This article recently resurfaced on social media and created quite a divisive stir in the safety community! Although I admit my bias, there seems to be a swing away from such platitudes – is safety maturing?
Safety – Not The Number One Priority
I have upset so many Safety Spuds over the years when I have said: “Safety is not the No1 Priority, never has been, never will be and never should be!” Unfortunately some just do not think things through before going off on their crusades! No statement has ever caused safety more harm than “Safety is Number One Priority”.
I just came across this great article by Max Geyer who puts it beautifully:
As with all things in life, health, eating, drinking, exercise and fun, business is about “balance”. Being successful in business is about balancing the use and distribution of resources, in order to produce a product or service.
The safety of the people in the business is of course part of the success equation, as is minimising our impact on the environment. But we should also acknowledge that minimising waste, maximising productivity and having sound financial control have just as important a role.
If safety was to truly be the number one priority, by definition that would mean that we would be putting a disproportionate amount of resources into safety at the expense of something else and that may put the success of the business at risk.
Coming back to safety – when thinking about our people; if we look further than their safety and consider their “total well-being”, we will soon see that employee well-being is tied up in the success of the business. After all, if a business is at risk the well-being of its employees is also at risk.
Safety is not something to do as a process separate from the other aspects of the business. Having safe people and a safe workplace is an outcome of the “stuff of business” being done well. Safe workplaces are developed as a result of ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of the business. After all, if we have incidents, injuries and damage we are not being effective and that impacts on business efficiency.
Of concern at work is that many people are natural risk takers. A look at the number of extreme sports and other activities, that people willingly take part in outside of work, is evidence of this. It is this tendency for people to live with risk that is at the heart of the difficulty of attempting to manage safety at work. People, left to their own devices, make their own judgements as to the level of risk that exists while they work.
So what is the solution to ensuring the “well being” of people at work? It is not platitudes and speeches about how important safety is. Neither is it about more systems, detailed risk assessments and Safe Work Method Statements, although they are important components.
Part of the solution is in helping people to think about their actions and decisions, and in helping to extend their natural self-preservation instincts to fit the work environment. We need to have conversations with each other and to question our risk management planning before and during the job. And we need to enable people to identify when things may go wrong and to help them develop their skills to prevent the damaging event or manage the outcome.
The “success of the business” must be the number one priority of any business and that means that we must effectively and efficiently balance ALL aspects which impact on the business, including the well-being of our people.