Is Predictive Analysis For Safety Just the Next Big Thing?

By Phil La Duke

I’ve taken a fair amount of flack about being behind on the latest and greatest in Safety theory. I’m not worried about getting a little flack from pompous, over-blown, theoreticians who pat me on the head and patronize me for being the poor stupid author of an antiquated article filled with atavistic thinking. That’s fine, but keep it respectful or I will poor more vitriol and bile then you thought possible.

For starters I have been a proponent, advocate, and user of predictive indicators since the late 1990s. But I have to tell you that I think the theoreticians are jumping the gun in saying that we can predict fatalities, or even injuries, at least not without significant education in statistics and data analysis.

Predicting fatalities is a bit like predicting the weather; that is, difficult. The difficulty lies in the many variables that can influence the outcome, and many of those variables are unknown, making a precise prediction impossible.

There is a lot wrong with the average safety practitioner’s understanding of predictive (but fortunately there are a host of consultants out there to “show them the way”). Let’s start with the difference between “prediction” and “foresight”. Prediction implies that one can, using statistical analysis with a high probability of accuracy, a certain outcome. Statistical prediction is a recognized science and my point is not to belittle it; that having been said, it requires no small amount of expertise. Foresight, means that given a basic set of facts, a reasonable person can anticipate a likely result. Again, I am not belittling foresight, but even foresight requires no small amount of skills.

Using Statistical Analysis to “Predict” fatalities is not quite as pat as it seems. For starters, many are using the word “predict” when they mean “foresee”. I can foresee that someone welding on a gas tank could cause an explosion. I don’t need anything more than a basic understanding of the relationship between gasoline fumes and explosions to be able to foresee an undesirable outcome.

Prediction is more likely to use data to produce a fairly vague prognosis; the data may show that enough variables exist that a fatality (or serious injury) will happen in a given area and even the nature of the injury, but it’s difficult to say exactly when it will occur. There is also the problem of probability (each encounter has the same probability of causing an injury, so a lucky organization could have workers engaged in extremely risky behavior and never have an injury.)

In an article in EHS Today one of the leading proponents of predictive Safety offered four “truths” of predictive safety[1]:

“#1: More inspections predict a safer worksite.” This is misleading, because it assumes that the a) the inspections are effective in identifying the hazards that are most likely to cause an injury; b) the inspections cover the entire workplace, i.e. they aren’t conducted in the same place. It also assumes that all hazards create equal jeopardy, which we no Is not true.
“Safety Truth #2: More inspectors, specifically more inspectors outside the safety function, predict a safer worksite.” Here again this is fraught with assumptions. It assume that the more inspectors are adept at finding hazards and are judicious in containing and correcting the hazards in a timely manner; this cannot be assumed. Furthermore, more inspectors don’t “predict” anything necessarily, rather this statement flies in the face of sound statistical analysis. Where is the cause and effect of more inspectors (who may or may not have the ability to identify hazards effectively). This “truth” relies only on quantitative data and ignores any and all qualitative data.
“Safety Truth #3: Too many “100 percent safe” inspections predict an unsafe worksite.” Again, there is no basis for prediction. There are many, MANY variables that could create inspections that are “100 percent safe”. The author of this statement infers (and it makes sense to infer it) that the inspectors are either derelict in doing their duties, or are missing hazards. The author may be right, but makes no allowance for the improbable scenario that all hazards have indeed been removed from the areas inspected.
“Safety Truth #4: Too many unsafe observations predict an unsafe worksite.” Here the author is mistaking foresight for predictability. This entire premise mistakes correlation for cause and effect ignores the very real need for a sufficiently large sample size before any statistical inference can be made. Furthermore it ignores margin for error, the need for a normal distribution, and statistical outliers.

They are on the right track, but too many people moving to “predictive analysis” don’t understand the differences between being able to foresee and predict, correlation and cause, and science and snake oil—the bottle has changed but the poison is the same.





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


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

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

Boxing Kangaroo2

By Phil La Duke

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

It all comes down to competency.


By Phil La Duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?


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