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Why Safety Should not be “First”

If, at any gathering of safety professionals, you ask, how many have used, seen or heard the phrase “Safety First” in their company.. most will raise their hands.  Then ask if safety really is considered first.. the vast majority will drop their hands.  Now ask about the use of the phrase “Profits First”.. no one raises their hands, even though everyone knows that is a primary business focus and concern.  Why, and how, does “Profits First” get such understanding and support without fanfare?

Simple Answers
Everyone knows that profits are what allows a company to grow, pay employees, and reinvest in itself for the future. Businesses are created for the sole purpose of creating profit.  Profits are a good and necessary component of our national economy.  Profits generate taxes for government. Profits are ingrained in all operational aspects of business… and that’s where safety should be.. not “first” or forgotten. Safety needs to be
an accepted and needed component for successful business operations.  Attempting to place safety first in a company philosophy puts safety at odds to the true end goal of business.. and that causes organizational stress and failure.

Scope of the challenge
One of the leading challenges facing safety professionals in many companies is that too many company managers really don’t know what safety is, what their role is, how much it encompasses or the essential relation safety has with production and quality control.  In college, Business Management courses barely brush against the topic of safety management. As a result, the people who end up steering a business know very little about safety and resist moving outside their comfort zone of topics they do understand.  Successful safety managers sell safety to upper management by  using the concept that “safety” protects the business.. even managers from the “old school” will understand and embrace “protection of company assets.”

Goal of Safety
The goal of safety is not “Zero Accidents”.  That may be a nice result; however, the real goal is to get employees, supervisors and managers to accept and exhibit specific behaviors just as they do in controlling production and quality.  There are no magic slogans, emphasis programs or Herculean efforts by a safety manager that can achieve this goal.  Place the motivation for safety behavior and management where it belongs… in the pocket of every employee, on the clipboard of every supervisor and desk of every manager…. right next to production, quality and profit.

Not first, not last, just equal.

-Ed Sterrett
Central Florida Safety Academy

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Categories: Safety
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