of Training Doesn’t measure Jack?

true or false

Phil La Duke

OSHA requires that workers be provided training and that the results of this training be evaluated. Unfortunately most safety professionals who design training don’t know squat about designing quality evaluative tools.

For reasons I’d rather not get into, I am taking an on-line safety-training course and it is awful. Apart from the six factual errors in the first nine lessons the methods they use to evaluate training are abysmally bad. For starters, the course designers use far too many true and false questions. What do I have against true or false questions? Plenty.

I read somewhere that the odds in favor of correctly guessing the answer of a true or false questions is 63% (don’t quote me on that since I don’t remember the source or the context) but even if we assume that the true or false question is perfectly constructed the probability of guessing correctly is 50% and so few questions are perfectly written that its safe to say that the probability of guessing correctly is much higher.

True or false questions are generally the result of lazy course development. It’s seems easy to right a good true or false question but it is surprisingly difficult to so. Authors of true and false questions tend to provide clues to the answer by using absolutes, like “must”, “always”, or “never”; if you see these clues you can almost always bank on the answer being false, because one only needs to produce a single exception to the absolute rule set out in the questions. Even something like “all giraffes have long necks and spots” is probably false since if one has enough time and energy one could probably find an example of a malformed or mutated giraffe that didn’t have a long neck and the question becomes false.

Beyond the simple-mindedness of true or false questions there’s the uncertainty of just what the true or false question is evaluating. These questions cannot measure anything beyond the memorization of facts. In her book (the best book on designing training I have ever read and I have read scores of them), Design For How People Learn, Julie Dirksen distinguishes between recognition and recall. Recognition questions are the ones that we with which we are most familiar; they test whether or not we can recognize a true statement versus a false one or if we can correctly choose a correct response from a list of possibilities. Recall questions are more open and may contain numerous correct answers—essay questions. Of course essay questions may not be correctly assessing the learner’s ability to synthesize information and or apply complex concepts in the workplace. Plus they are a pain in the ass to grade and all but the most sophisticated eLearning is unable to process a recall question. So what do we do? We take the easy way out. This is fine if we are trying to teach someone trivia, but for crying out loud we are trying to evaluate whether or not someone can safely drive an industrial vehicle or work in a confined space? Forget whether or not this is the BEST way to evaluate learning and consider if it is even a responsible way of testing these skills. When we provide ineffective training—whether it be in core skills or in safety—people are injured, crippled, or die.

The only way we can truly hope to understand whether or not a worker has sufficient training to safely do his or her job isn’t to write better true or false, or multiple choice questions, it is to be on hand to demonstrate the skill and provide a safe opportunity to practice and fail. By providing this kind of training and evaluating this kind of training can we really be sure that the people we train can do the job relatively safely.

So the next time you find yourself taking a quiz, evaluation, knowledge check, or test and you are asked a true or false question, you can hold in the utmost contempt the lazy or inept developer who took the easy way out.

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Julie Dirksen’s Design For How People Learn; it’s truly a magnificent work that is meticulously researched and cites other great books. In addition to having a lot a great advice for both neophytes and experts it’s an easy and enjoyable read. I found profound applications to safety (as I have been on about so much lately, I truly believe that if there is one element that stands above all others in providing a safer workplace it is training and competency.)

If I can just rant a bit, the only field besides safety that organizations assume any dolt can do it’s training. You got PowerPoint? You got a projector? Well then pull together a deck and train us on that stuff you know. It’s an absurd proposition. I have a degree in training, and three separate certifications in training methodologies, but in the eyes of a lot of business leaders all that means nothing—since apparently the ability to train is imprinted on us at birth like ducklings taking to water.

Never mind that the training combines graphic arts, an understanding of how people learn and retain information, the ability to quickly build a classroom rapport, and other skills too numerous to mention, in the minds of many leaders all anyone needs to be a trainer is a slide deck an audience capable of being bored to death. Things are getting so bad that we know have “webinars” where the first thing the speaker does is mute everyone’s lines so they can pontificate like a bi-polar preacher on acid while people literally work on other things, but don’t worry if you can’t make the meeting the slide deck is available on the k:/drive.



#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #culture-change, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #increasing-efficiency, #loss-prevention, #phil-la-duke, #process-safety, #safety, #safety-culture, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety

Phil La Duke Is A Has Been

has been

by Phil La Duke

I missed last weekend’s deadline by a fortnight.  I just got caught up in other things and had taken the red-eye home from Portland and was exhausted, as time pressed on I remained too busy to put my thoughts to paper.  Then I got all my abstracts rejected by the National Safety Council for its 2016 Conference and Exposition in Anaheim.

I had submitted 26 individual abstracts and received 26 individual rejection form letters.  I admit it was a blow. This would have been my tenth speech delivered at the conference and while I hadn’t yet come to expect a guaranteed slot I had come to think that my chances were pretty good.

And before you think, “what an arrogant jerk, maybe they just wanted a new voice, someone with a fresh perspective let me remind you that this is the organization that trots out Scott Gellar to spew out the same schlocky malarky he’s been shilling for 20 years along with Charlie Moorecraft, who, while a hell of a nice guy, has told his story so many times to so many safety professionals many believe he’s an urban legend.

While it’s true that I have been an outspoken critique of the the Behavior Based Safety quasi-religion, and the NSC has been painfully slow in denouncing it, or even postulating that said approach might be out-dated or even dangerous despite OSHA’s condemnation of BBS programs for promoting under-reporting and questioning its overall efficacy I still have a soft spot for the National Safety Council so I was more than a little disappointed when I was shut out of both the NSC’s regional Texas Conference and Expo AND it’s National Conference and Safety Exposition. I did write to the organizers and ask for feedback (not an explanation, one is neither owe nor expected) as to how I might do better moving forward (the reviews from the audience were consistently positive, very positive in fact.) But these emails were not answered so I can only assume that the 26 topics were not as thought-provoking as the other 300 or so abstracts they received. At any rate as it stands right now, the only public appearance I will be making will be at the Michigan Safety Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan in April.

It’s unfortunate, I turned away other venues in the naive belief that I would as likely as not be speaking in October.  It’s not just the NSC.  Early last year, Mike Riley, the editor of Fabricating and Metalworking notified me that he would be discontinuing my column, The Safe Side saying that I thought I was becoming repetitive. C’est la vie I guess, but a troubling trend since I have 46 articles that were published in the magazine and had hoped that I would make it to 50 before being put out to pasture.

Over the past ten years I have made 20 or so public speeches and published 96 articles and posted  over 200 blog articles, all for no compensation.  I didn’t do it for the fame, glory or notoriety either—of all the things I would have love to have been famous for, worker safety doesn’t rank in the top million. Trust me, the quickest way to shut down unwanted airplane chit chat with a gabby passenger is to tell him or her that I work in worker safety.  No says, “wow, that sounds really interesting” or “wow that sounds like a lot of fun”; as soon as possible they read the book or magazine they brought with them, or lacking that read the emergency evacuation instructions over and over again.

So why did I do it? Why do I continue to do it? To give the field of safety metaphorical intellectual enigma it so richly deserves and in which it is in so dire a need. We still have too many people suffering crippling injuries because their only choices are to either listen to some water-headed simpleton who was put into safety because they were literally too useless for any other job or to figure things out for themselves.  Sure there are some great safety professionals out there, but our whole profession has been sullied by well-meaning mouth-breathers who take a make-it-up-as-you-go approach to safety who have never seen a stupid idea they didn’t immediately love.

So am I washed up? Perhaps, but like so many blasé fads I will continue to go on and on and on. I will continue to question the dubious practices of the Safety fields and the even more ridiculous claims of the snake-oil salesmen.

I’m disappointed to see the end of my 15 minutes of fame, who wouldn’t be, but what is a deeper disappointment is that I don’t see anyone picking up where I left off.  It takes courage—when one puts one’s opinion out into the blogisphere and questions the establishment one risks losing that big promotion, blowing that career making sale, or just in general having strangers adamantly dislike you.  All I can say is that for me it has been worth it, in my own small way I have shaken things up and who knows what the ripples from my tiny contribution to the field of safety will ultimately make.














my latest published article

appearing now in Entrepreneur Ever go into a pitch wondering what the customer is thinking? 

Who Knows What Ineptitude Lies in the Hearts of Workers? Doing Shadow Training Right

Boxing Kangaroo2

By Phil La Duke

“That bear kicked my ass, but that was nothing compared from the beating I took from the kangaroo” —Randy Perry

I had about six topics that I wanted to bring up this week, but in last week’s post I threatened to take on shadow training, so for good or for ill here I sit whacked out of my head on caffeine (interesting side note, I just read that more people are addicted to caffeine than any other drink, of course my source for this is the internet so who the hell[1] knows if it’s true or not. I would have picked refined sugar or narcissism as the source of most addictions but what do I know?

The problem with a lot of shadow training is that it would be more effectively taught by an actual shadow. Companies expect that workers will learn the subtle intricacies of a job simply by watching someone who would rather be doing the job to which he or she has been recently reassigned as if the new employee is a duckling imprinting to the veteran employee. When I worked in a crumbling auto assembly plant (assembly plants were known in some auto plant circles as “slave plants”)  I received shadow training.  My supervisor, Leonard asked me if I had ever worked with air tools, when I said “no” he then asked if I had ever worked with power tools and I said, “yes, but not extensively”. “Good” he said, “if it’s a recliner this sheet (a ratty dot matrix print out) will have a T right here and you put on this part and drive one of these bolts here and here, and one of these bolts here.  If it’s not you put on one of these parts on and drive two of these bolts here and here.  Do the same thing on the other side. Got it?” he asked. “Not really,” I told him. Don’t worry if you get into trouble Randy will help you out.  Randy was a burly veteran who stood nearly a foot taller and outweighed me by a good 150lbs.  Randy was fueled by a dangerous energy of a type you only truly see in the kind of self-destructive adrenaline junkies, tempered by a drug cocktail consisting of copious amounts of alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and whatever his dealer had on hand.  Randy took an instant liking to me, which was good.  Despite his size and sometimes murderous drunken temper, Randy was good natured and when I would get into trouble he would bail me out. (As a complete aside, Randy loved to fight although owing to his tendency to get into fights only after he was so chemically altered that his blood could have required a safety datasheet he usually lost.  He once unsuccessfully boxed a kangaroo, wrestled a bear, and was eliminated from the first North American tough man contest by the man who would ultimately win it.  He would gleefully recount story after story of being beaten senseless in bar brawls.) So it ultimately it fell to Randy to teach me how to safely do my job, not exactly the ideal candidate it’s fair to say.

Shadow training doesn’t necessarily have to be crap. In fact, getting trained by actually doing the job under the tutelage of watchful veteran is arguably the best way to gain new skills, but the training has to be well designed, competently delivered, periodically reinforced, and professionally evaluated. To do that we need to:

  1. Clearly define and document the process. Okay defining a process sounds like a no brainer, but in far too many cases many of the tasks are left to “common sense”, not because people should be expected to know how to do a task, but because breaking down a task into steps can be challenging. A colleague and I are working on a “hazard book” for a client. One would think that two safety professionals could explain why certain conditions constitute a hazard, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty it gets tough. It becomes a bit like explaining something to a three year old who keeps asking why, after a while you get stumped and all you can say is “because”. But you can’t leave out steps because either you think people will “get it” or because you’re having trouble explaining the minutia.
    Defining a process is relatively easy in industry, but give it a try when you are dealing with tasks associated with jobs like accounting, sales, or customer service and you will be surprised at how quickly your skills seem to degrade.


  1. Validate the process. The shelf-life of a process is very short. There’s the way it is done on paper and the way it’s really done. This can be dangerous or even deadly. If there is a legitimate reason for changing how a task is really done than change the process and if not, coach the worker on why the process must be performed as documented.
  2. Develop a task list with a sign-off for both trainer AND learner.   A task list is different than Operator Work Instructions or Standard Work Instructions. A good task list will include safety information and contingency actions if things straw away from process. Perhaps more important is the learner sign-off. It’s one thing to have a veteran sign-off that the learner can do the job safely, and quite another for the learner to assert that he or she feels fully capable of doing the tasks safely while unsupervised.
  3. Augment the training with job aids. Each task should have a corresponding job aid that provides step-by-step instructions on how to safely complete a task. The veteran can then use the job aid to guide the training and to assess the learner’s competency. The learner for his or her part can refer back to the job aid to ensure he or she has not forgotten a key step or task.
  4. Reinforce the Training. Too often shadow training is treated as one and done, even in cases where the new worker spends a week or two with the veteran. A smart organization will conduct the same shadow training once or twice a week after the initial training for the first 90 days just to ensure that the new worker hasn’t drifted from the standard. Additionally, the newly trained worker will likely begin to have questions about the process and have the confidence to ask them.
  5. Evaluate the Training. Evaluating the training seems like a pointless step, but it’s actually one of the most important parts of the training process. By evaluating the training you will gain insight into the accuracy of your task lists and job aids, have a better understanding if the training actually succeeds in building skills, and if this training improves the safety of doing this job.

I understand that this is an awful lot of work and trying to do this for every job (particularly non-standard work) will be time consuming and labor intensive, so you will have to do it like you’re eating an elephant, one-bite at a time. I’ve found that it seems to be less work if you redo the shadow training as you introduce new jobs or hire new people, but that might just be me.

Of course there’s nothing forcing you to do shadow training correctly, many of you will still insist that the best way to ensure safety is to have someone watch someone work and point out there shortcomings; my way is better, but keep doing what makes you feel important, smart, or whatever it is that drives people to stick with doing stupid things.

[1] I recently got called unprofessional for using slang and curse words like “hell” in my posts, as if somehow that undermined the message and that anything I said from that point on could not be taken seriously.  If you are one of those people, let me just invite you to go to hell and rot there.

#boxking-kangaroo, #competency, #effectiveness-of-training, #phil-la-duke, #safety, #shadow-training, #worker-safety

It all comes down to competency.


By Phil La Duke

In any opinion piece, it’s only fair that the author begin by disclosing his or her bias. It’s something I seldom do but I should.  I didn’t start out in safety, I earned my degree in adult education (I was under the mistaken impression that the term “adult” meant X-rated—hey I was 18) and organizational development. So it is through this lens that I see the world of safety. I think we should all be leery of any article that claims that safety all comes down to one thing, but, that having been said, I am beginning to think that selecting the right people, appropriately training people not only in safety but in the core skills they will be using day in and day out.  Unless you have people who know how to do the job you can’t expect them to do it safely. I should say, that in the many years I worked in training I would get frustrated because executives and managers would come to me demanding me to produce magical training that would get people to do their jobs.  I would explain that I could help them if the workers weren’t doing their jobs because they didn’t know how; I dealt in “can’t” behaviors, not “won’t” behaviors.  Hell I didn’t even deal in all the possible “can’t behaviors”. I once had a dullard of a director of sales tell me he wanted me to put all his staff through ACT! (a computer software that I believe has gone if not the way of the dinosaur, the way of the bison).  I asked him a couple of irritating questions: 1) why do they need it? Because I want all sales activities managed through ACT! 2) Why aren’t they doing it now? Well they don’t even have computers let alone the software.  He was, and probably remains a clueless dumbass, and I have dealt with many equally soft headed mouth breathers who believe that training, ANY training, will solve any issue. I’ve also dealt with my fair share of let’s use training instead of discipline. These cowards want training to get people to do things like follow the rules, do their job properly, and or somehow get the people to knuckle under because they’ve attended training.  I was the oddest training guy out there, here all the other people couldn’t wait to do training I was hung up on whether or not people really NEED training and will the training do what the sponsor wants and expects it to do. In short, I wasn’t prepared to do training simply for training’s sake.

And yet I sit before you today preaching that training is the key (or at least a very important part of) a successful safety management program.

I came to this conclusion not because I started out working for 10 years designing, developing, delivering, and evaluating the effectiveness of training; rather it came out of a convergence of events: 1) a colleague asked for help putting together a list of recommended readers for developing non-safety consultants familiar enough with key topics (leadership, training, communication, planning, etc.) 2) I read Julie Dirksen’s Design For How People Learn and 3) I agreed to take the OSHA 30-hour course to evaluate it for widespread use at a client.

While it makes sense that a person cannot possibly be expected to do his or her job safely if he or she has not been properly trained in the job. There are a lot of good reasons for companies doing a less than stellar job of training workers:

  1. A lot of training is just garbage; it teaches pointless trivia, is boring as watching paint dry, and is knowledge-based not skills based. Let’s take that OSHA 30-hour class I am laboring through (what a great way to spend a Saturday). I don’t know who over at OSHA (which is more protective of the content of its training than medieval father was of his daughter’s virginity) but I’m just curious here. What the hell were you thinking when you put together the OSHA 30-hour on-line course? As much as it much stroke your ego to force me to listen to the history of OSHA do I really need it? I mean if you have to grab me by the nape of the neck and force feed me the mission of OSHA can we at LEAST the facts straight—for example saying that it grew out of Triangle Shirtwaist fire is like saying food regulations grew out of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Sure people were outraged, but nobody went to jail, and according to the course it was another 20 years before Roosevelt authorized the government to “advise industry about safety matters” and it was another 60 odd years before Nixon signed OSHA into law. Dirksen has a simple test for whether or not something should be in a training class: a) ask what do they actually need to DO with this? And if the answer is “they just need to be aware of it” then ask yourself “Yeah, but what are they actually going to DO with this again (p.21) b) Ask yourself if the person would be able to do something if they wanted to badly enough. If the answer is yes, it’s not a knowledge or a skills gap (again page 21). c) is there anything, anything at all, that we could do besides training, that would make it more likely that people would do the right thing? (p.21 if you want more reference read the book, it should be required for everyone in safety.) d) and I’m paraphrasing things here, but what bad things would happen if the person didn’t learn this particular point. If the answer is nothing than you are teaching your ego and not skills.
  2. Training developers are afraid of safety. When I was developing safety training I went out and bought a series of pretty crappy safety training kits. You know the style—pop in a video, administer a quiz and viola, your people have met the OSHA regulatory standard for training in a given subject. It doesn’t matter that they are no more skilled then they were before the class but the company is protected. Internal training departments don’t want anything to do with safety because they figure (as I did) that it’s better to have crappy training that meets the regs and gives you someone to sue if it isn’t right than it is to make a mistake and either no longer meet the OSHA reg or worse yet get something wrong and lead to the injury of a worker. All and all it’s better to put up with bad safety training than risk it.
  3. Safety training is, as I said, boring. So boring in fact that it bears repeating. Julie Dirksen has all sorts of cool information on why boring training is something that we seldom retain—for the how and whys order the book you cheap bastards you get my book reports for free at least help her make a living. And no, I have never met the woman, but I hope someday I get the opportunity, she taught this smug old dog some tricks.
  4. But if we don’t fix our safety (and more important largely nonexistent core skills training) we are doomed to a workplace fraught with ignorant people trying to figure out how to do the job correctly. It’s like having the Three Stooges fix your plumbing. Next week… I’ll tell you how to do shadow training effectively.
  5. I posted a link to IMPROV training’s latest course that turns the idea that safety training HAS to be boring on its ear. IMPROV training: Making Safer Choices Excerpt I’ve seen the entire collection of micro lessons (2-3 minute lessons that teach a single point used singularly as safety messaging or combined into a class) and I’m impressed. I voted for it in the ISHN reader’s poll and I hope you will consider doing so as well the material is good, it’s an amusing if not funny look at some serious topics and since the company is just starting out, it could use your support if not your business.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #culture-change, #design-for-how-people-learn, #improv-training, #julie-dirksen, #osha-30-hour-construction, #pam-anderson, #phil-la-duke, #safety, #worker-safety