A One Size Safety Approach Doesn’t Fit All or Make You Safer

From the MRW Water Cooler:

Q: Mike,

I can’t imagine any company saying that safety is not their number one priority and companies offer items to keep the workers safe, so maybe I do not understanding the concept of “Safety Third”.

Also, I think many of us feel profits are put before worker safety.  Is it just disregarding employee’s verses the economic bottom line?

What else does “Safety First” mean? Fact is, I can’t think of a single, publicly traded company that does not claim in writing that employee safety is the most important thing.

You’re referring it seems, to companies that manufacture safety products. That’s not at all the point. I’m talking about the multitude of companies who tell their employees that their individual safety is their primary concern – regardless of what they are making or doing. Take mining companies for instance, since they are on everyone’s mind. Can you think of a single one that publicly proclaims that “company profits are more important than safety?” I can’t, and I’ve looked – very closely. Such a claim would be a PR disaster, and an insurance nightmare. And yet, does anyone really believe that these companies are in business for the primary purpose of “keeping people safe?” of course not.

I’m not making excuses for companies that fail to follow protocol. I’m just saying that relying on your employer to keep you safe is not a prudent strategy, because in spite of all the paperwork, they are not in business for the primary purpose of keeping you safe.

Safety Third is not about assigning blame after the fact; it’s about preventing injury by acknowledging and discussing the way things really are – not the way they should be. Sure, we should investigate Massey Energy, and if they turn out to be as negligent as reports suggest, I say throw the book at them. Doing so might help prevent future accidents. But no amount of retribution will bring those miners back. And no amount of punitive damage will change the fact that we rely on coal for the majority of our electricity.

Yes, but great profits are also made everyday by applying that same “callous disregard.” (Or, more often than not, a casual disregard.) It’s only when things go horribly wrong that we see the simple truth you mention. Money is the most important thing. And trumpeting Safety First contradicts that in a very literal way.

I challenged the effectiveness of a “one size fits all” approach, and questioned the wisdom of trusting a third party to care more about my individual safety than me. I have also suggested that no single program will ever eliminate all accidents, and that Safety First has room for improvement.

I can only speak from my own experiences. That doesn’t make me more qualified, more credible, or more intelligent than anyone else who wishes to express an opinion. But if I were to try and explain the root causes of why we’re seduced by the prospect of being taken care of by a third party. We have been trained to assign blame. We have been trained to look for and find fault anywhere outside of ourselves. And we simply do not like the idea of personal responsibility.

Reason – Thousands of preventable workplace injuries occur every year in The U.S. The prevailing sentiment puts the responsibility of workplace safety on the employer. (OSHA and MSHA don’t fine employees, they fine corporations.) The current system saves lives, but is far from perfect. One possible solution, is to remind the worker whenever possible that his employer is not in business for the primary purpose of keeping him safe. Most Safety Programs are in place because they are the law of the land, and the best intentions and most diligent company protocols are no substitute for individual responsibility.

Evidence – Annual workplace injuries number in the millions, and American companies spend over 1 Billion dollars per week as a result. (EHS Today) And yet, we still maintain that nothing is more important than the health and safety of the worker. Elaine Chao, our Secretary of Labor, recently said, “No price can be placed on the most important benefit, and that is to see that every worker returns home safely to their loved ones at the end of each work day.” I think she’s mistaken. From what I can see, we have placed a very specific price on that very thing.

Rational Thought – Talking about the issue is important. Conversation leads to awareness, and awareness is good.

– Mike

2 thoughts on “A One Size Safety Approach Doesn’t Fit All or Make You Safer

  1. I find disturbing the safety programs which are ONLY put in place to receive government funding and not because of a real or perceived need in the particular workplace. I work as an accountant for a school district. What’s the worst injury I can sustain – a papercut? Yet, because the State (won’t mention which one, but it starts with a C and ends with an A) is willing to pay for safety programs, we have spent a ridiculous amount of money and working hours in generic safety training. I’m not against safety training as needed, but in these times of catastrophic budget cuts to schools; the money could be put to so much better use.

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