I was recently watching an old episode of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.” The episode title was “Safety Third.” I was intrigued.
The official network blurb said: "In a thoughtful look back at his most challenging and hazardous apprenticeships, Mike makes a practical case for safety and reaffirms the critical role of individual responsibility in a dangerous world... Safety considerations must always be present, but that doesn't mean they will always be first."
In the show, Mike goes on to explain, "...when you say 'Safety First,' and you say it over and over and over, you create the sense of complacency among your employees, along with the belief that... allows them to assume that somebody else cares more about their own well-being than they do. Then you abdicate personal responsibility, and you ultimately send a counter-intuitive message."
As a safety professional, I always expect safety to be a priority, but have found that for many people the safety priority is trumped by job completion. Or, in an effort to keep safety first, responsibility falls to a specific person or position. However well intentioned, either can create disparity between the responsible and culpable.
So ask yourself, “Where does safety rank at my company?” Is it even in the top three?
- Is it specific to the current risks, jobs, and worker’s skill sets?
- Who delivers the message? Is it only coming from who is responsible for safety, or from those who are culpable for the job completion?
- Is safety something separate and seen as a compliance task, or is it indistinguishable from each and every job?
- Do your workers demonstrate personal responsibility? Do they balance safety, quality, and productivity, or does one element continually win out over the others?
Don’t make safety a “Dirty Job” or a dirty word, but keep it third. Not your third priority, but as one of the three equal parts of the workplace performance triangle - Quality, Productivity, and Safety.