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

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

When is Your Safety Meeting Not A Safety Meeting?

dysfunctional meetings

By Phil La Duke

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

Combustible Dust: How Crackpots Endanger Safety

By Phil La Duke


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

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

Doing Something Poorly For 35 Years Isn’t Valuable Experience

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

Safety Ain’t What I Used to Be

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

This Brush Doesn’t Have Tar Enough For All

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

Is This Really A Threat?

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

What About Freedom Of Speech?

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

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

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

Feeling Unappreciated? Maybe You Invite the Abuse

By Phil LaDuke

There’s no denying the job of a safety professional can be tough. Between opportunistic vendors pushing snake oil, trenchant Operations leaders willing to take unreasonable risks, and petulant workers who passively (or belligerently) resist any and all efforts to make the workplace safer it’s easy to see Safety as a thankless profession.  But I’ve it occurs to me lately that many in the safety community bring this suffering on themselves and I think we would all—those of use who work within safety and those who work on it’s periphery—be a lot better off if Safety ended the adversarial relationship.

What’s that you say? You don’t see us as having an adversarial with Operations? Congratulations; if that is the case you are in the minority, at least in my experience. While it is easy to see the safety practitioner as the put-upon, long-suffering victim in many cases we invite this abuse, how? By:

Wrapping Ourselves In the Flag. When we tell Operations that they must make the workplace safer for God and country, that we must be the protectorate of all things safe an humane, that in Safety we trust…we come off as self-righteous and delusional jerks without the business acumen of a water buffalo.  Too often safety professionals default to the “it’s the right thing to do” argument for safety.  What’s wrong with pursuing safety because it’s the right thing to do? absolutely nothing, but when we tell someone that safety is the right thing to do we are implying (or could create the impression that we are implying) the person to whom we are giving our sanctimonious sermon can’t (without our help) tell right from wrong.  As much as we all like condescending lectures it does tend to set up a dichotomy where we have a monopoly on all that is just and holy.

Answering To a Higher Calling. I have met many safety professionals who believe that their jobs are more than just an occupation it’s a sacred calling.  While one is entitled to believe what one wants, believing that one isn’t a slave to the almighty buck and whose purpose on this earth is to protect the great unwashed from unscrupulous employers who otherwise would prey upon them and break their backs against the capitalist anvil gets a bit old to those of us who work for a living.  I won’t apologize for making my living from safety, I think it’s a noble profession.  I have often said that engineers believe the whole world would be an engineer if only they were smart enough, and nurses believe that the whole world would be a nurse of only they cared enough.  If that is true then may safety practitioners believe that the whole world would work in safety if only they were both smart enough and cared enough.  I freely acknowledge that our chosen profession requires a certain skill set and a specific personality, but the whole world doesn’t want our job—or even value it.

Taking All Of the Credit And None Of the Blame. Too many people in safety play the “I save lives” card without acknowledging that if our effectiveness saves lives then our ineffectiveness gets people killed.  How can we claim success without acknowledging our role in failure? When we do this we trivialize any contribution toward success made by Operations and inflate our own role and conversely we quickly blame Operations when things turn sour.  Operations, for their part see this hypocrisy and resent it.

Pretending That Safety Is the Ultimate Goal. I know many safety practitioners who act as if they are somehow external from the money-making arm of the organization.  Imagine how irritating it is for Operations personnel to have someone act as if it makes no difference whether the company is profitable and who sees themselves as the watchdog of safety, implying that but for them you would act with wanton disregard for worker safety.  If safety were truly the organization’s ultimate goal it would close its doors and bubble wrap all the workers before laying them off.

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

The Wrong Place At The Right Place: A Study In Variability


by Phil La Duke

Recently I was talking to a friend who had been injured on the job, not seriously thank God, but enough for it to be a recordable.  I asked her how it happened, fully expecting her to give me the same old “I was stupid, I …” excuse that we tend to get when people feel that whatever they were doing right before the accident was ultimately the result of their own stupidity, carelessness, or mistakes.  Her answer surprised me—although it shouldn’t have. She said, “I honestly don’t know…I mean I did the same thing I always do, only this time I got hurt.” I questioned her further, reasoning that (as I always argue) if one does the same thing every time one will either never get hurt or always get hurt, that’s  the only two outcomes. While this makes for good hazard recognition training (it refutes the whole “I didn’t do anything wrong I swear” argument) it is yet another instance where I am chiefly full of crap.

I don’t expect many of you to argue (I get virtual reams of eHatemail telling me such) and I am neither fishing for compliments nor feeling sorry for myself.  The simple fact is that my friend could be absolutely correct: she may have done things exactly the same and still got hurt.

It’s worth saying that she probably wasn’t doing things exactly as she “always does”.  This doesn’t make her a liar, but it does demonstrate the mistaken believe under which most of us labor, that is, that we do things the same way every time.

Let me illustrate, I walk my two rowdy black labrador mixes 2 miles every morning; I do the exact same thing—we walk the same route, stop at our neighborhood party store where I buy 4 Diet Dr Peppers and head home.  We do the same thing every day…except when we don’t.  You see, while it’s easy for me to SAY (and believe) that I do the same thing every day I really don’t and here’s where it get’s messy. First we have to define “the same”. To be sure I have a process, I get up, put the harnesses on the hound, grab a couple of plastic bags or disposing of waste and we head out westbound on our route.  But how much is this really the same from day to day? My alarm goes off at 6:52 every morning, of course there is variability in the cheap alarm clock that I use but so little that it’s not worth mentioning, but it still is VARIABLE.  Sometimes I get up full of energy and am ready to go, other times I may hit the snooze and get up 10-20 minutes later. I get dressed, use the bathroom, and head down stairs. About half the time I forget my phone on the charger in my room and head back to retrieve it Sometimes the younger of the two dogs decides to wriggle and growl and squirm which she thinks is great fun. Sometimes the older of the two balks at the sit command usually we take our respective pills before we walk but sometimes I forget and we take them when I get home. These variables (and many more) effect exactly what time I leave the house, and each one of these variables exist in a universe filled (with what are, for all intents and purposes) are infinite variables. (I know that there are theoretical limits, but for practicality’s sake there isn’t much difference between the infinite and the finite in this case.) I have been doing this routine most every day for the last 13 years and I am essentially doing the same thing every day.  If my assertion that “if you do everything the same way you either always get hurt or you will never get hurt” is correct than I should never be injured on my dog walk.

Mostly the Same Isn’t Exactly the Same

I have been injured three times on my dog walk, fortunately never seriously, but I have seen my fair share of near misses.  There are several areas of my walk where there are uneven rises in the concrete sidewalks, on at least four occasions I nearly tripped on these hazards. Given that I have interacted with these hazards approximately 28,840 times (approximately 700 walks a year (two a day less a conservative estimate of how many I may have missed because I was traveling, sick, or unmotivated) times 13 times the number of hazards) the fact that I have only had four near misses is remarkable. So, since we’ve established that I do things “mostly the same” and not “exactly the same” we can readily explain why, despite so much interaction, there have been so few incidents, because the many factors that must be present for me to stumble, fall, and injure myself .  In fact, the near misses have been so far apart that  I am surprised each time I stumble.  If this were a workplace incident what would be Safety’s response?  We may well cordoned off the area until maintenance can correct the hazard. Keep in mind, I am not the only pedestrian who walks this portion of the route so while my experience is real and valid it is only one data point and we can not assume that my experience is universal. Additionally, while my risk is seemingly low, what about children who bicycle on the sidewalk? (in my municipality, it is illegal for people over the age of 13 to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk, a law that is almost universally ignored) or people who run on the sidewalk? The risk differs in each case because of the variability in our behavior and interaction.

Are We Miscalculating Risk?

The risk of me falling on these hazards are presumably pretty high, but they aren’t really.  We tend to calculate risk as Duration x Probability x Severity and when we do so we tend to treat all three of these factors as carrying equal importance.  Anyone who has risked being injured because he or she was only going to be interacting with a hazard “for just a minute” can tell you that the duration of exposure is not necessarily equal to the severity of injury. We we in a laboratory we might be able to come up with reliable statistical models for the average duration, average probability (which is subdivided into probability of interaction and the probability that such interaction will result in an incident) and the most probable severity (almost any hazard has the theoretical possibility of causing a fatality, just as almost any hazard has the theoretical possibility that a person can interact with the hazard and escaped unharmed), but think of how “dumbed down” this risk truly is.  For it to be meaningful it needs to be a calculation not just of MY risk of injury but EVERYONE’s risk of injury, so we talk about averages: “what is the average duration of exposure?” “what’s the AVERAGE probability?” “What’s the most likely severity?” Can we ever get a statistically valid (assuming that we are dealing with a normal distribution) predictor of risk of injury, and what’s more, is it really that important that we do?

Balancing Risk

Risk is not constant, it’s contextual.  While we might talk about conditions as “safe” or “unsafe” we are really deluding ourselves.  There is no such thing as an absolutely, 100 percent “safe” condition because everything carries with it some risk and if there is a trillionth of a chance that something can harm you, well then there’s a chance that it can harm you and the best we can say is that something is “safe enough” or “safer” than an alternative. The minute we start preaching safety (and that ship sailed a LONG, LONG time ago) we start advocating for the impossible.  If we ask our people to make binary decisions—that is, a choice is either “safe” or “unsafe” we effectively force people to get comfortable making unsafe choices because, let’s face it, something done as frequently as driving is unsafe and, because there are no desirable alternatives we do it any way.  Is the workplace so different from our day-to-day lives?

Safer Choices Not Safe Choices

The key to a safer workplaces lies not in getting people to make safe choices (nothing would ever get done) rather in getting people to make safer choices. Instead of having people ask themselves if what they are going to do is safe, we should be encouraging people to ask themselves how they can make what they are going to do safer.  Through relentless pursuit, not of the safest POSSIBLE solution but, of a safer solution we stand the best chance of making advances in workplace safety.

#at-risk-behavior, #risk, #risk-assessment, #risk-taking, #variability-in-human-behavior

Changing The Safety Culture: You Got To Want It

By Phil LaDuke


To some extent the world is driven by desire, and I have said (quoting a long-time friend) that you always have the time and money for what is truly important to you.  As I continue battling to sell safety systems to companies who truly do need to change their cultures I am continually beset by companies who are quick to say all the right things but when it comes to making a commitment they just plain lack the political will to get things done.

Of course no one will ever admit that they don’t want a safe workplace; to do so would brand them a villain worse than any war criminal.  So why is it so difficult to sell companies who employ large staffs dedicated to making the workplace safer? And why is it harder still to maintain the momentum it takes to drive lasting and sustainable change in an organization?  Will.  So many companies are so fixated on finding a magic bullet for safety that anything that is of any magnitude is quickly disregarded.  But it’s not really the difficulty in selling safety solutions that is troubling, rather, it’s the lack of commitment to sticking with change when things get tough, or scary, or chaotic.

In my many years as a corporate culture change agent I have found that the strongest driver of change is the desire for success—and that applies not just to safety, but success at everything.  I am reminded at the biblical story (and forgive me folks by I am by far no theologian or biblical scholar although I did get ordained on the internet but given that the entire ordination consisted of me filling out a form and having Reverend credentials emailed to me I don’t think it qualifies me as a religious scholar) where a man approached Jesus and asked him what he had to do to gain salvation.  Jesus told him that he must sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor and come follow him, AND THE MAN WENT AWAY SAD.  Wow.  And I thought I made poor life choices (and for the record I have) but what a whopper that guy made.  It doesn’t matter your religious persuasion (or lack thereof) what is important is that this guy believed that Jesus could deliver the goods and when he heard what it would take he decided that it was too high a price to pay for eternal life.  And he went away sad.  Was he disappointed that the solution was so life changing or was he expecting Jesus to say something like, “don’t sweat it, I can get you in, I know people.  When you get to the gates of heaven just tell them you’re with me”?

I think there are strong parallels between this biblical story and the state of safety.  People come to the providers of culture change solutions and expect the answer to “the key to culture change is taking this course, or having your employees read this book,” or “all you need to do is…”  I think when they realize that culture change is a laborious process that involves engaging outside experts and changing the way the organization operates and a foundational level they go away sad.  Or they buy snake oil and hope it will work.

Of course some try the longer term, more holistic approaches, and many of them are successful (I have a pretty good track record of helping companies be successful if I do say so myself) but so many others give up, and having given up refuse to be “fooled again”.  I am partnering with a company who is really excited about my approach to culture change, but there is one snag.  The one person within the company who has the most power and influences to get me in front of his customers doesn’t believe that sustainable culture change is possible.  I have provided him with case studies of customers I have successfully served 10 years ago who are still sustaining the gains that I helped them achieve.  I have provided references so that he could hear testimonials from the proverbial horse’s mouth all to no avail.  The lessons he learned from the snake oil salesmen will not be easily unlearned and in fairness to him, I would meet anything that promises safety salvation with a sharp dose of skepticism.

Why do so many change initiatives fail? Too often it’s because the organization wants to take components of the solution and expects that implementing a “lite” version of the solution.  In the 1980’s the Japanese Management was all the rage.  Many companies tried to emulate the results that the Japanese companies achieved, but when they looked at all the components that the Japanese style of management required they quickly started eliminating practices. The resulting watered-down solution was completely unrecognizable as an effective management system.  We see the same thing today as companies try to imitate Google or Yahoo, taking ingredients of the recipe only to be surprised that the effort completely fails.

But in the final analysis, it’s not a lack of time, money, resources, or solutions that get in the way of safety; it’s a lack of desire.  If leadership continues to value productivity over people, the bottom line over the front line worker, tactics over strategy, the immediate business needs over the long-term solid business decisions, all efforts to improve safety will be transitory at best.  You can’t change anything and expect it to remain the same.

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