NIOSH Director blames Safety Professionals for failures such as ‘Bay of Pigs’

[tweetmeme]In a ridiculous rant earlier this week Dr. John Howard showed once again why he was removed from his position as Director of NIOSH in 2008 (only to be reinstated by the current administration).  He contented that safety professionals need to overcome their “biases and complacency” to avoid decision-making failures and ensure workers stay safe.   Speaking Tuesday at the 20th Annual Construction Safety Conference & Exposition in Rosemont, IL, Howard cited historical events such as the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs operation to overthrow Fidel Castro and the 1986 loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle as examples of decision-making failures.   As though these failures were somehow the fault of the safety professionals charged with these projects, and not EXECUTIVE level failures!

He said such failures are due, in part, to individual biases (in safety professionals?) in which people can be overconfident and rely too heavily on data that confirms pre-existing beliefs while downplaying contrary information.  Decisions made at the group level, Howard asserted, often are inferior to those that may be made by the best-qualified individual in the group.  Although I do agree with this, it isn’t aligned with his previous assertion that fault lies with the safety professionals bias.  Dr. Howard is confused, if he thinks safety professionals aren’t being overruled daily throughout this country by executives who routinely minimize the safety element in favor of short term profits.  One need look no further than the Big Blue Crane collapse in Milwaukee or the 18 deaths that occurred along the Las Vegas Strip between 2006 and 2008.

 He said more disconfirming questions need to be asked.  As if safety professionals aren’t voicing enough concern, if we only yell louder management will hear us?  That’s like asking a tourist who doesn’t speak French to yell louder at the Hotel clerk in Paris who doesn’t speak English, in order to be better understood.  If Dr. Howard really wants to engage in a positive dialogue with companies regarding the increased need for safety, then he should start by encouraging his compatriots at OSHA to knock off the “new sheriff in town” rhetoric.  The alienation of top management and small businesses in this country in the past year by Federal OSHA and others has to stop if we truly want to increase safety and kick start this economy.


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