Are Safety Professionals Often Snake Oil Salesmen?

When working in the safety industry your performance can (and all too often does) mean the difference between life and death. The difference between having someone go home after a long day at work, and having someone go to the hospital after an accident. We would all like to think that every safety professional in the industry works hard and does their absolute best, but a growing number of people are starting to see that this might not be true.

This was brought to light in a blog post by Phil La Duke, which was shared on the OSHA discussion group on LinkedIn. This blog post was titled, “Why I Tend to See The Worst in Safety,” and it really went all out talking about how many people in the industry don’t really know what they are doing, and aren’t actually making significant safety improvements in their roles.

Specifically, when talking about many of the people in the industry that he has met over the years, he said,

“I found them to be skeazy snake-oil salesmen with the black twisted hearts of society’s worst.”

Of course, there were also comments about some of the ‘good guys’ in the industry. Whether you like Mr. La Duke or not, it is clear that he writes these types of blog posts because he really cares about improving the safety of the workplace. He really understands that our jobs are important and deserve to be done properly.

Challenging What You Believe

In addition to the ‘snake oil salesmen’ that are discussed, one commenter on the post talks about those who believe they are doing a good job, but simply operating off of bad information. Kyle Odell said,

“I do not always agree with your posts Phil, but they do help you examine your paradigms, and it is important to constantly challenge what you believe to be right, especially in the safety world.”

This is spot on. Just because someone has taken a safety course, for example, or passed a safety exam, does not mean that they really understand what is needed to improve safety in their area of influence. A true safety professional must occasionally take a step back and really analyze whether or not what you are doing is working. Whether your beliefs line up with reality.

If not, it is time to make some adjustments, and that is ok. Our goal as safety professionals is to always operate with the best possible information available to ensure everyone is safe.

Consultants Don’t Always Know Best

According to this post, and a comment from John Walsh, part of the problem with the industry is that so many companies rely on ‘consultants.’ These consultants portray themselves as experts and try to sell their ideas or products in order to improve safety. Mr. Walsh said,

“…I never intended to lump all consultants together, because as you note, not all are bad, and some are very good. However, just like your posts that knock safety get more attention, so do the bad consultants.”

While some of them really provide an exceptional service, a great many of them are primarily just good at selling themselves. They come in and give a great speech, but in the end it doesn’t really provide much in the way of real improvement. In the end, it is important to really just vet all consultants properly to ensure they are providing a real service before hiring them.

Putting Safety, NOT YOURSELF First

To sum up the post from Mr. La Duke, and the comments from other people, a really good safety professional needs to always put safety first. While it can be tempting to put your own reputation or career first, that is not a luxury a safety professional should have. Our obligation is to always focus on safety since without that, people get hurt. Sometimes they are even fatally injured. Everyone in this industry would do well to think about that a little more often.

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