Safety Quotes - Are They Just Lip Service?

Safety binder stacked with other binders.

Safety related quotes are easily found all around us. Internet searches find thousands of them, we see them on posters in the workplace, and safety meetings often include them. Sometimes even blog posts have their genesis with safety quotes. They can be motivating, eye opening, or even confrontational. But the real question is this- are you turning those quotes into action at your business? Take a look at the following quotes and consider how you might use them to keep your team safer at work.

Safety isn’t expensive, it’s priceless - The payback for organizations that invest in safety is significant. A famous example is when Paul O’Neill became the CEO of Alcoa and said his primary focus would be on worker safety over profits. Although a surprise to investors, Alcoa’s income quintupled in 13 years and O’Neill suggested that his approach to safety had led a change in organizational culture. This says a lot about how hard people will work for an organization that puts their safety as a priority. The direct link between safety and profits can often be unclear, but there is no argument that workplace injuries are expensive and will affect the bottom line if not controlled.

The next time you hear someone say that a safety initiative is too expensive consider the long-term affect on morale and overall culture. An employer that genuinely cares about the safety of their employees, and turns that concern into action, will produce a harder working, more efficient, and safer workforce. These changes don’t happen overnight, but they will happen.

The safety of the people shall be the highest law - This quote goes back to Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman philosopher born in 106BC. Clearly safety is not a new idea, and it is still the law of the land. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would certainly agree that the safety of the working people in this country is vitally important. So, when was the last time you reviewed your facility for compliance with either national or state OSHA standards? Do you know what standards apply to your organization? Are you required to keep an OSHA 300 log of injuries? 

I’m the first to say that we shouldn’t engage in safety because it’s the law; we should engage in safety because it’s the right thing to do for our workers. However, the threat of OSHA citations is significant. Penalties resulting from violations continue to rise each year. If that’s where the motivation for safety starts, then make sure it results in the elimination of hazards in all areas of your business. Be consistent and thorough, understand the “why’s” behind the laws, and train your team so compliance is an expectation of the job. Then you can move on to more advanced, and more effective safety culture building activities. 

Shallow men believe in luck; wise and strong men in the cause and effect - Ralph Waldo Emerson. While none of us will turn down a little good luck, our safety should never be dependent upon it. But when we say, “safety is common sense” or “I told them to be careful” we are, in fact, depending upon some fickle force to keep away the bad things that hurt us. Simply wanting to be safe doesn’t make us safe. Everyone’s luck runs out at some point, so take a more proactive approach to safety and take luck out of the equation as much as possible. 

There are no accidents, only predictable outcomes. As the Emerson quote implies, injuries result from a chain of events. The links in that chain can be broken, thereby eliminating the injury. But in order to do this the right policies and processes must be in place, supervision must occur, and workers must be given clear expectations and be held accountable for their actions. 

For example, table saw injuries in the U.S. result in over 30,000 injuries and 4,000 amputations annually. Luck surely was not working for those 30,000 people. But a blade guard sure would have for most, if not all of them. Combine a blade guard with a push stick, feather board, riving knife, and a well-tuned machine and you’ll have a much safer experience. These engineering controls would have eliminated those injuries. 

Safety quotes should be used as tools and can certainly motivate people into action. But it’s the action that is the most important piece. Uttering these quotes during employee gatherings or putting them up on bulletin boards isn’t effective in and of itself. But living the values represented by the quotes is what can lead to improved safety cultures and the prevention of workplace injuries. 

For more inspirational safety quotes check out these from the National Safety Council. Additional safety information can be found in the MEMIC Safety Director and from the MEMIC Safety Experts Podcast.