Safety "Professionals" Behaving Badly

by Dave Collins on November 15, 2015

in Safety Leadership,Safety Procedures

Safety “Professionals” Behaving Badly

ADDENDUM: This is an old post which I put up recently on LinkedIn Pulse. My Good Friend Max Geyer made a comment which I think sums this up better than I ever could. He says:

safety failI think that part of the difficulty, for the safety professional, is that they perceive that they are better educated and more knowledgeable about safety than those around them. This is perfectly understandable (from their point of view). Part of the issue is that the training and education that most safety professionals receive (I know it to be true in my previous lives) is about legislation, penalties, incident investigations, and systems; it is not about understanding how people make decisions about risk. Their training is not about how people think, in fact it is mostly not about people at all. And therein lies the real issue; safety is about people and how they think and make decisions. It is about understanding how people make sense of risk and then act on their understanding. Once we have a few clues along these lines we now also have a few clues as to how we can improve the well-being of our people, including helping them to be safe.

I’m currently getting sent all these photos and videos (i wont publish so as to protect the guilty)  of a couple of Safety Professionals from a mining contracting company who had to be rescued by a FEL from their overturned 4WD after trying to cross a flooded creek somewhere in the Australian Outback!

I have been paid a to write comprehensive SOP’s and SWMS for professional lawn mowers but I am the first to admit that I don’t do a Take 5 or even wear 8 kinds of PPE when I mow the lawn at home, yeah I’ve used the wheelie bin as a ladder, I’ve been pulled over for speeding at the gates of the company where  I was about to do an AS4801 audit…………….

imageI’ve seen a Workcover Inspector fined in the city for “J” walking. I think we have all heard the story of the Workcover Inspector pulled over by the cops for speeding who then proceeded to issue the Officer with a fine for not wearing a hi viz vest.

Do Safety Professionals leave themselves open to ridicule when they decree all these convoluted systems, procedures, behaviours designed to protect us from ourselves but then fail or neglect to espouse them personally or set the example? Or are they human and fallible after all – despite what they think?

We copped a lot of flack for this article a year ago:

I would love to hear some more examples of hypocrisy and Safety Professionals behaving badly!!!!

One of our readers just sent in this photo of the parking abilities (or lack of) of a Workplace Health and Safety Manager:image

  • We generally know what we SHOULD do but it doesn’t always translate to behaviour….just like those workers out there that we find so frustrating!! Perhaps there’s a disconnect between head (logic and reasoning) and heart (values and other unseen / unconscious programmes that drive behaviours) that we have still not come to terms with inside ourselves, so it should be no surprise that we have so far fallen short of finding a realistic and workable solution…..

    • Agreed – No problems if we recognise that we are not perfect, acknowledge it and show humility. I would love a $ for every time I’ve been told that I should know better. The problems start when we start judging others and becoming a walking hypocritical contradiction! Perhaps opportunities to look at problems with the system/culture if we are struggling to act within it the way we expect others to

      • Exactly – if it’s not something we ourselves are willing to commit to actually doing, it’s time for some serious consideration.
        A well known quote – I don’t know who it should be attributed to:
        For things to change, first I must change.
        The issues are never actually ‘out there’.

        • yeah do as I say, not as I do!

          • I think the way we do it at home is much closer to our real perception of the risk. We tend to either fake it at work, or think we know the risk for ourselves but have to think for the other guy (typical risk arrogance?). At home I have a pretty decent welding helmet because I know the risk of arc-eyes, but I do not own a pair of Kevlar gloves since, in my perception, I do not need them (or even know where to get hold of a pair). Also, it is so much easier spending the company’s money on protective equipment, but the calculation is different when it is your own money with a different set of priorities. (Will you fork out money for a pair of safety boots if your five year old does not have any food for the day?). In other words, we probably assess risk differently if our own money and time is at stake. (As was said on this blog before – risk assessment is not static, nor accurate, but always linked to some kind of perception.)

          • Great points Wynand – maybe comes back to Risk Homeostasis – we all have our own target level of risk whether at home or work and we subjectively assess all the potential benefits/gains and costs/losses (mostly unconsciously) before deciding on appropriate behavior. Those influencing factors on how we perceive risk will definitely be different at home than at work.

  • the safety pros do this becaause they think they have a better perception of risk than their underlings. they feel they can take greater chances and stay within the bounds even when they tell their associates to stay way away from the line they have drawn.

    • Peter Ribbe

      Do not agree Ron, first I do not consider myself a pro,, but rather a practitioner, pro sends the wrong message to people as they categorize you in the same light as a doctor or solicitor, and that’s not where I am, besides they earn a lot more than I do. I practice what I preach, and lead by example.

  • Peter Ribbe

    Great stuff!! there must be something wrong with me then,,, I wear steel capped boots and safety glasses when mowing, have my own harness and lanyard when climbing and working on the roof, have ladder securing straps when climbing the roof, wear a steel mesh glove when slicing meat for a Barbie,, although I do manage to whack my thumb with a hammer when nailing into wood, have since got sick of sore thumbs, so purchased a nail gun, will try not to nail my hand onto a piece of wood.

    • There is nothing wrong with you at all – you have chosen those controls based on your perception of the risks – not because somebody decided them for you. I wear steel caps because I saw my grandad lose a toe to a mower – I cringe when I see others wearing thongs but don’t say anything. I wear glasses occasionally (when I can find them)

      • Peter Ribbe

        Yes Dave, my philosophy is i will do as i want you to do, no point spending time telling people they must wear this or thay and to work safe, if you do not follow your own doctrine, i will send you a couple of new safety glasses, have many.

        • Hah thanks mate – I am willing to bet that most safety people do things differently at home than they do at work – I am always being told that “I should know better”

          • Peter Ribbe

            Yes they do mate, especially the ones that should know better, the home is a very dangerous place, no one to regulate, I have pulled friends up that are safety people about doing dangerous stuff at home. They don’t like it, but change what they were doing, not sure if its about safety, or just to shut me up? I will send some safety glasses your way on Friday, have to go to the PO and pay some Williams, so will send a parcel to your PO Box. Have some really cool ones coming, I will save a couple of them for you as well, they are for outside use, like sunny’s.

          • Awesome – thanks mate!

          • Jim Chambers

            I think it’s along the lines of the carpenter having the worst house and the mechanic having the worst car.

          • dave collins

            hah! great point jim – why do you think those things are the case – i know a few tradies and its definitely true! some say they need a break when they at home some say they would rather do the work that earns them money. my garage would definitely not pass a housekeeping audit!!!

          • Jim Chambers

            I think you hit the nail on the head with the needing a break. Though I’m sure a part of it is “I know how to fix this, I’ll get to it later.” The problem is later never comes. I know of a couple things at home I should take care of, but my ambition level at home is much lower than at work.

          • There is nothing more motivating for a guy than when his wife says: “Well it looks like I’ll have to get a man in”!

    • the other day i was cutting some metal roof panel with a circular saw. i wore glasses, gloves and ear plugs. i did, though, fail to submit a JHA to the wife.

      • Peter Ribbe

        Yeah, well even I don’t go that far, did you at least reverse the blade on the saw? Cuts much neater and safer that way, or did you have a cutting wheel attached? Each to their own, more serious injuries occur at home than in the workplace, I just out of habit do at home what I do and preach at work, keeps the brain tuned.

  • This was hilarious and provided a nice break from this mornings work.

    This is like the parents telling their kids not to smoke because its no good for you while they are LIGHTING up their next one.

    People sense hypocrisy.

    It undermines safety as well as respect for the leadership of the company.

    Real leadership requires us to the walk the walk not just talk the talk.

    Lloyd Pro Group | Nationwide Insurance
    4919 Flat Shoals Parkway #109, Decatur, GA, 30034

  • It’s the old mentality of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Employers and managers need to lead by example. A safe workplace environment can only be achieved if management leads by example.

  • Jennifer M. Logan-Porter

    Trust me, I believe in Karma or what goes around comes around. Unfortunately, our supervisor (the passive one) did not set that kind of example, so I really don’t know who this guy’s role model was to learn how to act/lead that way. However, one of the best feelings I got from that experience was that on my last day men who worked outside in the elements told me that they were going to miss me since I was the only one who seemed to give a care. That, in of itself, made it all the worthwhile and I take it with me as a lucky charm while I am out looking for employment and networking 🙂

  • Jennifer M. Logan-Porter

    Does it count when a safety professional openly acts out aggressively and harasses a co-worker? If so, I have a story to share.

    • Riskex

      Absolutely! Great example – I’d luv to hear your story 🙂

      • Jennifer M. Logan-Porter

        Well, here’s my story (heaven forbid if any prospective employer would see this)… While I was interning with an international company, I had to share the working area with a man who was a notch above me. He didn’t seem to like it too much since 9 times out of 10 he would throw his hard hat down on the floor and yell “Get the hell out of my office!”. I tried ignoring him, turning the other cheek, throwing a retort his way and sadly enough even when our manager witnessed it firsthand, the manager just simply shrugged his shoulders and asked “What do you want me to do about it?”. It got to the point where I felt like crying because I was struggling to maintain my weekly committment to them. The icing on the cake was when this man (the yeller) took me to a company luncheon to applaud the safe working habits at a site and he took it upon himself to swat me on my butt. I was stunned and yet again when I took it to management, I received the same useless feedback. Thankfully those days are behind me and I haven’t experienced anything like it since. If there is anything positive to be said about it is that I grew stronger and more resilient as a result of these times =D !

        • Riskex

          Erkkkk – makes you wonder what type of organisation it is that lets someone like that climb to the top of the dung heap!!! He was probably made that way from having a similar boss? I have met many like that but they get theirs eventually and end up sad, lonely old men. People respect them out of fear but eventaully find a way to bring them down (and get away with it). Have to believe in Karma 🙂

  • Mark T

    My worse is pretty tame to most. Turning up on site without steel cap boots, polyester / cotton shirt, and no hi-viz is my worst so far. Then the next day when I turned up in my all cotton hi viz gear and steel cap boots, everyone gave me s@#t about my bright new shirt and extra clean boots. I deserved it.

    • Riskex

      I reckon we can all relate and empathise mate – I always wash my new hi viz a few times and hang in the sun for a few days! I remember years ago our new safety lady turning up at the quarry in high heels and short skirt – none of the boys complained but when she went in the control room one wag exclaimed: “lucky ya flat chested luv or ya’d be bouncin’ round like jelly” – ooops!

  • One job I had the field safety people used to refer to my boss as bootlaces because he was so far up his managers rear end that the only things hanging out were his boot laces!
    My boss played the political game, always anxious to manage his career progression, pity improvements in safety were less of a priority

    • Riskex

      We all know the type mate. People may follow and obey them out of fear rather than respect. But, as soon as they get a chance to bring them down and get away with it….they will, big time!

Previous post:

Next post: