August 19, 2019

American reality TV personality Mike Rowe (‘Dirty Jobs’) touched off a firestorm back in 2012 when he responded to criticism from a viewer who complained he wasn’t wearing safety glasses while working on an oil rig. Rowe responded by saying that the ‘safety first’ mantra is, for the most part, “erroneous, overused and dangerous.”

Rowe went on to explain that workplace safety is important. However, he also said that companies who claim that worker safety is their most important priority are not telling the truth. They speak of workplace safety only to cover themselves in the event of an accident. Rowe maintains that making money is always the first priority of the business.

What are your thoughts? As a company owner or manager, do you think the safety-first mindset appeals to workers? Do you believe workers are more loyal to a company that takes worker safety seriously?

Companies Have Legal Responsibilities

Here in the UK, workplace safety is the domain of the Health and Safety Executive. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has oversight in the United States. In essence, just about every developed nation in the world utilises some sort of regulatory body to dictate workplace safety policies.

Workplace safety has become so ingrained that today’s workers expect to have to deal with it in some way, shape, or form. Restaurant workers practice workplace safety in terms of hygiene, food safety, etc. Industrial and manufacturing workers deal with things like being safe around heavy machinery and handling chemicals properly.

The point here is that companies have a certain level of legal responsibility toward their employees. They are required to ensure a safe workplace through any and all reasonable means. At least that is the case in most countries. The only question is whether or not workers genuinely believe their employers are looking out for their safety.

Little Things Go a Long Way

Let us assume for just a minute that you have a company whose workers are not confident that management takes safety concerns seriously. In such a case, management should want to figure out what the problem is and then correct it. Most likely, there isn’t one big issue. Rather, there are lots of little things that add up to convince workers they aren’t safe.

Something as seemingly small as outfitting a manufacturing plant with an adequate number of first aid kits can go a long way toward changing worker perceptions. Better yet, simple solutions like this do not have to cost an arm and a leg. Affordable first aid kits for business can be found everywhere these days. Companies can buy their own first aid kits or contract with a uniform or janitorial provider to handle them.

Posters and literature are two more little things that can go a long way. Industry-specific posters that point out particular hazards known to exist in a given industry make employees aware of what they are exposed to and reminds them to be safe. Literature handed directly to employees reminds them that the company is paying attention to safety issues.

Safety Training Helps

If there is one area a lot of companies fall down in it is that of safety training. In other words, it is easy to remind employees to work safely. Anyone can hang posters and pass out literature. And while those things are certainly important, they can be ignored just as easily as they can be distributed.

There are some industries for which regular safety training helps a lot. These are industries with particular hazards people wouldn’t think about in other environments. Getting back to the Mike Rowe example, the incident that sparked the safety-first debate involved him working on an oil rig.

An oil rig is an unusual environment with safety concerns you will not find anywhere else. Suffice to say that oil rig workers go through regular safety training and drills intended to keep them as safe as possible. They receive training in key areas like using equipment properly and keeping an eye on their environment. They learn what to do in the event of an emergency as well.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The overall point of this post is to come to grips with the reality that safety first cannot just be a catchphrase. If it is true that the number one priority of business is to make money, the least employers can do is exercise that priority in the safest manner possible. The reality is that actions speak louder than words.

Employees who do not feel safe in the workplace are not likely to give their best. That fact is reflected in the products they produce or the customer service they provide. As such, it is in the employers’ best interests to change things. It is in their best interests to make sure their employees work with the safety mindset rather than just parroting a catchphrase.

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