If You Didn’t Come Here To Be Liked You Came To The Right Place

facebook-dislike

By Phil La Duke

NOTE: If you are reading this, thank you. The fact that you took the time to read this and maybe even reflected on these points before making a comment either here or on LinkedIn means a lot to me. Maybe there’s hope for us all after all. Sorry for that interruption so without further delay…

We have a lot of disagreements in the world of safety, but the one I find most interesting is whether or not the organization likes the safety professional. For my part, I would like to think the population should like the safety professional. What’s not to like, this is a person whose job it is to ensure to the extent possible that the place where we work won’t kill us. To others, being hated by the population is a badge of honor; some so much so that they mistake hatred for respect.

Some time ago I sat through a course on hazard recognition, and while the content was very good the instructor well…at one point he turned to the plant safety professionals and said with a simpleton’s grin, “you will be the most hated men in the plant”. More recently, a safety veteran told me that he tried not to get too friendly with the workers because it could compromise his effectiveness when he had to “get on them about wearing PPE or some other rule infraction”.

It gets to a “chicken or the egg” situation, do people dislike the safety professional because he or she does his job well, or is the safety professional able to do his or her job more effectively because he or she is disliked.

There are two ways to look at the job of safety professional: as a key resource for making the organization more effective, or as the hammer that enforces the rules.

At the heart of the argument is this: are safety practitioners little more than safety cops—jack-booted thugs doing the bidding of Human Resources? Or is there job to focus not on rules and enforcement but on making the company better, not just at safety but overall.

I don’t think a person can be effective in the safety role without being three things: liked, capable, and fair. If I am hated for these things, and I’ve worked for a couple of places over the years who thought I was too friendly (no I wasn’t dragged into HR, get your mind out of the gutter) but I have always put myself in the worker’s shoes and when some puffed up, self-important safety goof drunk on his supposed power told me to do something I would ask myself two questions: 1) can this ass-clown fire me? And 2) does this drooling idiot have my best interest in mind or is he just trying to show me he’s the boss? Well guess what, you can’t MAKE me do anything. I’m an adult and I will decide what I do and live with the consequences. Write me up? I’ve been written up before—it doesn’t mean squat. Fire me? Well then you just went from a guy with some meager financial control over me to a man I intensely dislike and who fired me. Just a guy. A guy I might meet at a gas station, or a supermarket, or a bar. Just a guy who took pride in the fact that people hate him, and now he’s face to face with a guy who hates him. Or maybe he won’t be face to face, maybe he’ll be jaywalking and someone he was once so proud to be hated by will be driving down the road. Just a guy. Or maybe I’ll just hate you, do EXACTLY what you say in my finest passive aggressiveness and patiently undermine everything you try to do until they fire you and can go find a job and make a whole new workplace hate you. Either way what have you accomplished besides being thought of as various body parts to which people don’t like being compared? Nothing. You have done nothing but puff up your ego. You can tell yourself you saved lives but we both know you added more risk than you subtracted.

Personally, the best safety professionals I’ve ever met, (and for the record I have met many exceptional, dedicated, fun, and all around great human beings who work in safety, but just like the chocolate covered roach in the box of Raisonettes all it takes is one to make you view the entire population with a hint of suspicion and distaste) tend to be liked and respected by the population; they’re not seen as tyrants or cops, but as pretty cool people who are watching your back and making sure (as best they can) that you work you do doesn’t kill you or make you sick; they’re the guys[1] who are there for you. If I like the safety guy and he or she knows me I am more likely to listen to what they are asking me (not telling me) to do. They will tell me why I need to do it, what the potential risks are for not doing it, and often ask me to help them out by complying. If I have a friendly relationship with the safety guy I am likely to comply just because I know that at least in his or her mind they only want what’s best for me. And if by chance there comes a day when he is just a guy I meet in a bar, well chances are pretty good I’m going to be glad to seem him and buy that man a beer; because he’s just a guy who spent so much time looking out for me and I appreciate it and I like him.

Now, which guy do YOU want to be?

 

 

[1] The word “guy” is a gender neutral term; look it up.

#attitude, #behavior-based-safety, #culture-change, #phil-la-duke, #safety, #worker-safety

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

It all comes down to competency.

imbecile

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 http://awards.ishn.com/readers 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

Calculating the Cost of Nothing

Hundred dollar bill fade

By Phil La Duke

I’ve been writing this blog for almost 10 years (I started in July 2016) and during a decade of writing it, I haven’t said much about what I do; that is to say, I don’t share much about my day job. In part that’s to protect my client’s confidentiality, and partly because I don’t want to lose credibility by turning this into a weekly commercial. If I’m quiet about my work, mostly it’s because I want to explore and debunk the cherished truisms of safety. But today I have to explain a little of what I do to provide a context for the topic d’jour.

So what is it that I do? Years ago, working with a team of system management and OD experts I developed a revolutionary approach to worker safety for a major manufacturer (even though what I am about to divulge has been made public by the company I’m not going to mention the company for the sake of professional decorum and for all intents and purposes it doesn’t matter.) By the companies own calculations the new system had lowered its Incident Rate from 17.5 to 3.5 after five years, its severity rate had fallen over 90%, and by its reckoning, it had avoided over 14,000 injuries and reduced its Worker’s Compensation costs by over $55 million. We were all pretty pleased with ourselves, when the old school defenders questioned if we really saved any money or did they just get lucky. I devised a way to determine if it was because of the organizational changes using statistical analysis. It was crude by mathematical academic standards (there was a lot of “noise” in the data) but it was enough to determine, statistically speaking, where the company would have ended up had it done nothing (standard progression) and where it did end up after the engagement (logarithmic progression). In simplest terms we took ten years worth of injury data and identified the trend, then we took that same data and compared what actually happened. In the case of this company it was trending downward but slowly and relatively flat compared to the rapid improvements we saw. By comparing the difference between the trend and the actual costs we were able to prove (within a minute margin of error) the savings. Fortunately for us we calculated the savings at $54 million (which was well within our margin of error).

One would think that would be enough to convince the most ardent skeptics that the process works, and yet when (after designing and building—with the company’s permission our own propriety version) the company for which I worked at the time got even better results from a new client (this time saving $5 million in Workers’ Compensation claims in only 8 months, and saving $15 million when doing the statistical analysis) the client was incredulous; they claimed it just wasn’t possible, that we somehow must have manipulated the data (eventually they realized that the numbers were true). Eventually we saved the company $12 million in quantifiable cost reductions, and then it was on to the next company only to face the same incredulity. It’s exhausting.

The difficulty is always the same: people don’t want to believe that they actually saved money because saving money means that you used to be wasting money and when the figure is in the millions of dollars it implies that the company has been wasting millions of dollars, often without even knowing it.

Cost Avoidance Versus Cost Savings

There’s a difference between cost avoidance and cost savings and there’s a difference in the emotional charge each term carries. Cost savings: you reduce one fixed cost, for example you pay $.20 less per safety glove and you used 10,000 safety gloves so you saved $2,000 (10,000 x .20). Cost Avoidance: you pay less for a variable cost then you did historically, you “avoided” incurring a cost that you had every right to expect to pay, for example getting regular oil changes and avoiding paying for costly repairs. Most of us don’t see a meaningful distinction—and frankly without statistical analysis cost avoidance doesn’t mean that much—between cost saving and cost avoidance for a good share of us money is money and if at the end of the day we have more of it, so much the better. But for a lot of business people, particularly at the site level, cost avoidance is trivial and not something you can use to calculate return on investment. The idea being that maybe the company would have spent that money and maybe it wouldn’t, maybe we got lucky; coming back to our regular oil changes example one could argue that maybe if we didn’t change the oil in our car we might have a break down and we might not, and the cost of the oil change can be calculated but the return on investment cannot because we don’t know what the cost of repairing the engine would be, if anything. We can’t even calculate the reduction in the life of the engine (car companies can by conducting studies of numerous engines and by varying the frequency of oil changes).

Card Tricks For Dogs

Reducing costs, whether through saving or avoidance means a lot to us in safety, because we are so often seen as burdensome costs that return very little value. Like most of you I resent this and can point to a real, quantifiable statistical value to cost avoidance. For me, it shouldn’t matter if I return hard saving or true cost avoidance, if, through my efforts I am able to keep more money in the corporate coffers it positively impacts the bottom line, but when I make this argument to people who dismiss millions as “cost avoidance” it’s like doing card tricks for a dog. For me, as I’ve said above, money is money. I live in Detroit where my natural gas and electric bills are combined. In the winter my gas costs are naturally higher because I have a gas furnace and in the summer months my cost for electricity goes up if I use the air conditioner. If I invest in energy efficient appliances, insulate or replace my windows, and change my behavior to reduce usage I will save money, but if we have a mild winter my costs will go down naturally as I will require less energy to heat the house. Since there is no way to say how much of the money I didn’t pay out is because of the changes I made and how much is because of the weather I can’t calculate exactly how much of the savings is because of what I did. When you apply this to safety and the cost of injuries, and have this argument with some business leaders it’s a bit like doing card tricks for a dog, no matter how many times you make the argument and how carefully you explain statistical analysis they just won’t get it.

I had a Vice President of Human Resources of a Fortune 500 company tell me that “unless I can eliminate bodies” (directly reduce labor cost) he would never be interested in what I have to sell. “It’s just cost avoidance” he said dismissively. It was in that instant that I knew that despite my ability to save companies tens of millions of dollars in sustained annual costs for more than just a few trying to help them save money by literally saving lives I would never be able to persuade them.

 

 

#costs, #culture-change, #injury-costs, #phil-la-duke, #return-on-investment, #return-on-investment-roi, #safety, #statistical-analysis-of-injury-costs, #worker-safety

Injured Workers Need More than Just Philosophical Support For Safety?

philosophy

By Phil La Duke

Does your leadership support safety? Does your organizational culture? Do you? Most of you just answered a resounding “YES!!” when I asked you, some of you said it when asked about your culture (cultures are easy to malign) and far fewer likely answered yes when I asked about your leaders.  The reality is that, when asked, most people would by insulted that their sincere support of safety was being questioned.

But if the whole world supports safety why is it so difficult to run an operation where injuries are a rarity? And why do we have to fight so hard to get the resources we need to correct hazards, and finally, why is it that so many people fail to do their jobs when it comes to safety?  Greg Gerweck once told me that you always have the time and money for what is truly important to you.  Some of you will become immediately offensive because you will claim that you value your family more than your job, or that you honestly wish you had more time for x but you have to do y.  Just think of what Mr. Gerweck said, if it is truly important to you that’s where you spend your time and money (and I would add efforts but I suppose that’s a subset of time).  If you want to understand what you really value, you have to reflect on how you spend your time and money, and furthermore, if you SAY you value something and you are spending most of your time and money doing something else…well, my guess is that you are either lying to yourself or are deeply unhappy. That’s not to say that there aren’t time when you miss your kid’s ballet recital or soccer game to get a big proposal written or to investigate a serious injury, but I believe that if that becomes the norm you are lying to yourself about your values and it’s probably making you unhappy.

It’s not uncommon to believe that you value something more than you  really do, because believing that you value safety for example but doing nothing of substance to make it a reality is really a philosophical believe.  “Workers deserve to come home uninjured” is hard to argue against, in fact, I’ve never met a person who has fought me on that.  But it gets complicated when we have to make choices; hard choices.  Do I shut down production because we’re working out of process and there’s a strong possibility that the will cause an injury? Or do we keep going because we’re already behind and maybe someone will get injured and maybe they won’t?  In this case we are philosophically supportive of safety but we aren’t operationally supportive of safety.  I can already hear the safety professionals weighing-in in agreement, but I could have just as easily asked the question, “Am I going to get off my lazy ass and check out how things are running in production, or am I going to spend the next 2 hours getting caught up on emails and paper work?”  If your answers tend to favor production (even of emails) over safety then you don’t truly support safety at an operational level.

I’ll take it even further, If you don’t do your job because you have convinced yourself that the problem lies in the culture, the leadership, or the employees themselves, then you don’t support safety at an operational level.  There is something so deeply satisfying in excusing the fact that we aren’t successful in building a safer work place by decrying it as impossible.  It’s a bit like getting in shape.  We’ve tried dieting  and that didn’t work so now we eat what  we want and get fatter, we value our health, but not enough to do anything about it.  We try exercising, but that didn’t work either so we have the exercise bike gathering dust.  If we give up when we don’t see immediate results, we really can’t say we value something or support it.  When we support something that someone else is doing can we really call that support?

Values are the deep-seated, hardwired beliefs that determine how we will make every choice and how we will spend our time and money.  Saying safety is a value sounds nice and looks great hanging on the wall in the lobby but unless it manifests in how decisions are made from the CEO to the temporary worker who cleans them restrooms all it these posters are decoration, and tacky ones at that.

We can’t change anything by grousing about it on the sidelines.  Safety connects to everything we do so if you are in an organization that doesn’t seem to value safety, and you are a safety professional, it’s your job to connect the dots for them. From safety to profits, or productivity, or whatever it is they do value.  It’s not an easy job to the minds of people who have been actively antagonistic of safety, but over time, and through continually asking the question, “do you support safety?” sooner or later most of the organization will come around to your way of thinking.

So whether you see your job as merely counting bodies, or further making safety look ridiculous through safety BINGOs and children’s art contests, or saving lives, get out there and support safety, not philosophically, but in practice.  And at the end of each work day ask yourself, “what I done to make the workplace safer today?” Only then can you claim to support safety and have that claim really mean anything of substance.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #culture-change, #increasing-efficiency, #loss-prevention, #oil-and-gas, #phil-la-duke, #philip-la-duke, #process-safety, #risk, #safety, #safety-culture, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety

When is Your Safety Meeting Not A Safety Meeting?

dysfunctional meetings

By Phil La Duke

A common leading indicator for safety is involvement in safety meetings, but to risk sounding like Bill Clinton’s infamous “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” quote what constitutes “involved in safety meetings”? To answer that question we have to define “involved” “safety” and “meetings” (and hell you might as well define “in” while you’re at it.)  To be a true leading indicator, that is, a measure of something that positively correlates to future safe performance, something must directly or indirectly align with things that promote safety (in my view of the world: improved competency, better process capability, more effective management of risk and hazards, heightened accountability, or stronger engagement).

Participation in safety meetings if often used as a leading indicator, presumably of worker engagement; the assumption being that the more one is engaged the more likely one is to attend safety meetings.  There is a lot of noise in this particular indicator. Let’s face it one could attend a safety meeting because they serve croissants and one love’s croissants (“they’re like a little bite of Paris”) and one’s wife won’t let one have that at home because she’s a bossy shrew who nags one for being too fat (like she’s Christi Turlington) when she has no room (literally) to talk.  One also might go to safety meetings because it beat’s unclogging stopped up toilets because one’s coworkers desperately need more fiber in their diets.  One might even go to safety meetings because the new safety intern is really hot and who knows she might be single and might be interested in going to lunch sometime, heck she might even have daddy issues.  In short, attendance at a safety meeting can indicative of many things (I forgot that one might be clinically insane and just LOVE to go to meetings—run for city council you freak and leave me out of your twisted fantasies, but then, as I inevitably do, I digress.)

But the supposition remains that people who go to safety meetings are more engaged in safety than those who don’t “aren’t” involved in safety meetings persists and if you can forget all the statistical noise associated with this indicator, you still find yourself led back to the need to define what it means be involved with safety meetings.

Attendance

Ostensibly attendance at safety meetings should be an easy variable to measure: either someone was at the meeting or they were not.  This takes us to the Slick Willie style reasoning of what exactly does “at the meeting” means.  This will surprise some, but I was a handful as a student.  I was knew the rules and followed them to the letter, the whole time circumventing the spirit of the rule.  I was, what an employer who I affectionately refer to as the Devil, called “maliciously obedient”. (The term was new to me so I asked for some clarification and he told me that “malicious obedience” is the practice of doing exactly what one is told to do while knowing the whole time that doing so would lead to disaster and ruin.)  My attendance record was actually pretty good, although I seldom went to class.  The process of taking attendance at my high school was for the teacher to take attendance (noting who was there and who was not and jotting the results down on small yellow sheet of paper and then sending to down to the office in care of a student.) In geometry class (something that no one except carpet layers will ever use) I would always volunteer to take the slip to the office after which I would stop by the cafeteria (so often that the faculty advisor thought that was my actual lunch period) and never return to geometry.  I got a C+ which is pretty amazing considering that I was only about 12% of the time. It was a win-win I got out of geometry and a highly disruptive presence was removed from the classroom. The point is I “attended” geography every day; hell I don’t make the rules, I just have to live by them. So the point being that when you are using attendance at the meeting as a criterion for engagement, you might consider counting only those who are on time and stay until the meeting is concluded.

Participation

Participation is also a tricky thing to measure. I participated in all my classes in high school except geometry (seriously, I have to prove the Pythagorean theorem? Can’t we just take Pythagoras’s word for it? And who’s to say if I can’t prove his precious theorem that HE’s not wrong? Isn’t that the point of proving something? So anyway, I participated a lot, usually in the form of non-sequiturs and wise-ass comments but by the strictest definition I was indeed participating, in fact much more so than my classmates. When it comes to participation in safety meetings any measurement is going to be subjective. If someone shows up and sits arms crossed with a furrowed brow harrumphing through the meeting I wouldn’t consider that participation. I think we need to qualify the word “participation” as “constructive participation” it may not be any less subjective but I think it paints a clearer vision of exactly what “counts” as participation.

Focus

I’ve sat through too many meetings that seemed to have the sole goal of wasting the time of everyone involved. If your safety meetings aren’t focused on a tight agenda; if for instance the meetings are little more than gripe sessions where people get together and shout about how nothing get fixed and how sick of it they all are. Having a good agenda is only half the battle; even the best agenda is worthless in the hands of a weak facilitator. The facilitator is there to keep the meeting on track. If the facilitator doesn’t keep the meeting on track it is within the right of all team members to call for a “process check” and pull the meeting back on track. Like most of the other criteria for success determining the quality of the focus of a meeting is also really subjective.

While it can be easy to question the value of subject data as terms of an indicator, but provided one uses the same subjective criteria each time, and as long as one is honest (not juking the stats) this can be valuable information. I still don’t think anyone has found a strong leading indicator around engagement (let’s face it even in 100% of the people participated in meetings, reported near misses, completed of safety surveys, or made suggestions for safety improvements it really doesn’t cleanly correlate to worker engagement) we don’t know what’s really inside people’s heads. Engagement is closely related to one’s attitude and overall morale and there are so many organizational things that have nothing to do with safety that can skew the data, and if we are looking at skewed data than we are acting on a hunch in the guise of data.

 

#5s, #accountability, #aerospace, #at-risk-behavior, #attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #awareness, #behavior, #behavior-based-safety, #behavior-observations, #behaviour-based-safety, #branding, #change, #combustible-dust-2, #construction-safety, #continuous-improvement, #contractor-safety, #core-skills-training, #criticisms-of-bbs, #culture-change, #deming, #distracted-driving, #driving-while-distracted, #empowerment, #enforcement, #engagement, #fabricating-metalworking, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #fleet-safety, #guiding-behaviors, #happiness, #hazard-management, #healthcare, #human-error, #incident-investigation, #increasing-efficiency, #individual-accountability-for-safety, #injury-reporting, #joy, #just-culture, #kan-ban-systems, #line-of-fire, #logistics, #loss-prevention, #manufacturing, #mining-safety, #mistake-proofing, #mistakes, #national-safety-council, #near-miss-reporting-2, #oil-and-gas, #operating-efficiency, #organizational-change-2, #organizational-development, #peace, #pedestrian-safety, #performance-improvement, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #poke-yoke, #process-capability, #process-improvement, #process-safety, #regulations, #risk, #risk-management, #risk-taking, #rockford-greene, #root-cause-analysis, #rules, #safe-work-culture, #safety, #safety-branding, #safety-culture, #safety-culture-development, #safety-incentives, #safety-observations, #safety-slogans, #safety-tours, #safety-training, #selling-safety, #selling-safety-in-tough-times, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #systems-based-safety, #talent-management-2, #texting-while-driving, #the-enforceable-rule, #the-nature-of-mistakes, #traffic-fatalities, #traffic-safety, #training, #transformational-safety, #values, #variability-in-human-behavior, #why-we-violate-rules, #worker-safety, #worker-safety-net, #workplace-fatalities

Combustible Dust: How Crackpots Endanger Safety

By Phil La Duke

cracked-pot-1

Most of us know the dangers of combustible dust, how when there is a critical mass of fine explosive material—whether it be flour or sawdust—all it takes is a spark to set of  catastrophe.  But there is an equally dangerous situation in the world of safety, the combustible dust of thought.  Combustible Dust Thought is prevalent in LinkedIn discussion groups and other safety forums. I call it combustible dust thought because it’s old and dusty defense of obsolete or just plain simple-minded thinking and practices, and combustible because the old “safety by experience” “we don’t need no education” cranks who blow up at the merest mention of a new idea that isn’t theirs. The Crank Coxes of the world belch out bile and hatred of anything new in safety in bellicose mockery of the modern safety professional.

Take for example “Crank Cox” (a pseudonym of course and an amalgamation of numerous persons I have encountered.  Let me put it this way, if you are reading this and are offended because you think I’m talking about you then I probably am.  Feel the hurt and let it go). Crank is a soft-headed blowfish of a man who trolls the discussion topics looking for things over which he can react  to in self-righteous indignation.  How dare, he asks, can anyone suggest that anything he does do might be a better way? After all, Crank has over thirty years in safety and that should qualify him in all things safety, he’s SEEN things you know? Why should he listen to anything that he doesn’t already know?  In his decades of experience he has learned all there is to learn and people with new ideas are just “college boys” who don’t really work for a living. Crank is a not so bright dinosaur, a vestigial organ from the days when industry didn’t really expect a lot from safety professionals.  A time when a degree in a safety-related discipline was neither required nor expected.  A time when safety was where you put people who couldn’t do much right but you didn’t want to fire them, “put ‘em in safety; what can it hurt?”

Doing Something Poorly For 35 Years Isn’t Valuable Experience

Whenever I take on one of these sub-simian mouth breathers invariably he puffs up his chest and through a face ravaged by too many Chesterfields and cheap malt liquor they go off on me because they have been in safety since before I was eating solid food.  They go on and on about how they have worked at such and such for 40 odd years as if that proves that they have mastery of something.  I started piano lessons at age 4 and have plunked on the ivories ever since. Despite almost 50 years experience on the piano I really and truly suck at it.  I stopped taking lessons at around 18 and much as I enjoy playing I just don’t have the discipline it takes to practice several hours a day to keep my skills sharp.  Similarly, I have been surfing since 1996 and am arguably the world’s worst surfer (it doesn’t help that I’m 1,000 miles from the nearest decent surf spot) but on paper I am an experienced surfer with almost 20 years of paddling out.  So forgive me if I am unimpressed by someone who likely spent the better part of 4 decades sitting on an ass the texture of cottage cheese being squeezed through a plastic bag in an office with “Safety” stenciled on the door like some sick inside joke.

Safety Ain’t What I Used to Be

Safety is a relatively new function and when it was created in the mid 70’s it was typically an assignment tacked on to someone’s existing job.  There were no instructions, or templates for doing a good job. Most safety people were expected to make it up as they went and predictably many were successful while many more were not.  This “do whatever you think is right” climate created a host of really creative ways of blaming injured workers  for getting hurt.  It also promulgated the idea that injuries were inevitable.  Safety was like a sick joke, “what do all injured workers have in common? They need to be more careful.”  It was also this climate where the seeds of the worker as lazy, stupid, and disobedient children were sown.  Truth be told industry didn’t expect much from the folks in safety back then, but that was then and this is now.  Now the safety function is expected to partner with operations and reduce operating risk and to devise and deploy interventions designed to directly mitigate the risks associated with doing one’s job.  In short, today’s most successful companies expect tangible results from the safety group and these safety groups deliver. The Crank Coxes of the world have been driven out of industry and have settled into half-assed consultancies where they have hung out their greasy shingles and lay in wait for customers who don’t know any better.

This Brush Doesn’t Have Tar Enough For All

I don’t want to imply that everyone who has spent decades in Safety are automatically Crank Coxes.  In fact, most of the people who have taught me the greatest lessons and provided me with the deepest insights about safety have half a century or more in the field.  While it’s true that we stand on the shoulders of giants, it’s equally true that just because you’re  tall doesn’t mean you’re a giant, you could be little more than an oversized goof-ball with hurt feelings and a big mouth. So what creates a Crank Cox? Two things: fear and stupidity (or the all too rare combination of the two).  The Crank Coxes have adopted a pattern of dysfunctional behavior that has garnered them some measure of success—think of the most dysfunctional turd of a person, a complete teardown of a person that adds nothing to the workplace but carbon dioxide and occasionally methane—and continued success is predicated on nothing changing in the workplace.  These people fear new ideas because real change will expose their inadequacies and may force them out to pasture.  If they are incapable of change then the only option left to them is to yowl and attack those advocating change.  Some of these people are simply too stupid (not ignorant which implies an honest and correctable lack of information, but true belligerence to education) to learn the emerging skills and ideas presented and rather than try to learn or admit their lack of understanding it’s easier and more comfortable to slobber and snarl in discussion groups like closed-head injured bull mastiffs than it is to admit that maybe they lack the chops to continue in this field and need to take their cantankerous asses to the local Walmart where they can greet people as they enter.

Is This Really A Threat?

I have had plenty of discussions with people who waive me off as Chicken Little.  They roll their eyes and say, “just ignore them”.  These people don’t see a problem with the Crank Coxes of the world.  They say that nobody takes them seriously.  They say that these people are just harmless blowhards who are just one cheese pizza away from ceasing to be a problem to anyone or anything.  To them (and to you who agree with them) I say, with sincerest respect, on the contrary, these people, like a rabid raccoon shot dead in the street, are as dangerous to our field now then they were just years ago.  As long as we allow these miscreants to shout down new ideas, make personal attacks in LinkedIn, and otherwise shape the debate of safety thought these people will drive the people who we most need to participate in these forums forever away.  Unless each of us confront the Crank Coxes and sweep there poisonous combustible dust out of our field they will continue to speak for us and ruin our reputation and make us irrelevant.  Do I sound like an alarmist?  Perhaps, but I know of at least 10 leaders in the field of safety (many with decades of truly useful and valuable experience) who have been forever driven from the forums by these barking rats.

What About Freedom Of Speech?

Invariably posts like this will elicit emails questioning my support of free speech.  For the record I wholeheartedly believe in the freedom of speech, but freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences of said speech.  Can we support a teacher’s freedom of speech when he or she teaches children fairy tales as history? Can we support a researcher’s right to free speech when he or she falsifies findings because he or she earnestly believes that given just a bit more time his or her conclusions would eventually be supported?  We live in a world where wikipidiots believe that all opinions (no matter how lunatic fringe) are as valid as carefully researched facts.  As in so many other areas of life, we get what we put up with, and if we put up with the Crank Coxes of the world then we can’t exactly cry foul when the world sees all safety professionals through that same lens.

Disclaimer: Crank Cox is a fictitious amalgamation of numerous piles of steamy excrement of people that I have been met.  Any resemblance to any person living or deceased is purely coincidental.  No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog, although if I catch that squirrel that has been poaching my tomatoes I will wring its little neck.

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