We’ve all heard the big bosses say “safety is our top priority”, “safety first”, “our number one priority is the safety of our employees”, and the like, but what about when actions speak louder than words? What happens when the big boss upstairs decides that proper safety protocols are eating away at his billable hours, or his rate of production, or, heaven forbid, his profit margin? How does a company recover from an overseer who views prioritizing safety as an inconvenience?

  1. Get back to basics

It is easy for even the most dedicated and caring manager to get distracted by the numbers – if the whiteboard in the office says 100 days without incident, nobody in a position of power has any reason to revise safety practices (“clearly they’re working”), and is, as such, going to push and push hard for the sake of productivity. The problem is that these numbers mean very little, and we have, as of yet, not been able to develop a consistent means of measuring safety in the workplace. The “x-amount of days without incident”-type models don’t tell us how safe a workplace is, they only tell us when (and sometimes how badly) someone was last hurt. The bottom line is that workers can still get hurt even if they are following safety protocols to the letter. The inverse is also true: workers can still avoid injury even if they are working in an unsafe working environment. Instead of then prioritizing safety as an abstract notion, perhaps a business’s time and money is better spent prioritizing the development of a means by which to accurately measure safety in the workplace as opposed to measuring incidents in the workplace which may or may not be directly related to safe or unsafe practices.

  1. Make safety a value, not a priority

The big bosses can say what they like when a camera is pointed at them, but the honest ones will admit: the number one priority will never be safety; it’ll always remain “getting the job done”. When ‘getting the job done’ is an employee’s number one priority they may feel pressured to cut corners in order to meet deadlines, or quotas, and engage in risky activities, and put the health and safety of both themselves and others on the line in order to do so. If safety is a priority that is always second to getting the job done, managers and employees alike justify their risky behaviour and practices by this idea that they are meeting the number one goal. By shifting the focus of safety from “priority” to “value” it becomes concrete. A value cannot shift like priorities can – making safety a value, as opposed to a priority says: our number one goal is to get the job done, but we will only do so if and when we can do so safely. Making safety a value makes it the fixed variable in the equation and shows your employees and others that safety is indeed a non-negotiable.

Still there will always be those who are so focussed on achieving monetary success that they view safety protocols as an inconvenience – in these cases channels of communication need to be kept open so that workers who feel that their safety in the workplace is being neglected can come forward and say so without fear of retaliation or antagonistic retribution.

The law is on the side of those who value safety in the workplace. All workers and management staff are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the health and safety standards and codes that are in place for their benefit and protection so as to recognize and report when and how their rights are being violated.