The Only One Responsible for My Own Safety is Me

From MRW Water Cooler:

Q: My husband works on the oilrigs as a well tester. We watched you folks do so without any eye protection! Are you crazy? Drilling a hole with no protective eyewear? Between him, a well tester, and me, a workers’ compensation lawyer, we’re cringing! Somebody could LOSE AN EYE! Seriously – Safety First, fellas! I would expect better from the Discovery Channel!! — suzemommy

I sincerely appreciate your concern for me, and agree that stupidity plays an ongoing role in my professional and personal life. But believe me, I have no wish to be injured on the job.

However, it is not the objective of Dirty Jobs to conform to any particular set of safety standards, other than those dictated by the people for whom I happen to be working at the time. I take my cues from them, and I assume whatever risk they assume, for the most part. In the end, we hope to capture an honest look at what life is like for the workers in a particular venue. We do not aspire to set an example, or be a poster child for OSHA or any particular industry. I realize that may sound controversial, but it’s the truth, and not nearly as inflammatory as what I’m going to say next.


Of all the platitudes automatically embraced in the workplace – and there are many – there is none more pervasive, erroneous, overused, and dangerous, than “Safety First!” in my opinion.

I have heard this slogan countless times. I have seen it emblazoned on banners, T-shirts  and hats. I have sat through mandatory briefings and slideshows and presentations designed to “protect me from the hazards at hand.” And I have listened as safety officers and foreman have run down list after list of OSHA requirements, all apparently construed to remind me that nothing is more important to the employer than my own well-being. What a load of unmitigated nonsense.

In the jobs I have seen thus far, I can tell you with certainty, that safety, while always a major consideration, is never the priority.

Never, ever.
Not even once.

Is it important? Of course. But is it more important than getting the job done? No. Not even close. Making money is more important than safety – always – and it’s very dangerous in my opinion to ignore that. When we start to believe that someone else is more concerned about our own safety than we are, we become complacent, and then, we get careless. When a business tells you that they are more concerned with your safety than anything else, beware. They are not being honest. They are hedging their own bets, and following the advice of lawyers hired to protect them from lawsuits arising from accidents.

You are correct to suggest that wearing safety glasses would have made the task at hand safer. But why stop there? Wearing a helmet would have made it safer still. And wearing a steel mesh shark-suit would have made it really, super safe.

I know that sounds glib, and I know that many will wish to scold me for appearing cavalier. But really, I’m not. In a car, I wear a safety belt. On a motorcycle, I wear a helmet. Not because it’s the law, but because it seems a reasonable precaution. And ultimately, the only one responsible for my own safety is me. (Besides, if the government were really concerned with my safety above all else, wouldn’t they drop the legal speed limit to 30 miles an hour and make cars out of rubber?)

Again, you’re right – I probably should have been wearing safety glasses, not because safety is first, but because I like to hedge my bets.

We can always be safer. We can always assume less risk. But if safety were really first, I wouldn’t travel at all, or engage in any activity that required me to assume any risk. And I certainly wouldn’t be hosting Dirty Jobs.



4 thoughts on “The Only One Responsible for My Own Safety is Me

  1. I remember watching a documentary on construction of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO. Of all the stories and first hand accounts of the people who were engaged in design and building of the arch the one that stuck with me was a comment made by one of the construction workers. That, in this day and age, with all the safety regulations in place, the arch COULD NOT have been built. Not that we, in modern America, lack the engineering or technical manpower to put it up. But that safety regulators would have shut the project down or would have made compliance so egregiously expensive that it wouldn’t be built.
    Since then, I have always been curious as to how many “monumental engineering projects” of the past century could we not repeat today because of regulations and how much are these regulations holding America back? Would the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate bridge exist is OHSA was founded in 1931 instead of 1971? Would we have gone to the moon has we had the same attitude about safety in 1961 as we do today? Would the Apollo program been canceled after Apollo 1 due to “unnecessary risk?”
    How much damage have wen done to American exceptionalism by shifting from “bigger and better” to “round every corner and blunt every edge?”

    1. What about the hundreds of thousands of employees killed inside coal mines in northern PA during this “golden age”. Their bodies are kept inside the mines until the shift would end, then they would be drug out and their corpse placed on the door step of their “employee housing” for their loved ones to see and claim your body for burial rights with a note attached. This note would state that they have 48 hours to leave so that they could get new tenants in that were able to work the mines. Just look up labor conditions during the industrial revolution. But no lets just ignore the fact that CEOs and President’s don’t want to cut into their large profit margins because Pompous Joe the III can’t afford his 27th Ferrari then. Or companies laying off thousands and the CEO gives himself a half a million dollar bonus and 200k salary increase. The true culprit here are standards and regulations put into place to protect workers and workplace conditions, no not the greedy corporate, no that wouldn’t make any sense at all. Those darn regulations and workplace standards are holding us back! If only the Unites States were more like China, then we could REALLY get somewhere with some fancy monuments, maybe even with the faces of our precious corporate elites carved into them like the gods of ancient greece.

      1. I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic, so I will assume that you are not.

        First of all, nobody is arguing about going back to the “golden age” of industry. You have indulged in the false dichotomy of either “19th century regulations or current OSHA standards.” That isn’t a choice, and nobody is going to make it. We live in a very different, and dare I say, better era. Never mind OSHA for a second. The advent of cellphones, Twitter, Facebook, etc. will prevent us from returning to your “golden age.”

        “Corporate responsibility” is a thing now. People influence business with their feet and their dollars. A KFC supplier gets caught by PETA kicking chickens on camera and there is a huge public outcry, KFC gets boycotted, there are protests. The supplier gets cut off, the management gets fired, workers are retrained.

        Imagine the outcry if a mine collapsed in the US and workers were buried, their bodies laid out days later for collection. Now imagine the Twitter accounts of all the wives of the trapped miners crying out for help. Imagine the protests and Facebook posts about how evil the coal company is for not rescuing its miners. Imagine CNN showing cellphone video camera photos of the recovered bodies. Tell me that a company would allow that to happen? We saw the difference in recovery between Exxon Valdez and BP Deepwater Horizon. BP did a lot (yes they could have done more) to maintain good optics, because people were boycotting and protesting BP stations over that.

        With what I said in mind, I am not suggesting the removal of all safety regulations. Neither would I allow anybody to mix up piss and ink and call it a drug or buy a first aid kit and call themselves a surgeon. What I meant to convey is that risk takers need to have the liberty to take the risks they feel safe taking. Regulations can be good when they offer protection, but at the same time, they can be bad if they hinder growth.

        We could completely eliminate risk of concussions in football if we made the sport non-contact, but that would be boring. So we accept some risk (players getting hurt) and employ some risk avoidance (approved helmets and padding). It’s easy to get tempted to make everything safe, but the cost of doing that is the loss of innovation.

        We killed three astronauts in Apollo 1. That was a tragedy. Those men were heroes and were buried with honors. But we sucked it up, and on July 20, 1969 two Americans set foot on the moon. Today, I’m not so sure we would have gone to the moon. Had Apollo 1 happened in 2007, the current climate would have demanded that Congress act and the mission to the moon might very well have been delayed infinitely if not canceled outright. That would be an ever greater tragedy.

  2. Agree completely. We become more unsafe the more rules that are passed for our safety. You stated it exactly. We become complacent. We consciously and unconsciously assume that we are now safe because we followed the rules. Nonsense. We need to learn to be aware of our environment and take responsibility for ourselves. Seat belts saved lives… so we raised the speed limit. Helmets were supposed to save lives until we started taking more risk on our bikes, feeling we were now safe. I blogged about this a couple months ago.

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