Risky Business

Ray ban

By Phil La Duke

We all take risks, there’s a saying that when you’re driving, anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac. Okay, I don’t know if it qualifies as a saying, per se, but I’ve heard it said. So even if it’s not a saying, I think most of us believe it. In a way we’re hypocrites—we label the same behavior in roughly the same circumstance as either acceptable or not, largely based on whether or not the risk taken are by us or by others.

I was talking to a colleague the other day on this very subject.  She asked me, “how do we get people to understand their inconsistency in risk tolerance?” She went on to explain that people tend to have one level of tolerance for their own behaviors (“I’m only going to be in there for a minute”), quite another for their loved ones (especially their children “What’s wrong with you, didn’t you even consider…?”) and an even lower tolerance for strangers. This dynamic isn’t hard to understand it all centers around control and outcomes.

Control Versus Misplaced Confidence

“I don’t have to wear a motorcycle helmet, because I am an excellent driver and have so much control over my bike.” I’ve heard this argument so many times it makes me want to smack the person in his helmetless head.  You can race motorcycles professionally, have the best crew that keep your bike in the best possible condition, in short you and your machine can be in an optimal position for tearing through curves at 130 mph.  But, and this is a point that many safety practitioners miss, controls (behavioral and engineering) tend to be static, and we live in a dynamic world.  Tearing across the motorcycle racetrack at top speed may make the driver FEEL in control, but well…you can only control what you can control.  For every element that you control, the condition of the motorcycle, the speed at which you enter the curves, how and when you adjust your weight there are probably hundreds (if not thousands) of things you can’t control, from the condition of the track to the weather to the behaviors and errors of other riders.  In short, many skilled motorcyclists with highly tuned machines go over the high side and end up dead.  Their controls were static and applied to a dynamic world.

But let’s face it, few of us have finely tuned automobiles complete free from defect and are expert drivers with professional level skills.  In fact, most of us just don’t have a clue how out of control we really are.  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I drive better drunk, because I am more focused on my driving and alert to other hazards?” I have, and this is of course hogwash.  Scientific study after scientific study has shown that a seriously inebriated driver is far more dangerous than one that is not (of course, it’s worth noting that the seriously inebriated driver who IS focused on his or her driving is probably less dangerous than one that is not, but that is a ridiculous argument.) We feel more confident taking personal risks because we believe that we can react quicker, use common sense, and retain our own physical abilities to mitigate the dangers of injuries when we are taking the risks.

You’ve probably noticed that I’m talking about us and not the people we are hired to protect (and whether or not that is truly the case is a matter for another post); that’s deliberate.  Until we understand our old role in people’s misunderstanding of risk we can’t truly make any meaningful advances in safety.

I’ve said it before and said it again that “safety” is the probability that we will not be harmed, and if that is true than “risk” is the probability that we will be harmed.  Probability is more than just the odds that something will or will not happen, but that is an exceptional simplification of probability.  I am not a math teacher, nor am I an expert in probability, however there are some things from probability that I do know, and I believe these things apply to safety.  The first concept is what I call the clean dice concept. The clean dice concept assumes that if we were to roll two standard six-sided dice that the odds would remain constant, that the dice aren’t loaded, that is, weighted in a way so as to unfairly return a given result.  In pure probability calculation one identifies the number of equal number of possibilities (assuming clean dice) divided by the possibilities that meet defined conditions.

If we use the most widely known example, the tossing of a coin the formula would look like this: # of possibilities divided by the number of possible outcomes.  In other words 1 divided by 2 = .5.  .5 expressed as a percentage is 50% or there is a 50:50 shot at he flipped coin coming up heads.

The problem with safety is our role is to lower the risk of injury and too often we lack enough information to make a truly informed (and responsible) choice. Let’s take, for example, driving 1 mile to the store, buying a carton of milk and returning unharmed. Well for starters in the real world we don’t have the luxury of “equally likely outcomes”.  Weather, traffic, road conditions, driving speed, other number of customers at the gas station, and numerous other factors are all variables that we would need to consider.  These variables combine to make it less likely that we will accomplish our goal.  Let’s look at just one of them: weather—it could be a variety of temperatures, barometric pressures, types and volumes of precipitation.  It could be windy or calm, hailing or sunny, snowing or blowing a sandstorm.  There are in fact too many variables and they aren’t equal.

There’s also the problem of the condition of “safety” where effectively nothing (or at very least nothing BAD) happens.  Why am I going on about this? Because too many of us believe that the probability of not being injured is much lower than it is.  We as safety professionals artificially (and given the millions of variables at play one could say arbitrarily) assign risk and ominously and parentally warn people of the risk of injury.

So safety isn’t really the probability of not getting injured, it’s the chance that our work won’t hurt us and while it is impossible to predict the probability (nice try Heinrich) of a given injury we can still be confident in telling people that the more variability and risk they add to how they approach the job the greater the chance that they will be injured.

 

Safety Is Hard Work

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By Phil La Duke

Recently I experienced a personal loss. It was the kind of loss that leaves behind the kind of profound emptiness that only death can bring. Since the particulars of the loss aren’t related to workplace safety nor anyone’s business I won’t go into the specifics, but these are the kind of life events that get you thinking.

In the Safety function we deal with loss and to some extent we become preoccupied with preventing loss. But I don’t feel like talking about loss this week. Instead I want to talk about expectations.

Recently, a leader looked at me and said, “when are we going have the workers take responsibility for their safety? That’s the program I want!” A program. A gimmick. The next big thing. A magic bullet. That’s what too many leaders (and frankly too many Safety practitioners) want; the quick fix.

First of all, let’s stop blaming the culture. We as leaders create the culture so maybe it’s time stop bellyaching about culture and get down to brass tacks. If you have leaders—and I include safety practitioners as leaders—need to recalibrate our expectations relative to safety. So I thought I would put down a couple of thoughts and ask you to reflect on them as we speed toward the New Year.

Stop Obsessing on Other People’s Behaviors

How many of you have spouses, partners, or significant others? Kids? Do they ever do things that they know irritate, annoy, or disappoint you? If you can’t control THEIR behaviors how do you expect to control an entire population’s behaviors? After all, these are the people you know the best. You know what buttons to push, what motivates them, their deepest fears, and greatest desires and yet they do things you wish they wouldn’t. How then do you expect to influence people over whom you have no economic control, no power to fire or discipline them, and many of whom resent and dislike you for no more reason than because you are an authority figure, and they detest authority? It’s misguided and no matter how many puffed-up, self-important, “experts” with cheese and sawdust in their heads tell you differently, you will still have to come to grips with the fact we can’t control others behaviors.

Do Your @#$%ing Job

Why is it so difficult for people to do their jobs? I’m not talking about the rank and file, rather the managers and supervisors too lazy to stop a fork lift driver and assertively admonish him or her for blowing through a stop sign? As a leader our primary responsibility needs to be keeping the work place safe. This isn’t propaganda or a platitude it’s how the world is supposed to work. When we walk past hazards and say or do nothing we are accepting money for a job we aren’t doing we’re stealing.

Insist On A Clean And Orderly Workplace

It’s puzzling to me that people who insist on an immaculate home and a perfectly manicured lawn can come to work and become pigs; throwing everything from half eaten food to scrap parts on the floor. People who would have a brain hemorrhage if the decorative candles in the living room are out of place will gladly toil in squalor and filth. Personally I live in squalor and work from home so perhaps it’s time for me to practice what I preach.

Simplify

So many of us work so incredibly hard trying to find an easy way to make the workplace safer when if we just concentrated on doing the three to five things that would make the greatest difference in safety. I don’t know what those things are, but I do know that too many of us have far more than we can effectively do, and in cases when people have more work than they can do they tend to sort their work in the following way: 1)What they enjoy doing 2) what they can do quickly 3) what is easy to do 4) what takes a lot of time 5) what is difficult and finally 6) what they dislike doing. This is a horrible and dangerous way to prioritize safety tasks. Concentrate on what’s most impactful; work hard, make a difference.

Educate

Where do the leaders get these dopey ideas about safety? They get them from us. We go to conferences or read books and we get the leaders all excited about things that we really can’t deliver. Just because some dough head who has never seen the inside of a mine, or walked a shop floor, or stood in a parts and distribution center churns out another book doesn’t mean we have to evangelize the ignorance and stupidity. We need to clearly articulate a message of what Safety can and cannot do. We need to reset their expectations.

 

The Tallest Midget

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I took time from my vacation in Aruba to pen this, I hope it makes up for missing last week’s deadline altogether

By Phil LaDuke

“I’m sick and tired of hearing things

From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites

All I want is the truth

Just gimme some truth

I’ve had enough of reading things

By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians

All I want is the truth

Just gimme some truth”—John Lennon

Okay, so some of you have already chosen to take offense at the title of the article, if you have the courage to read the entire work you may realize that YOU’RE the bad guy here, not me.

Several weeks back I wrote about the many people who work in safety who fret about their fates as long-suffering purveyors of the thanklessness of the job.  By some standards it was a pretty tame, lame, and sycophantic. pablum. The kind of crap bloggers write when they are trying to curry favor with everyone who might someday shell out a nickel for their services, careful not to offend (or really excite) anyone about the subject. It was weak, and even then I got the usual parade of negative feedback.  Some (at least I hope) were tongue-in-cheek, and some were the regular cranks, and some were the high and mighty who chose to take offense.  Offense is offered by one and accepted by another so if something offends you, remember you chose to take the offense it wasn’t forced on you. 

Coincidentally a friend of mine who is producing safety training videos that are funny.  His idea, and I think it’s a great one, is to produce comedic training videos  so that safety training can be enjoyed instead of endured.  There is a lot research that connects humor with learning, and add to that the emerging “micro learning” field and I think it’s a hot idea (if you are interested in talking to him let me know I will connect you, and no, I have no interest financial or otherwise in the endeavor.) He came to me with the script for his first offering (something about making safe choices) and was worried that it might be too “edgy”.  He worried that it would offend some potential customers (“what?!??! There is NOTHING funny about safety!!”) He asked my opinion; if I thought the material would offend potential buyers.  I told him yes, it would most certainly offend some of the soft-headed mouth-breathers in safety, but unless you offend at least 10% of the population you probably don’t have a message worth the carbon dioxide it would take to say the words.  I don’t advocate being deliberately offensive, I’ve been on the both sides of the inevitable ass-beatings that result from picking a fight for no good reason, but trying to please everyone results in something that sort of only pleases the kind of bland idiot that is like your wife’s friend’s husband who corners you at every party and wants to talk about Game of Thrones (I get it you like it now shut up about it.)

The question of whether or not you lose your soul when you dumb something down in the name of political correctness, haunts me.  While I’m about as far from politically correct as one can get, I am not for using deliberately hurtful language, well at least not in a broad bigoted sense, if I’m calling you a “mouth-breathing below average gibbon” these are not words I chose to elevate you, but I mean in general. I just can’t keep up with all the changes; words that were once clinical terms but now offend.  And it’s usually not the effected group that is offended.  Take for example “midgets”, this was once a common usage term that described a person whose physical growth was stunted.  The term was never meant to be pejorative, and then one day, almost magically it was an ugly word used only by bigots who hated “little people”.  To be sure, if I met someone who said, I would prefer you would refer to me as a “little person” (or whatever the hell they want to be called this week) I would oblige them. Frankly most people would like to be referred to as “people” or not referred to at all. You’ll notice pituitary giants don’t have that problem. They have been called giants since the Brother’s Grimm but you don’t hear them grousing about it. It just goes to show whoever thought up the whole “pick on someone your own size” adage was a soft-headed idiot (also a word that was once a clinical term without being pejorative).  Pick on someone smaller and weaker than you if you don’t want your ass handed to you. Although, I’m in favor of not picking on anyone, which is the point.  Trying to be offensive is wrong, being offensive because someone is chuffed that you used a word that is not in there approved social lexicon is buffoonery.

Exactly how does it happen that all of a sudden a word used clinically for years becomes offended.  It’s not like there’s a grand council of midgets that meet in Bern every year and settle questions like, “ what do we like to be called and what angers up our blood?” It’s absurd and no, I don’t believe one has the right to be offend on behalf of someone else because they person in question MIGHT be offended.  It’s like writing for Saturday Night Live where the writers clearly must think, “well I don’t find this one bit funny but the idiots that watch the show will probably think it’s funny; it’s not, and it hasn’t been for a decade.

But as always, I digress.  My point is that works of substance, the things that make us think and gnaw at our guts and seem to threaten our core beliefs, are most likely a little scary.  Taking offense is a choice.  It’s right there in the words “taking offense”.  It’s true, of course that some will claim that I or someone else offended them, or that my style is unprofessional and in itself an affront to the staid dignity of the high and mighty Safety Profession, but to hell with them, I chose to take offense, which is apparently as self-evident a right as anything Thomas Jefferson ever thought up.

If all you do is read safe material that reassures your beliefs (I recommend The Giving Tree: spoiler alert the kid’s a real jerk), and watch news pundits what you already believe you have exceeded Orwell’s nightmare, Big Brother has stopped watching you because the Google algorithm will steer your search engines to things you already believe.  So here is what I would like you to do this week (and really who cares what I would like, but consider it payment for whatever meager value you get from reading this) seek out something that scares you and challenges your most cherished views of safety, something that really digs in and attacks your life view and ask yourself why does this scare me so? Why does this offend me? Perhaps, it’s not the words that offend us, perhaps we are afraid that we secretly do want to call a little person a midget, a disabled person a cripple, or…well let’s just leave it at that.  So for the 10% of you who chose to be offended by this, I look forward to your virulent emails, threats, and trash talk, but remember I struck a cord because somewhere in that uptight spineless life of yours I scraped the scab of your soul and you don’t like how it makes you feel, not about me, but about yourself.

Thanks For Nothing

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By Phil La Duke

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrated in the U.S., and while the dates may differ many countries take a day to reflect on the many things for which to be grateful. The temptation to rifle off some insipid, smarmy, warm and gooey contemplation on gratitude, but alas my private persona is every bit as irascible as my public one and safety remains a thankless job. And while a lot of us in safety bemoan how little appreciated we are some of us use this time to reflect on exactly why should anyone appreciate what we do—after all the best we can do is nothing; anything less than zero injuries, in many people’s mind (both within and outside the safety trade) represent failure. So in a very real sense people say thanks for nothing when we succeed, and thanks for nothing when we fail.

I don’t have the energy for another frothy debate, but a member of LinkedIn, Armand Audette, commented on last week’s post, he quotes one of his contacts, Kevin Burns, as saying “we all start at zero injuries everyday its ours to lose or keep.” I’m a bit torn on this statement. On one hand, it’s a great sentiment and something like a value; something to which we all can and should aspire. On the other hand it smacks of original sin, which we are somehow pure at the daybreak and get more and more sullied as the day progresses. In this, the darker of the two scenarios, to be injured is to sin, it becomes about shame and blame. I prefer to think of it in the former, but that’s a matter of choice I will leave to you all.

I promised not to make this about being grateful, but I do have to say that I have been reflecting on my life in safety and thought that just maybe an expression of gratitude might be worth it.

First, I am grateful that I was dragged kicking and screaming into safety after over a decade working in organizational development and lean manufacturing. I’m grateful that I got to work on a multi-year joint program to transform a company into the safest company in the world. In the course of that project I worked with some of the greatest minds in safety and with a Union that rejected BBS as a “blame the worker” philosophy.

Next I’m grateful for the many dysfunctional workplaces where I have worked, one of which is where I was forced to start writing and speaking as a condition of my erstwhile employment. I fought against blogging, protesting that it was self-indulgent crap best reserved for talentless hacks who couldn’t get their work published by the established safety press. I’m grateful that in the misguided attempt to get fired or at least subvert the order that I create a blog I decided to create a safety blog where I would speak with my own voice.

I wish to thank all my editors (most of whom would prefer I NOT mention them here given my complete disregard for punctuation and grammar.)But I’m especially grateful to Mike Riley, the publisher or Fabricating &Metalworking magazine, who ran across a white paper I wrote and published it which ultimately lead to a monthly column on safety in a magazine devoted not to safety, but to metal manufacturers and processers. Thanks largely to Mike, a whole industry accustomed to safety as an after thought was not having safety presented to them on the same equal footing as quality, grinding, and the latest in fabricating innovation.

I’m also grateful for Chris Sanford, who I met at a tradeshow and who encouraged me to send him some samples (“If they’re shit, I won’t print them”). Chris took some of my roughest work and shaped into something worth reading, truly my best work was done at the business end of Chris’s red pen.

I would be remiss in not voicing my heartfelt appreciation to the likes of Dave Johnson and Dave Collins who ran counter to the safety establishment and encouraged me to go on the aggressive. It was they who recognized that too many people writing about safety were playing it safe for fear of losing customers. They encouraged me to take risks and to push the envelop; to ruffle feathers. They did this not because they hoped to see me crash and burn, but because they judged me to have the guts and thick skin to handle the insults, death threats, and general violent insinuations. They encouraged me to continue when I was both privately and publically ready to quit.

Of course I appreciate people like Barb Fleming (even though her Facebook account got hacked and Lord knows what hell has in store for me now) and Hilda Koskiewicz who have awarded me coveted speaking spots at their respective conferences (talk about a thankless job!) Pieter Jan Bots the driving force behind one of the largest LinkedIn groups dedicated to worker safety who chose me to be one of the sponsored bloggers for the group which helped boost the readership of my blogs and articles tenfold.

I’m grateful for Rockford Greene International co-founder, Pat Sullivan who prodded and pushed me outside my comfort zone and single-handedly helped me to create one of the fastest growing safety consultancy before I was assimilated.

Most of all I’m grateful for my many readers, detractors, fans, and sociopaths that keep me at it. For those I’ve helped, for those I’ve infuriated, and for those I’ve inspired, I am grateful. There are others of course as there always will be; omissions I assure you are both inadvertent and spitefully calculated; if you don’t see yourself here I leave it to you to wonder which.

But where is this outpouring of thanksgiving coming from? It’s damned sure a kindler, gentler Phil. It just occurred to me that for a field so incredibly rife with crybabies and whiners we all have a lot for which to be thankful. Perhaps Safety Practitioners (and all of us really) should focus more on appreciating instead of being appreciated. We entered this field (at least ostensibly) to help people. When we answer a higher noble high road we lose all credit if we whine about the lack of appreciation we received for our efforts. If we truly want to be appreciated we have to do our jobs without complaining; except me off course, complaining is my job.

We Can Predict Injuries, Just Not With 100% Accuracy

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By Phil La Duke

The first snow of any significance of the 2015 winter hit the Detroit yesterday dumping 5 or so inches of snow on an otherwise grey and rainy November day, marking the beginning of yet another Ingmar-Bergmanesque bleak and depressing Michigan winter.  There are those here who love winter.  We call them idiots and we don’t let them use a table knife and fork unattended.  But there was something enlightening about this snow storm that I think is a nice analogy for what’s going on in the world of Safety.

This storm was predicted as most weather is.  Now you can joke about a weatherman being the only person who can get things wrong half the time and keep his job, but with all the Crank Coxes out there, I wonder if that’s not equally, or even more true of safety practitioners.  What’s more, I just read a wonderful book that had nothing to do with Safety (and believe me, I scour everything I read for some kernel of wisdom that can be used to make the workplace safer), Guns, Germs, and Steel.  In this book, the author points out the importances of agriculture in the development of dominate civilizations, and cites a study that showed that weather forecasts are surprisingly accurate—for example, in cases where the meteorologist predicted a 70% chance of rain, that it did in fact rain in about 70% of those cases.

Weather prediction is an apt parallel to safety.  When the weatherman (or lady) is wrong many people openly deride him or her as “not being able to predict anything”.Just as there are many who believe that some injuries are just an act of God.  But in both cases the believe that something is IMPOSSIBLE simply because one failed to do it is asinine; everything was impossible until someone figured out how to do it.

And this brings me, fairly verbosely, to my point.  Zero Injury goals have been vilified by many because they aren’t possible and setting that as our goal demoralizes the organization.  To some extent I have made that argument, saying that to achieve zero injuries we have to be able to predict every conceivable hazard and possible injury.  But is this so different from predicting the weather?  One of the most difficult thing about predicting the weather is that there are so many variables acting in an extremely complex system that one could throw up one’s hands and say that its essentially just a guess. Except it’s not a guess, it’s science.

Science Versus Luck

This article should not be seen as an endorsement of zero injury goals, I have enough whack jobs in my life without stirring up the fervor of the Zero Harm zealots.  The point is, as many have made it more artfully before me, that many Zero Injury workplaces are just the result of dumb luck.  It’s like me predicting that it will snow again tomorrow (by the way the forecast doesn’t call for snow) base on nothing but the pain in my knee.  If it snows my prediction was accurate.  Should I be then given a job as a weather forecaster? What if I made correct predictions for a month?  Unless we know WHY we are correct our predictions can’t be trusted.  And we cannot ever prevent hazards that we didn’t anticipate, all we can do is argue amongst ourselves who bears the blame for failing to predict  the injuries.

Why Are Predictions Are So Poor

For starters, we shouldn’t be predicting injuries, we should be anticipating the possibility of an injury.  People who accurately predict injuries should be jailed (Sorry Mrs. Kelsey, we knew this would happen but we let it kill your husband anyway, what can I tell you? He’ll be missed.”) But assuming for the sake of this conversation that we use the word “predict” to anticipate the consequences of one interacting with a hazard, why then do they consistently fail us?

  1. We don’t try.  I’ve been in enough workplaces where the frontline supervisors believe (and are indifferent toward) the inevitability of injuries.  People get hurt, it just part of the job.  Well if you believe that, then there is absolutely no point in trying to predict how someone might be injured and do anything to mitigate the risk.
  2. We believe an accurate prediction is impossible.  “Yeah right, what are the odds of that happening?” Too many of us believe that it is impossible to predict that an injury will happen.  People are understandably skeptical. Unlike the weather, however, we don’t need to know anywhere near as many variables as a meteorologist.  We aren’t trying to predict the precise moment and injury will occur, or the specific type of injury, heck we don’t even need to predict how severe an injury will be, only that an injury is likely to occur unless there is some sort of intervention.
  3. We look at too many variables. Safety has become alchemy; a blend of science, superstition, snake oil, and guess-work.  We don’t need a good share of the information and tools that we fiddle with to anticipate that a workplace rife with hazards, lax enforcement of safety rules and a culture with a high risk tolerance and a knowing or unknowing contempt for worker safety to prognosticate a high risk of injuries.

Mark Twain reputedly said that everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it, sometimes I feel the way about safety, we all talk about it, but we do so little of substance about it.

The Work Is Temporary Not the Workers

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By Phil La Duke

I spent the month of October at two different conferences, the National Safety Council in Atlanta and EHS Today’s Leadership Conference and of the several themes to emerge one could not have come through more strongly: OSHA is taking a hard stand on the safety of temporary workers.  Temporary, lasting for only a limited period of time; not permanent; transient; not made to last; single use, disposable.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers—temps, contractors, or other workers whose job status is shaky at best. There’s a tendency among many to think of “temps” as worth less to society than the stalwarts who pay mortgages, own homes, and grind it out forty-plus hours (when exactly did we lose the 40-hour work week? When did putting in an honest week’s work become the mark of a disgraceful slacker who shows neither ambition or loyalty to the company?) to buy some meager measure of security. 

I’ve never worked as a temp.  I’ve worked as a “contractor” which was just a euphemism for a guy who works of the books, beyond the protection of the authorities; an outlaw in the purest sense—not protected by the law and no longer a part of the tribe, peripheral to society. Get injured on the job? Screw you. Die because in addition to paying workers “under the table”  the people who hire these workers take dangerous shortcuts? Tough crap.  Working in a job like that changes you; it shapes your perception of who you are.  Treated like a commodity to be used up and thrown away makes you try extra hard to show yourself and those around you that you DO matter.  You over compensate and cop an attitude, but do that work long enough and you start to believe they’re right, that you don’t matter, that you aren’t going anyplace or anywhere that you will spend the rest of your life drifting along the bottom of life.

So why did I do it? It was 1988 and I had been out of work for over a year. People remember Ronald Regan as this great political hero, but I remember a different 1980’s.  For me, in Detroit life, was bleak.  When I caught the break of a lifetime and got a job working the line at a doomed GM plant I wasn’t worried; even though the plant I got a job had a clear and irrevocable death sentence (the antiquated facility was slated to close in less than five years as the work was being moved to the modern and more efficient Detroit Hamtramck “Poletown” plant) I wasn’t concerned.  I was in the GM system, I might be laid off for awhile but I would get picked up somewhere in the system.  I hadn’t counted on General Motors closing 15 plants and laying off 50,000 other workers. A year later I moved out of my rental home, and I was living in the upstairs of my brother’s ancient and decaying farmhouse. I had a baby and a wife. Loss doesn’t come all at once, life takes things away from you a little at a time; I gave up my independence,, my marriage was evaporating under the strain, and finally my pride.  I signed up for focus hope and was able to get government cheese, dry beans, canned meat that I swear I never could learn to choke down. I didn’t qualify for any government assistance because I wasn’t 6 months behind in my bills and they wouldn’t even give me food stamps because I shared a kitchen with my brother and heaven forbid he might eat food allotted for me and my family.  Better for all of us to starve I guess, but I wasn’t bitter (and ma not bitter now) those were just the rules and one thing you learn quick when you are living at the bottom is the rules and how to exploit them.  I joined a program, a Christian co-op where members of some church would “sponsor” you and I could go to a special store where I could buy expired (past their pull dates) food at a discount on the condition that I attend meetings to “learn about Jesus” despite having been raised in a Christian household and despite everything was still a practicing Catholic.  It was miserable but it put food on the table.  Eventually, the grocery store shut the practice down (selling that food even to the poor and the desperate) was illegal; and even though I never liked that scene I had to do what I had to do. Nobody, not my family or even my closest friends, ever knew how bad it was I was able to keep up some semblance of appearances; I would keep that for as long as I could.  When my soon to be ex-wife’s family offered me work off the books I jumped at it.  The work was tearing out stores in malls so that new stores could be built in their places.  There was no training, no PPE, no JSAs, and most of all no social security cards (but I declared the money I earned anyway—I wasn’t likely to earn all that much so taxes weren’t that much of a concern, even though unemployment pay is taxed). It was that environment that turned me into a permament hire and my life and my safety was worth no less then than it it is today

My daughter worked as a recruiter in a Temp Agency and has told me enough stories for me to realize that a lot of temp workers are temps for a reason.  From the stripper who refused to provide anything beyond her stage name to the parade of screw ups who showed up drunk or didn’t show up at all. But there are other stories as well, stories of people who are looking to find their one true passion or their live’s work, stories of free spirits who want to work in an office one day and a warehouse the next, stories of empty nesters looking to return to the workforce, and stories of college grads getting work experience until the jobs they were promised materialize.

OSHA isn’t coming for the kind of companies that I worked for, and they aren’t coming for the temporary agencies, they are coming for coming for the companies who hire temps and treat them as industrial cannon fodder; if, that is, they come at all.

#enforcement, #osha, #safety, #temporary-workers, #worker-safety

What’s In It For Me? WIIFM in Safety

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By Phil La Duke

Let’s suppose your spouse’s cousin asks you for a favor…a big favor (not a sexual favor get your mind out of the gutter). After he unveils his scheme to make big money with little effort and all he needs from you is $10,000 and he can see a $80,000 return in just six short months. Since he makes no mention of interest, a reciprocal favor, or even of paying you back, you’re likely to ask, “why should I?” or “What’s in it for me?” After all $10 grand is a lot of money (about a third of a good safety practitioner’s annual wage) and you worked hard for it…well not exactly hard, I mean you weren’t working in a limestone quarry swinging a pickaxe…but you did earn it…okay some might argue with that point as well…at any rate it’s YOURS and you aren’t just going to give it to some shirt-tail relative with his hand out.

In adult education the idea of “What’s In It For Me” commonly called WIIFM (pronounced “whiff em”) is seen as a key to adult learners. Children will learn because the teacher is an authority figure and there are real life consequences for not learning. Adults have a choice whether to listen to you or not and that choice is made very early in the discussion. Far more likely than not, the adult learner will decide in short order whether or not you are worth listening to and that depends largely on the perceived benefit to the adult; the WIIFM. WIIFM can be boiled down to two elements: “are you credible?” and “is what you are offering personally going to benefit me?”

It would make perfect sense to assume that everyone can see the personal value in workplace safety, after all isn’t coming home safe in a state of aliveness reward enough?, but in many cases that assumption is just plain wrong. First, in a lot of cases the safety professional lacks the requisite credibility for workers to take him or her seriously. Throughout my career I have met some truly brilliant safety professionals, but then again, I have met many puffed up mouth breathers who think that by nature of their safety merit badge people should listen to whatever dreck they drool out their gaping gobs.

Too many safety professionals miss the important first step of establishing credibility and rapport. Establishing credibility is more than convincing people that you know what you’re talking about, that you have a real command of safety in all its forms. Credibility also means that you have standing to talk to ME about MY world. I have worked the lines of assembly lines, swung a sledge hammer doing demolition work, worked construction, was a farm hand and a janitor, (with my mouth and attitude its tough to keep a job) but none of those things mean squat to a worker in hotel maintenance. Unless I can draw parallels between my job experience and his I won’t ever truly be credible. I have to be able to demonstrate my understanding and empathy quickly. Sometimes I have been effective by turning that around, and admitting flat out that I don’t know what it’s like to work as breeder on an emu ranch, and then ask for his help in helping to explain the challenges of that world. It’s a powerful dynamic that usually works. If I show genuine interest in understanding other people’s worlds they will generally share their frustrations and   challenges. If I can empathize with their struggles it generally establishes enough credibility to satisfy the first part of credibility. Because I have admitted that I don’t know what they go through I can be trusted; I’m not a know it all. In fact, in these instances I have shared a safety concept and had a person ask me a question like, “okay that’s fine for oil and gas, but how does that apply to the entertainment business”. That may sound like a challenge to your authority, and safety professionals who believe that their authority and credibility rests on their 56 years of experience or the letters after their name (PCP, CHIMP, etc.) will be outraged that someone dare question them on this, but in fact, this is an invitation to have a dialog, where the two of you (and others in the group) can use your experience in other industries and education and their first hand knowledge or their situation to together solve the riddle. It’s a great place to be, because it demonstrates that they have already found some portion of WIIFM and you can build from there.

The second part of credibility (and thus WIIFM) lies in whether what you have to say is valuable to the listener. If your message is relative to working at heights, and I know (or believe) that I will never work at heights than listening to you is at least perceived to be (if not actually) a waste of time. It doesn’t matter that a good portion of your message applies to everyone (everyone needs to know to remind people to where height protection, or people need to be aware of the dangers posed to people on the ground when people are working above them) because as soon as the listener has decided that the message doesn’t apply to them they stop listening and don’t resume listening later. In these cases I usually start the message with the most general information first “working at heights poses a risk to all workers—the person working at heights could fall obviously, but people working beneath the improperly secured worker could be injured when the worker falls on him or her or by a dropped tool, and because we are all at risk we all need to remind workers who are going to be working at heights to use fall protection”). From there, it’s important to address the population least at risk first and continue narrowing the focus until you get to the relative handful of workers who need it the most.

Another factor that we battle in safety in creating a meaningful WIIFM is that a lot of the stuff that we have to say or present to all employees under penalty of law, doesn’t really apply to all workers and they know it. Where’s the benefit of requiring me to where steel-toed shoes when I might go into an area where there might be a possibility that I might encounter a hazard with which I might interact and if I interact I might have a heavy object fall on my toes and the steel toed shoes might prevent my toes from being crushed? Yeah right, and the moon MIGHT fall out of the sky so be sure and wear your hard hats at nights