Timothy D Ludwig, Calloway Publishing (

What are you, F&#%’N stupid?!? – dysfunctional practices

The provocative question on Dr Timothy Ludwig’s book cover didn’t put me in a positive frame of mind. But the author, who teaches industrial psychology at Appalachian State University in the US, is deliberately trying to grab attention and push boundaries. Ludwig, who has more than 30 years’ experience in workplace safety, has plenty to say and his book on dysfunctional practices, while at times discursive, generally is good.




His central tenet is that, although human behaviour tends to be at the crux of workplace safety programmes, many organisations, safety practitioners and leaders miss the point, concluding that human error is the root cause of accidents and poor performance. This, he reckons, is as bad as calling workers stupid.

The book is split into two. First, a series of reflections and workplace stories leads the reader through six dysfunctional practices to explain that behaviour is a dynamic variable and must be treated carefully. Ludwig explores topics such as blame, fear and labelling, and shows how these practices not only damage workplace culture but also do little to reduce the risks. He argues that, in implementing behaviour-based safety programmes, managers now look for faults (“at-risk behaviours”) and favour aversive tactics such as scolding, threat and discipline, all of which miss the behavioural variance that is the actual source of risk.

Part 2 offers the antidote – encouraging a greater focus on behaviours, encouraging a learning mindset, and the creation of “hacks” to nudge behaviour in the right way. One demerit is the negative bias – there are only three “functional practices”, which take up less than half the pages, compared with their six darker counterparts. The lessons shared are hardly revelations: direct observation is the only useful way to understand behaviour; behaviour is neither good nor bad, simply neutral; and, it’s your system that shapes workers’ behaviour.

Standard references, such as Heinrich’s pyramid, Reason’s domino theory and the iceberg model, feature, with traces of neuropsychology (cognitive dissonance, conditioned avoidance, and the ABC model). But the author’s own ideas add value too.

A brief but strong section explains how single data points cause us to skew our thinking and believe that our feedback to workers (whether positive or negative) is effective. Ludwig’s “P3 Power Quotient”: prompt, probable and personal, helps us to understand how the power of a consequence to motivate behaviour is a function of feedback.

Each chapter concludes with a summary page of the key points and makes the book a pleasant, brisk read, if not quite the groundbreaker I anticipated.

* All prices correct at the time of review 




CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS 

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