Safety Is A Job Not A Sacred Calling

Safety Is A Job – Not A Sacred Calling

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askingvocation (voh-key-shuh n) /voʊˈkeɪ ʃən/ noun

1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.

2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.

3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.

4. a function or station in life to which one is called by God



job (job)noun

  1. a piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one’s occupation or for an agreed price:

She gave him the job of mowing the lawn.

  1. a post of employment; full-time or part-time position:

She was seeking a job as an editor.

  1. anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility:

It is your job to be on time.


I get taken to task a lot by safety zealots because I reject the idea that ours is a “sacred calling”.  Safety is not a vocation, at least not for me, and frankly calling it such diminishes its credibility as profession.  Now before some lunatic climbs up on his or her high horse and accuses me of being a monster who indifferent to human suffering, let me yet again run down my own personal butcher’s bill of carnage inflicted on me and mine.

My father and brother-in-law both died of exposure to hazardous materials on the job.  Both of my grandfathers died on the job. My brother was overcome by fumes while painting and fell from a makeshift platform (a fork truck with a pallet on the tines raised so he and a coworker could paint the ceiling). My other brother’s best friend died two weeks on the job that my brother helped him get. My great uncle disappeared (and was presumed dead into a lime pit), my long-time friend and colleague died after contracting a deadly infection after a surgery to correct a spinal injury that happened 40 years prior.  My ex-father-law died from exposure to asbestos, but not before an on the job injury crippled him, caused him to become addicted to opioids which spread through the family like a cancer killing his brother-in-law and my ex-wife the mother of my child.  A childhood acquaintance died an agonizing death after falling waste deep into a vat of acid (it took him over a week to die as the acid continued to eat away at his flesh and organs.) I have had numerous coworkers killed on the job and each stays with me.

And yet, safety is my job, not my vocation.  I was not called by God to do this work; I reluctantly took a job in safety because a friend and ex-coworker recruited me.  I took the job because the company I was then head of training was for sale and teetering on the brink of ruin following the suicide of its owner. I care about my job and I do it well.  I write 1000+ words a week offering tips and criticisms of the worker safety profession, and yet when people say “you’re really passionate about safety” I correct them. I am passionate about a well-run company.  If any of the people mentioned above had worked for a well-run company they would not have suffered the horrible fate of dying at work. (Most days I don’t even like LIVING at work, I can’t imagine the horror of dying there.)

What’s wrong with me? Am I some kind of sociopath? Nothing is wrong with me and no I am not a sociopath.  If I were to allow my feelings about all the people I’ve know who have died on the job affect me emotionally, it would destroy my ability to be objective. I would not be able to conduct an incident investigation without looking to assign blame. I wouldn’t be able to speak to business leaders about efficiency and the wasteful costs of injuries, because I would be too busy proselytizing about their moral responsibilities and lecturing them on “the right thing to do” (implying the highly insulting insinuation that they don’t know the difference between right and wrong and need me to instruct them like ignorance children).

I cannot convince leaders to reduce the risk of injuries by talking about God and moral obligations, but I CAN get them to work with me to make a workplace safety by talking about loss of productivity, the cost of injuries, the quality losses associated with bloodied products, and the inevitable disruption of work caused by inspections, and fines, and all the ensuing problems associated with mucking up the works because a worker was needlessly injured or killed.  I can talk about financial and criminal repercussions because a supervisor or CEO was negligent. I can get people to listen to me when I talk about these things, but were I to talk about my “higher calling”  my  “vocation” or my personal belief that I am doing “God’s work” a good many of people who I might have otherwise convinced would dismiss me as a soft-headed nut job.

Safety is not my calling. I will not go to heaven because I do a good job in safety any more than Jeanette will go to heaven because she scrupulously keeps the books. I put in more than a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and sure through my writing and speaking I am told at least, that I have helped a lot of people.  These people went on to convince business leaders and workers, not of the moral responsibility for safety, but for the business savvy of safety, and maybe in so doing I may have saved a life or two.

Screaming that safety is your divine calling is about making you feel good.  It’s about elevating yourself  in your mind to something more than a person who works in safety to becoming the hand of God himself; to being God’s holy instrument. Do we help people, God I really hope so.  But so do accountants, and purchasers, and people who turn wrenches on the shop floor. We are no more instruments of God than they and to claim so is to alienate the very people we are “called” to help.

Phil LaDuke

Phil LaDuke

Principle and Partner at ERM
Phil LaDuke
Phil La Duke is a principle and partner in Environmental Resources Management (ERM) a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services. With over 140 offices in 40 countries and nearly 6,000 top professionals, ERM can help you wherever you find yourself doing business. At ERM we are committed to providing a service that is consistent, professional, and of the highest quality to create value for our clients. Over the past five years we have worked for more than 50% of the Global Fortune 500 delivering innovative solutions for business and selected government clients helping them understand and manage the sustainability challenges that the world is increasingly facing. Phil works primarily in the Performance and Assurance practice at ERM; a speaker, author, consultant, trainer, provocateur…Phil La Duke wears many hats. As an expert in safety, training, organizational development, and culture change, Phil and ERM can help you motivate your workforce, conduct safety performance assessments, help you to build robust training infrastructures, craft interventions to improve how your work place values safety, provide insights to your executive staff, and craft and execute business solutions. If you’re interested in what Phil La Duke and ERM can do for you, or if you would like to inquire about employment opportunites at ERM, contact Phil at

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