What Can The Executive Suite Expect From Safety Professionals

By Phil La Duke

About a year ago, one of my Facebook friends, a nurse, posted a frothy meme about nurses.  “we’re not maids, we’re not you’re kids baby-sitters…” and it went on from there;  a post filled with vitriol and resentment for the patients and their families for which they serve.  I commented that if she felt such bitterness at her constituency perhaps she should choose a different profession instead of whining about it on social media.  I observed that the nobility of any deed is lost when one complains that one does not get one’s proper recognition, appreciation, and accolades.  She responded by “defriending” me; good riddance. I’ve seen similar posts from policemen, fireman, and teachers and the common thread—besides being whining malcontents—is the intense lack of judgment shown by people who publicly deride their constituency. I have never trusted people who define themselves in terms of what they aren’t; me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

While I haven’t seen anything posted on Facebook where a safety professional bellyaches about the lack of appreciation shown to him or her, LinkedIn threads are rife  with complaints from long suffering safety professionals about those that lead their organizations.  From the vague lack of support to accusations of ethics just south of Heinrich Himmler, safety professionals have a lot to say about the executives of their companies and most of it is bad.  One common complaint is that even the best-intentioned executive is a slobbering oaf when it comes to safety.  Safety professionals say they want more educated leaders but scarce little is done in terms of what the executives should be able to expect from their safety professionals.  So what should the executives be able to expect? What are the baseline things that business leaders should be able to count on from any competent safety professional?


At a most foundational level an executive should be able to count on the safety professional to have mastery level knowledge of safety regulations and compliance.  The safety professional should be expected to know and understand what must be reported, how basic regulatory metrics are calculated, how safety data should be interpreted, and where to find more in-depth explanations of the most common safety questions relative to the appropriate industry.  There are limits to what the safety professional should know, of course, after all they aren’t lawyers, but the safety professional should be keenly aware of his or her limits and be open with the executive as to where the safety professional’s skill set ends.

Honesty & Integrity

Safety professionals should always be honest with the executives—if it is a good idea to do something then that’s different from it being a legal requirement.  Safety professionals who use a liberal interpretation of regulatory requirements to push through a pet project are not to be trusted.  It’s this sort of moral flexibility that gets some safety professionals in trouble.  Executives need safety professionals to keep them on the right side of the law, not just compliant.  In some cases, the performance of the safety professional can be the difference between an executive being charged with a homicide.  The honesty and integrity of the safety professional must be above reproach.  Conversely, if a safety professional falsifies data, deliberately underreports, or otherwise subverts the law, then the executive may fined him or herself in legal hot water because of what the executive knew or should have known. Executives have the right to expect the safety professional will assertively point out when the executive is dangerously close to a legal or ethical breach.


Safety professionals should be dispassionately reporting the facts.  Executives should expect safety data to be free of commentary, sermons, melodrama, or pontifications.  The safety professional should be reporting facts, assessing risks, and professionally interpreting trends.  The safety professional should then be presenting recommendations that are free from personal agendas and editorializing. An executive needs a recommendation that clearly articulates the expected benefits, risks and rewards, and likelihood of success, not a lot of campaigning for a pet project.

An Informed Opinion

Executives count on experts to guide their decision-making and for that to happen they need the safety professional to distill, often complex data and safety trends into meaningful and useful chunks of information.  Too often the executive is given jargon-filled gobbledygook that he or she finds of little use. Most of all, the executive has the right to expect that the safety professional will always understand that no matter how informed the opinion it remains just that: an opinion. Asking one’s opinion is not allowing one the power to make a decision for you.


Professionalism must extend beyond the normal niceties of office etiquette and assertiveness and move into the realm of true professionalism; the safety professional has a specialized skill set that must be brought to bear in situations with a lot of unknowns and ambiguity.  Executives need skilled experts in worker safety not zealots and martyrs who believe that their job is more of a spiritual calling than a job.  Executives neither want nor can afford a softheaded boob at the helm of the safety function.

Business Savvy

Calvin Coolidge once said, ““the chief business of…people is business” but he’s often misquoted, as “the business of business is business”. However you interpret the quote one must agree that the primary goal of any business (heck any organization) is its own propagation.  The executive’s first directive is always to ensure that the business continues to exist.  Safety people often lose sight of this.  Hiding behind the self-righteous indignation and pronouncement that safety is more important than anything in all cases alienates executives.  And while nobody wants to risk people’s lives in favor of the immortal buck, executives have the right to expect that safety professionals will understand that within ethical and moral boundaries safety isn’t always the most important consideration and even in cases where safety may be the most important consideration it may not be the most urgent.


Often the executive will make decisions that aren’t especially popular with the safety professional.  It is not incumbent on the executive to explain his or her rational for making a tough call, in fact, the executive may not be able to legally or ethically disclose the “hows” and “whys” of a decision.  Executives have the right to make these decisions without the safety professional bad mouthing him or her behind his or her back.  Safety professionals who get sarcastic, rude, or pouty because the executive made a decision that was not to their liking lack the respect that the executive is owed and should not be surprised by the consequences.

A Clear Definition of “Support”

The biggest complaint I hear from safety professionals is that the executives don’t support them (or that the executive don’t “back them up”) but when I ask for details I seldom get them.  When I talk to senior leaders they tell me “I give the safety professionals whatever support they tell me they need”; clearly there’s a disconnect between the two worlds.  Executives tend to be reluctant to buy the proverbial “pig in a poke” and may actually believe they are supporting the safety function even though the safety professionals feel very differently. Clearly leadership is essential to a robust safety effort, but unless all parties can pinpoint exactly what “support” means one side or the other (or both) are likely to be disappointed.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #bbs, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #change, #contingency-planning, #criticisms-of-bbs, #culture-change, #driver-safety, #driving-while-distracted, #efficiency, #executive-expectations-of-safety-professionals, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #human-error, #increasing-efficiency, #increasing-productivity, #injury-prevention, #just-cause, #just-culture, #line-of-fire, #loss-prevention, #mine-safety, #oil-and-gas, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #predicting-injuries, #safety-culture, #safety-incentives, #safety-recognition-programs, #safety-slogans, #safety-training, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety

Maybe You Weren’t Fired For Sticking To Your Principles

By Phil La Duke

“I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet; so I took his shoes.”

hung over mandrill

In case you were wondering, this is what I imagine a hung-over mandrill looking like

The other day I met a man who lost his job. His tale of woe may ring true for some of you; he squared off with a company leader over a safety issue. Things got heated and when things cooled down he found himself sacked…again. You might suspect that I would devote this week’s post to all the injustice associated with people, particularly safety professionals, who lose their jobs because they are forced to choose between their principles and their livelihoods, but alas, sadly you would, yet again be wrong. The person in question is a known hot head who, apart from being euphemistically described as “rough around the edges” has a penchant for going on rabid attacks. He is disliked by many and respected by few. I’d like to assume the best about people, but when you’ve lost your job several times because you’ve lost your cool…well at some point I’ve got my doubts.

If You Can’t Tell Who The Mark Is, It’s You

There’s a saying going around that says, in effect, and I will clean this up for those of you of delicate sensibility, that if you keep meeting “jerks” all day, than you’re the “jerk”. Speaking as a “jerk” of note I can attest to the truth of this saying. As it happens, I’ve also heard a lot of safety professionals bitterly complain about being fired, admonished, disciplined or otherwise pimp-slapped by their employers simply because they were trying to do their jobs. These, the wretched refuse of the safety profession, commiserate with each other, their shoulders sagging, spirits broken, kept upright only through the inflation of self-righteous indignation, decrying the injustice of it all. But is it really unjust? Or is it as likely that these buffoons were served their just desserts and found the taste unpalatable? Of course it’s true that there are safety professionals who have been unceremoniously relieved of their positions for no greater offense than advocating for safety. I only say this because I can here the murmuring of the pain-in-the ass contrarians that will inevitably throw up statistical outliers as proof that I don’t have standing to speak out on a subject. So while I make no claim of the universality of situation I will say this: a lot of safety professionals who believe they have been fired, censured, or otherwise have suffered unpleasant consequences have actually been fired because they have the interpersonal skills of a hung-over mandrill.

I’m Only Doing My Job

A lot of malcontented safety professionals will loudly protest that they got into hot water when they were only doing their job when in fact they were doing their job poorly. Maybe they did; history will judge them. The point being that, from the guards at Auschwitz to the surly safety manager, many people try to excuse some pretty reprehensible workplace behavior as merely doing your job. The more noble the calling the more likely one is to excuse dysfunction as a necessary, if not admirable part of the job. Safety professionals often believe that the fact that they are “trying to keep people safe” excuse some pretty awful “bedside manners”. It becomes more a matter of HOW the job is done than whether or not the job is done at all. It’s like the policeman who writes you a citation and throws the book at you while adding a little sermonette as he hands you the ticket. Even though you know you are in the wrong and that the officer is under no obligation to give you a break, you may still prefer that he keep the commentary to himself. And many policeman will be jerks to you when you get a ticket and—despite being jerks about it—puff out their chest and steadfastly refuse to apologize for “doing their jobs”. Now, suppose you are in a position to influence that officer’s career advancement? Are you going to be able to overlook the fact that he does his job while acting like a jerk? If so, you are a better man than I. If not you can probably understand where I’m coming from.

Life Without Consequences

It seems to me that there are many people—not just safety professionals, but workers of all stripes—who believe that they can treat others in the workplace (coworkers and even customers) however they see fit in the name of being plain-spoken, tough, or “keeping it real”; these people believe they can live a life without consequences. This idea is typically reinforced throughout their careers because their technical expertise makes them seem invaluable to the company. Some are legitimately bent—either functionally mentally ill or simply social maladroit—while others simply behave like bullies, fussing and fuming their way through life. Add to that the mistaken believe that some safety professionals have that they are the policemen of the workplace.

It’s Not Always The Jerk’s Fault

Loud-mouthed jerks typically remain loud-mouthed jerks because they are rewarded for it. They snarl at waitresses and get refills of hot coffee, they yell at coworkers and things get pushed through; special exceptions are made just for them. They come to see themselves as perfectionists, tough-but-fair, and no-nonsense. Meanwhile the bar tender is slipping a few drops of Visine in their meticulously specked Old Fashion. I’ve long thought that society in general would be more polite and generally more civil if more people had been beaten within an inch of their lives after some of the stunts they’ve pulled, but alas folks have just got too civilized I guess. What’s more, most of the biggest workplace jerks I’ve ever known—the type of people who throw tantrums the envy of a silver-spoon 4-year old, put like felt up prom dates, and generally act in ways that make you shake your head—have had numerous warnings and “one last chances”. If the behavior works why not stick with it?

The Things We Don’t Remember And the Things We Can’t Forget

I can already hear the murmurings from people who will accuse me of suggesting that safety professionals need to sell out if they want to keep their jobs. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, even a cursory read of my body of work will demonstrate my deep belief that safety professionals who remain passive in the face of gross violations, ethics abuses, or other attempts by employers to subvert their legal or moral obligations are cowards and thieves ; shirking one’s responsibilities to avoid conflict and even to save one’s job is tantamount to malpractice.

That having been said, today’s safety professional has to be persuasive and understand that his or her opinion, professionally informed not withstanding, just that: opinion. If people can’t hear past the dysfunction we cannot be effective in our roles . Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” I think this quote is the essence of what I’m trying to say. People will forgive us for being incompetent screw-ups who don’t know beans when the bag is open, but if we’re jerks, they will lie in wait for us to screw up. You don’t have to be popular to be an effective safety professional but it sure helps.

#88-of-injuries-caused-by-unsafe-behavior, #accountability, #accountability-for-safety, #attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #baboon, #bbs, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #breaking-down-resistance, #career-advancement, #career-advice, #change, #criticisms-of-bbs, #culture-change, #dont-hurt-yourself, #driver-safety, #driving-while-distracted, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #firing, #human-error, #hung-over-baboons, #increasing-efficiency, #increasing-productivity, #injury-prevention, #instilling-universal-ownership-and-accountability-for-safety, #jerk, #just-cause, #just-culture, #keeping-jerks-safe, #line-of-fire, #loss-prevention, #maya-angelou, #mine-safety, #national-safety-council, #operating-efficiency, #principles, #respect, #respectful-interventions, #risk, #safety-incentives, #safety-slogans, #safety-values, #shared-values, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident, #values, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety

More Deming on Safety: Adopt the New Philosophy

Deming’s second point is “Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.” In writing this point Deming could well be describing safety.  For years Japanese companies have viewed the worker as a resource, as the best source of ideas for improvement, but also long-term partners in business; certainly a wise organization would do everything in its power to preserve and nurture something so vital to its success.

Adopting the new philosophy in safety manifests itself in several important ways.

  1. Injuries are waste and need to be managed as such.  Far too many safety pundits are still preaching that “safety is the right thing to do”, they continue to preach about moral imperatives for companies to protect worker at all costs.  Whether or not companies have any compunction to protect workers is between them and the workers.  That having been said, organizations need to protect their competitiveness, their profits, and their efficiency and all this begins with a relentless pursuit of waste reductions.
  2. Stop worrying about changing the culture and start worrying about changing your processes.  Too often safety professionals stick with what they know and don’t venture too far beyond it. Unfortunately, safety professionals typically don’t know all that much about organizational development, transformational change, or organizational psychology.  Even so, that doesn’t seem to be sufficient to stop safety vendors from shilling half-baked culture change solutions to organizations. Nor does it stop internal safety professionals from championing initiatives of which their sole qualifications are limited to reading an article in the odd safety magazine or attending a session at a safety conference.
    That some organizational cultures inappropriately undervalue safety is indisputable, but making the leap that the Safety function is capable of changing that on some grand, enterprise-wide scale is laughable. On the other hand few safety professionals understand process mapping, value stream analysis, and the other tools and methods necessary for process improvement.
  3. Integrate the Safety Into Other Business Functions. The days where Safety is a separate business function are rapidly coming to a close.  Maintaining a safety infrastructure with Safety professionals must end.  Just as the Quality function evolved into a vehicle for process improvement so too must safety.  As long as Safety professionals see themselves as discrete from the overall operations and somehow able to operate in isolation from production it will always be at risk of being dropped from the corporate team.
  4. Leadership Must Advocate for Change. Leaders are often maligned by safety professionals. Too many times safety professionals blame their own failures on a lack of leadership commitment. In this case Safety professionals are right:  Leaders SHOULD be visible and outspoken advocates for safety and organizational change that supports it.  That’s not to say that safety professionals shouldn’t play a role in this initiative.  Safety professionals should provide expertise and guidance to leaders, many of whom, don’t know how to begin to advocate change.
    If safety professionals are going to be trusted counselors to the leaders there is much work they need to do:
    1. Quit pretending to know more than they do. Safety is an area of expertise that requires practitioners to have a deep understanding of a diverse range of disciplines, but there are limits to even the most learned safety professionals’ curricula verities.  There is a natural tendency (bordering on compulsion) for safety professionals to advise far beyond their knowledge base and once labeled a vacuous windbag it’s hard to been seen as having any opinion of value to offer.
    2. Research and Analysis. Perhaps the most useful service a safety professional can offer is comprehensive research coupled with razor-sharp analysis on the best way to leverage the things uncovered by the research.
    3. Offer Guidance, Not Advice or Opinions. One of the most important thing that I recently learned is that offering guidance is tough. Frequently, what we see as guidance is opinion or just plain butting in. Guidance is marked more by listening than by advising someone as to what they had ought to do.  Guidance is invited; advice or opinions are not.  Safety professionals need to transition to trusted counselors than pouting eunuchs that huff and sigh when they don’t get their ways.  But offering guidance requires trust, and trust takes time to build.
  5. Recognize the Realities and Challenges Endemic to the New Global Economy.  Deming developed his 14 points over 50 years ago, yet even then he was able to recognize that even then we were in a new economic reality.  Even as safety comes under increasing government scrutiny the scarcity of resources available for workplace safety continues to plague safety professionals.  The stark reality is that while the number of demands placed on safety increase, the resources are shrinking or trending flat.    
  6.  Improve the quality of safety training and ensure its efficacy. My background is in organizational development and training and I will say unequivocally that the most safety training is wholly inadequate for anything except for checking the compliance box.  The biggest opportunity to transform the safety of the workplace lies in the improvements that can be made in training.  The better a worker is prepared in the tasks associated with his or her job the safer that worker will be.  I wrote an article on how safety training could be improved, What’s Wrong With Safety Training and How to Fix It so I won’t revisit it here.

Deming’s work remains the quintessential guide to quality, but the lessons one can glean and apply to safety are timeless and substantial. In studying Deming’s thoughts on quality we can transform safety and in so doing our industries.

Footnote: Phil La Duke will be speaking at 1:30 p.m at the National Safety Council on October 31, 2011

About Phil La Duke.  Phil La Duke is a contributing editor and safety columnist for Fabricating and Metal Working magazine, an editorial advisor and contributor to  Facility Safety Management magazine, and a contributor to ISHN magazine.  La Duke is a highly sought after international speaker and author whose brash style and often controversial take on emerging issue is a favorite of the international safety community.

#adopt-the-new-philosophy, #aerospace, #aerospace-safety, #attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #culture-change, #deminjg-on-safety, #freightliner, #heavy-truck-manufacturing, #increasing-efficiency, #just-cause, #just-culture, #leadership, #mexico, #mine-safety, #national-safety-council, #oil-and-gas, #peru, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #process-failure, #process-failure-modes-effects-analysis, #process-safety, #rockford-greene, #rockford-greene-international, #safety, #safety-culture, #safety-leadership, #williams-international, #worker-safety

A Just Culture Starts With Just Leadership

Just Culture, a concept James Reason proffered decades ago is growing in popularity.  At its essential core Just Culture is pretty simple: people make mistakes and punishing people for making honest mistakes is a basic form of injustice.  Reason, and his successors, argue that organizations must foster blame-free environments where workers are encouraged to report mistakes and near miss if they hope to ever address the root causes of workplace injuries.

But implementing a just culture is far more difficult than merely deciding not to punish people for screwing up.  Far too many business leaders are unable to see past their petty biases and the traditional legal department party line that a blame-free culture needlessly and recklessly exposes organizations from malpractice lawsuits or other liabilities.  This is unfortunate.  So many business leaders are afraid to do what is right in favor of what is safe.

For a just culture to take hold and blossom organizations need a different sort of leader. A Just culture  needs to be led by what I describe as just leaders, and these executives are a rarity.

Traits of a Just Leader

Just leaders share characteristics that set them apart from the pack. These leaders see themselves as leaders first and foremost and they live there lives by a code of conduct that is set not be some artificial external criteria but by their personal values.


It takes a lot of moral fortitude to stand up to corporate attorneys who advise you on a course of action that pits you against your core values.  If the corporate attorney insists that you hang someone out to dry, it’s tempting to throw someone under the bus and blame the oily skinned legal department (or corporate communication or IT).  It takes real courage to stand up to the corporate pitch fork and torch toting mob screaming for the blood of some hapless bureaucrat who mad a bad decision in good faith, but that’s what a just leader does.  A just leader recognizes that courage lies not fearlessness, but in recognizing one’s fear and forging forward despite them.

A just leader is able to clearly articulate his or her values and institutionalize  those values into a work culture that is fair and just.


It’s scary what passes for vision these days. Corruption is rampant, which one could argue was always the case, but even when Chief Tammany bore witness through his lifeless wooden eyes, people recognized corruption, incompetence and dare I say it, corporate sin. Just leaders need vision and that vision must take them beyond what’s good for themselves and their stockholders.  Just leaders know that they cast long shadows and that to create an organization that will endure it takes more than their own skills and includes the skills of most everyone in the organization.

Recent years have seen the growth of a sickening cottage industry—executives who take companies into bankruptcy.  This is pointedly obvious in the auto industry.  There are a handful of executives whose only value seems to be screwing people out of money to which they are legally entitled via bankruptcy. These slim-witted weasels are hired to bankrupt a company not as a last resort reset of the company’s debts but as a corporate strategy.

A just leader looks beyond the goals by which his or her compensation is based  and instead focuses on how organizations can serve the needs of their stock holders, their environments, their employees, and their customers.  A good leader knows the importance of being a good corporate citizen.


Rudyard Kipling once wrote “if you can trust yourself while all men doubt you while still allowing for the doubting too.” Just leaders do this by consistently holding the line as others in their industry are melting down in panic.  Because these leaders have a clear cut vision you can always predict what they will do in a crisis,  you can set your watch by them and trust they will do what is required even if it is painful

Consistency isn’t easy, especially when an industry is melting down.  But no one will ever admit mistakes without knowing exactly what consequences are likely to befall them. So unless a leader can consistently react to unexpected circumstances a just culture can never emerge.


A just leader cannot expect others to be forth coming about their mistakes unless he or she clearly acknowledges his or her own mistakes.  Everyone makes mistakes and for a leader to gloss over his or her business faux pas is the height of arrogance and hubris.  Just leaders aren’t afraid to acknowledge their mistakes and the best of them learn from their mistakes and teach others the lessons they learned.

Honesty transcends being straight-forward with board members, the media, the workers, the unions, and the stockholders and reaches the depths of the just leader’s subconscious and lays bare the soul, in short the just leader is MOST honest with him- or herself.


Just leaders don’t just know the difference between right and wrong, they also know the difference between right and legal. In this day and age it’s easy to hide behind the law and commit corporate atrocities.  For most leaders doing something heinous is softened a bit if you can get your corporate lobbyist to get it legalized first.  Just leaders worry about what is right, not what is legal.  And when they act with integrity and transparency they need not worry about investigations or accusations.

Just leaders hold themselves to a higher standard than the one to which they hold all others and the one against which society measures them. And when it comes to creating a just cultures having the right leaders is more important than having the right consultants, the right tag lines, or even the right policies.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #corporate-atrocities, #courage, #dont-hurt-yourself, #efficiency, #honesty, #integrity, #just-cause, #just-culture, #just-leaders, #mine-safety, #rockford-greene, #safety-culture, #stop-trying-to-prevent-every-possible-accident

The Most Important Laws Governing Safety Don’t Come from Government Regs

We all know Murphy’s Law— anything that can go wrong will go wrong[1] but far fewer know Pascals Gambit, Occams Razor, or Parkinson’s Law.  And this week I thought I would explore how these laws govern safety and how we can use these laws to change the way we think about Safety.

Murphy’s Laws and Its Bastards

Murphy’s first law Laws is probably the most quoted of all the law’s that are supposed to govern business (if not life itself.)  Murphy’s Law is interesting not only in its simplicity but because it is the bastard child of another, older law: Sod’s Law.

Sod’s Law

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”

The widely known law proffered by a little known author and attributed to another better-known one holds that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.  An admittedly bleak perspective and one that is easy enough to invalidate (after all Sod had the huevos to speak in absolutes where many, myself included, use weasel words like “many” or “likely”—using these words I need only produce one example to make my statement true whereas I need only produce a single exception to ?’s law to discredit it, but then I digress.) In terms of safety we would be wise to incorporate ?’s law into our mindset.  Shit happens.  And sometimes the shit that happens comes back to bite us in lethal or fatal way.  I used to get derided by safety professionals when ever I would say this.  A roar would go up not heard since Jesus before the Sanhedrin.  “Heresy!! Blasphemer!! Or worse yet the dripping condescension of a smirking jerk in the audience at a conference. I guess I was in good company.  But the fact remains that while there is always a chance that we can get blindsided by some unanticipated factor, most (yes I said, “most”) injuries happen from multiple variables working in concert with a catalyst.  So we can reduce the probability that the things that can go wrong won’t go wrong, but it’s a whole lot of work, and let’s face it, we have our fair share of lazy working in our field.

Murphy’s Law

If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong

At first blush, Murphy’s first law seems indistinguishable from Sod’s Law, but the importance while subtle is important for safety professionals.  Murphy’s Law is a little less fatalistic than Sod’s Law, Murphy allows that there may be some possibility than things won’t go wrong, at least not immediately.  This may be a semantic difference but it’s my blog and I’ll pick nits if I want to.  In either case, both Sod and Murphy agree that we need to spend our efforts and energies determining what can go wrong and how we can reduce the probability that it won’t.  This thinking is at the heart of all safety processes and while it sounds rational, it ignores both Murphy’s and Sod’s Laws—that if there is a possibility that something can go wrong we need to expect that it will.  So trying to prevent something from going wrong is impossible since the probability of catastrophe is never reduced to zero percent.

Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives

Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment

Another interesting law at play in the workplace is Finagle’s Law of Dynamic Negatives which states that Anything that can go wrong will—at the worst possible moment. This expectation should help safety professionals to understand the danger of collaborative hazards—that is, those conditions, whether behavioral, mechanical, or environmental that act in concert with one another to either create a catalyst for disaster or causing the hazard outright.  This mindset should forewarn the safety professional against seeing a hazard condition in a vacuum or without context, which sadly many behavior based safety programs actively encourage.

Parkinson’s Law

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Perhaps the most destructive force operating in the workplace, and safety, is Parkinson’s Law.  Parkinson’s Law holds that any task will expand to the time allotted to perform it.  Wasting time eats at productivity like a cancer, and yet Safety professionals gleefully choke the organization’s calendar with some sort of safety dog and pony show.  One and half hour weekly safety meetings, safety BINGOs, safety talks, Job Hazard Analyses, and…well the list goes on and on. Safety professionals need to be mindful of Parkinson’s Law and reduce both the number of tasks and the length allotted to that time.  Time is money and every task performed in the name of safety had better see a threefold return on the time it consumes.

Occam’s Razor

“We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”

Occam’s Razor has been bastardized and reconstituted to the point where many people believe it to be “the simplest explanation is usually correct”. Safety professionals need to heed the advice as originally written and shun the adulterated version.  Basically safety professionals need to draw no conclusions and stay focused on researching the root cause of injuries and suspend any preconceived notions about the situations;.

[1] Actually this is NOT Murphy’s Law (Murphy had numerous laws and “ everything that can go wrong will go wrong” is in fact a direct quote of the older and lesser known Sod’s Law but most people wrongly attribute it to Murphy so this gives me the opportunity to pander to the great unwashed while still being a pedantic know-it-all jerk.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #efficiency, #fabricating-and-metalworking-magazine, #finagles-law-of-dynamic-negatives, #just-cause, #mine-safety, #murphys-law, #occams-razor, #parkinsons-law, #rockford-greene, #rockford-greene-international, #worker-safety

What ‘s Wrong With You People?

In my haste I had a typo or two and even an incomplete thought.  I did a quick edit just now, but I would hazard a guess that it’s  far from perfect…Phil

This week I joined two or three new groups on LinkedIn. That’s my fault. For whatever reason I seek out the company of people who post largely inane opinions and spend their time arguing with strangers. That’s not to diminish LinkedIn; I’ve met many really great people through the site, unfortunately I’ve also met some honest to dogs imbeciles. Recently I weighed in on whether or not a company should consider itself world-class (the author didn’t think it germane to the discussion to hint at precisely in “what” company should claim such an honor) if it fires its employees for things they do on their own time (as in while off work). The topic generated some minor buzz, largely centered around Chrysler workers caught by a local Fox news show should be fired for drinking on their lunch hour (nobody questioned how three autoworkers drinking on their lunch hour in a city with a population smaller than Columbus, Ohio with a murder rate of 40.1 per 100,000 residents rose to anything approaching news worthiness). I couldn’t bring myself to continue the argument—nobody seemed to much care about the pseudo topic—but it got me thinking: is any company so free of risk and so flush with resources that it can even consider doing this?

As far as the absurdity of trying to govern worker’s off-the-clock behavior, Henry Ford tried something similar when he hired private detectives to follow his workers to see if they were smoking, drinking, or otherwise doing something decidedly unFord-like. In the case of Ford, the effort hastened union organization and generally collapsed under the weight of its own complexity. Even given today’s sophisticated technology the cost of snooping on your workers far exceeds the financial benefits.  Add to that the fallout from workers when they find out they are working for a voyeuristic creep, and you end up in a no-win situation.  The argument was pointless and while safety professionals continue engage in pointless debate about which latest fade is way cool, people are dying.

This topic hits pretty close to me. My father died from mesothelioma. I watched him devolve from an energetic and active retiree to a shell who could barely move, much less breath. My father never blamed his employer, who he believed took every reasonable precaution to protect him. But he was incensed to learn that the asbestos manufacturers who provided materials to his employer knew and failed to disclose that information. I have a brother-in-law with days to live. He has lung cancer likely caused by working as a millwright at what was once reputedly listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the dirtiest square mile on Earth. One doctor initially thought it was caused by silica exposure, another by some other industrial exposure. I’m not privy to his exact medical records so I doubt I’ll ever know the truth.

I have a brother, who years ago was overcome by fumes and fell from a pallet that was raised using a forklift as a makeshift platform used to paint the ceiling. A task that not only was he instructed to do by his supervisor, but one that the mouth-breathing thick-witted brute of a supervisor stood by as it happened. The fall left him close-head injured with short and long-term memory loss that only through God’s grace did not cause him any long-term disability. I’ve lost friends to a horrific array of industrial accidents—two co-workers to electrocution, another who fell in an open vat of acid, I could go on, but at some point it becomes macabre. None of these people took frivolous risks, drank on their lunch breaks, or thumbed their noses at safety regulations. They were just guys looking to make a fair day’s wage and go home the same way they came to work.

Thank God the safety professionals around the world have the time and intellectual energy to argue about what sorts of unsafe behaviors workers engage in off the job. After all, doesn’t safe behavior off the jobs safe lives too? Isn’t that important too? Well…no. If I chose to mow the lawn barefoot and drunk as a monkey I am making my own choice. I assume the risks and face the consequences. (Let me state for the record that mowing the lawn barefoot while drunk (as a monkey or otherwise))  is foolhardy and should be discouraged but despite the recklessness of such actions I am in an environment controlled by me.  It is an inalienable human right to make a wage without the unmanaged risk of injury.  When we enter into an employer-employee relationship the employer has a more, financial, civic and legal obligation to do everything in their power to protect us.  And THAT is the issue of the allegedly drunken Chrysler workers (trusting Rupert Murdock to provide you the truth is like trusting Charles Manson to house sit). It’s not that tax payers bailed out Chrysler and now we somehow own not only the company but the workers as well, it’s that drinking during lunch and returning to work endangers multiple other workers who are working safely and minding their own businesses.  That Fox film crew could have raised the alarm, but instead chose to get the ratings; it’s practically depraved indifference.

Let me get to the crux of my issues.  When safety professionals sit around arguing about this pointless crap, people are dying. While people in ivory towers debate whether safety is the fault of unsafe behaviors or failed processes people are horribly maimed and deprived of their livelihoods. And while safety professionals sit around congratulating themselves for lower recordable injuries or for the neat new incentive program because injury reporting is driven underground or because “effective case management” has taken a recordable off the books, things don’t get any safer.

Through all of this there is an opportunity cost. For starters, we are losing the war in the court of public opinion. People around the world who are actively trying to convince the public that worker injuries are largely the fault of bad luck; careless, drunk, or stupid workers. Even then-President of the United States decried the people who exercised their legal rights to hold companies responsible for knowingly putting people in harms way as filing “frivolous lawsuits”.

As the economy worsens more and more people are prepared to trade job safety for jobs. In a world where there are 27 million slaves (more than ever before in the history of mankind) worker safety rights need to be protected. Despite the rapidly deteriorating opinion as to the importance of worker safety there is little attention paid to the problem at professional conferences. Peruse the abstracts offered at the majority of the expos and conferences and you will see plenty of talks on culture, on incentives pro and con, and a fair amount on regulation. But scare few speakers take on the most serious threat to worker safety faced today: the belief that safety as a profession is irrelevant. We safety professionals have to be more than theorists. We have to be more than money-grubbing snake-oil salesmen. We have to worry less about pointless minutia of or trade and work to raise awareness of the importance of safety professionals who know how to do their jobs, do them well, and make meaningful advances in the trade.

It’s time to wake up.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #chrysler, #culture-change, #does-safety-cost-jobs, #dont-hurt-yourself, #drinking-alcohol-while-on-lunch-break, #frivolous-lawsuits, #jefferson-north-assembly-plant, #just-cause, #mesothelioma, #mine-safety, #oil-and-gas, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #rockford-greene, #rockford-greene-international, #safety, #safety-culture, #safety-recognition-programs, #uaw, #worker-safety, #worker-safety-rights

Four Flaws of Behavior-Based Safety

By Phil LaDuke

There is a growing body of evidence that BBS does more harm than good (the current head of the OSHA recently expressed his concerns that incentives and BBS were creating a climate where not reporting injuries is more important than preventing injuries. That is not to say that there are not studies on the wonderful effectiveness of BBS (although a fair amount funded by companies that make tens of millions of dollars selling it). So how can studies show diametrically opposed points of view?

For starters there is no international standard that differentiates BBS from well… BS. Anyone can describe there particular flavor of snake oil as Behavior Based Safety. Read the admittedly less than universally respected reference Wikipedia article on BBS and it reads like a brochure written by the closed head injured. It is far from impartial, and anyone who dares question the value of BBS is soundly shouted down. The vagueness with which people talk about BBS is astonishing (and no, I don’t include everyone in this condemnation, but let’s face it there are a lot of quacks out there selling some quasi-psycho babble as BBS and it has hurt anyone who labels there approach to worker safety as BBS.

Here’s a thought. What if we stopped creating labels for our safety? would it kill us if we didn’t keep trotting out a new complex safety panacea? Behaviors cause injuries. I get it. But there is plenty more to consider (whether or not the behavior was the result of conscious, informed decision making, for starters) than behavior (like how individuals behave differently in a population, or the innate, uncontrollable variation in human behavior to name two.

Honestly there are so many people who are so quick to jump to defend BBS it really makes me suspicious of whether it is the methodology or their livelihoods that they are so adamant about protecting (again, Dominic, I am not throwing stones at you, but having just returned from a major safety conference where I heard dozens of specious arguments about why more people should invest in BBS that I could just pull my hair out.

And while we’re at it, how many of the new charlatans selling culture change solutions where schilling have baked BBS 5 years ago? Until I hear a BBS proponent that will even consider that there are other, perhaps better solutions out there, I will continue to be skeptical. Too many of these professionals are process zealots—the care far more about the methodology than the results, and that is dangerous. These people will always dismiss individual cases (whether it be an injury or a catastrophe) as statistical outliers or anomalies or in some way the fault of someone else.

If BBS is so clearly the best solution, why does it need defending? And why are their so many hotly contested variations of it.

I understand that several giants of BBS certify safety professionals in their methodologies.  It’s a great business model: safety professionals, buoyed by their new found sense of importance and portable credentials, become advocates for your methodology.  They will push and advocate your system and you will make money hand over fist.  If you can live with the fact that people will not be protected while you make huge profits I guess this is a pretty good life.

More and more companies are finding Behavior-Based Safety Programs just don’t deliver what they promise and are moving to a more balanced and practical approach to managing worker Health and Safety. Executives are drawn to Behavior-Based Safety Programs because they promise quick and painless results. Safety professionals are attracted to the idea that worker behavior is the cause of most workplace injuries. Unfortunately, experts are beginning to question whether or not Behavior-Based Safety is based on a foundation of flawed premises. Flaw 1: Behavior is a contributor in 93 percent of injuries. On the surface, this kind of statistic would certainly seem to argue strongly in favor of a Behavior-Based Safety Program, but it is a specious argument. 100 percent of injuries have a behavioral element. The formula for an injury is Hazard + Interaction + Catalyst = Injury. By definition, an interaction is behavioral in nature, so essentially the argument that unsafe behavior accounts for 93 percent of all injuries is akin to saying, “If workers didn’t DO anything, they wouldn’t get hurt.” Fair statement, but then who wants a workplace where no work is done? Flaw 2: Behavior modification is an effective tool in reducing workplace injuries. Most Behavior-Based Safety Programs rely on recognition and rewards to positively reinforce safe behaviors and discourage unsafe behaviors. So, basically, a worker is forced to choose between seeking treatment and receiving a safety incentive. “If you had told me when I was building seats for the General Motors Fleetwood Plant that I would get a $50 quarterly bonus if I didn’t get injured, you would not hear about any of my injuries unless I left the plant in an ambulance.” What tends to happen in these programs is that inflammation of the elbow turns into tendonitis which then turns into carpal tunnel syndrome and the resulting cost of treatment is astronomical. Research has shown that such systems are certainly effective at discouraging the reporting of injuries, but there is little evidence that behavior modification has any sustainable effect on the corporate culture. Flaw 3: Unsafe behavior is deliberate. Behavior-Based Safety starts with the premise that if workers were more careful, less of them would get hurt. This philosophy appeals to many executives who, frustrated by a lack of progress in reducing injuries, would like to put the burden for workplace safety back onto the worker. Two better premises are “nobody wants to get hurt” and “no system is designed to hurt workers.” If these premises are true, no amount of behavior modification will lower worker injuries. Flaw 4: People take unnecessary risks because they are careless. In the many incident investigations that I have conducted where behavior played a key causative role, the clear majority of the injured workers took the risk because a) they were trying to show initiative and save time, and b) they were unaware of the magnitude of the risk they were taking, and/or c) they didn’t believe the risk was credible. Very few of these injured workers believed they were putting themselves in serious jeopardy. So is Behavior-Based Safety so deeply flawed that there is no room for recognition programs in a world-class safety process? Absolutely not; here are some tips for integrating recognition programs into your safety process: Reward the Right Things. Instead of rewarding workers for not getting injured, reward them for identifying system flaws that cause injuries. A reward for a suggestion that makes the workplace safer is far more meaningful than one for “collective safety” where an entire department is rewarded for going without an injury. Understand and Correct the Root Causes of Unsafe Behaviors. It’s not enough to identify unsafe behaviors; to truly improve workplace safety, one has to take proactive steps to remove hazards (both process flaws AND unsafe behaviors) before people get hurt. Rewarding workers who identify and correct the root causes of injuries is a good use of recognition and reward programs. Don’t Jump to Conclusions About Behaviors. Use “repetitive whys” to understand the thought processes that lead to unsafe behaviors before reacting to them. More often than not, the process dictates the behavior.

#attitude, #attitudes-toward-safety, #behavior-based-bullshit, #behavior-based-safety, #behaviour-based-safety, #culture-change, #dont-hurt-yourself, #just-cause, #loss-prevention, #mine-safety, #oil-and-gas, #operating-efficiency, #phil-la-duke, #phil-laduke, #philip-la-duke, #philip-laduke, #process-safety, #process-variability, #rockford-greene, #rockford-greene-international, #safety, #safety-culture, #variability-in-human-behavior, #worker-safety