Can Safety Really Be Number One?

We often hear organizational slogans like “Safety is Number One,” yet there may be very little substance behind the slogan. Then, when managers are faced with production demands that push them closer to the edge of safety as they drift towards safety boundaries, they may have trouble making decisions that favor safety over production. After all, it is production that takes designs and turns them into a sellable product or service that will bring revenue into the company. Reduced revenue can have ripple effects that may be wide-sweeping, such as layoffs, which requires workers to do more with less, further reducing safety levels in some cases. What I often find is that managers are not given the training and tools to make sacrifice decisions, which are decisions that help to prioritize and balance, sacrificing one attribute for another. In this case, it would be a decision to sacrifice production in order to protect people and material assets. Sacrifice decisions are needed to balance safety and production in a useful manner that is congruent with the values of the organization. I think it is important to consider safety as something we do, a value to be upheld, and a process to be integrated into the fabric of the organization, from design and planning, tool and equipment selection and setup, procedure design and execution to debriefing and learning for continual improvement. If safety is a value it is not a priority to simply be pushed aside.

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