ALERT Learn More | NASP Certification Program: The Path to Success Has Many Routes. Choose Yours

From Safety First to People First: The Next Evolution in Safety

By Bryan McWhorter
Published: July 31, 2023 | Last updated: July 31, 2023 03:50:30
Key Takeaways

"People First" is a slogan that can revolutionize the way we approach safety.

Caption: Two workers in a window factory Source: Dejan Dundjerski / iStock

I have noticed a trend lately. Instead of repeating the familiar slogan "safety first," I've heard people saying "people first."

The first time I heard someone mention this while listing their business objectives, it gave me chills. The manager outlined the company's focus as:

  1. People
  2. Quality
  3. Cost
  4. Delivery

This is brilliant and worth thinking about. After all, what good is it to protect employees physically only to let them be harmed mentally and emotionally? Unless it includes the whole person, safety will be too limited. There is more to us than our physical safety - we can protect the body and still harm the person. This is the primary reason why we see disengagement, quiet quitting, and high turnover. People don't quit companies; they quit other people who make them feel insignificant. They don't mind the work; it's the workplace they have trouble with.


This fact has been validated by the Gallup organization. In collaboration with the Wellbeing for Planet Earth Foundation, they conducted a study that spanned across 120 countries. Their findings were striking. Most of the world’s workforce enjoy their work, including 80% of American workers. Many respondents even said they would continue to work even if they no longer needed the money.

This raised a perplexing question. If the vast majority of people enjoy their work, then why are nearly 60% of workers quietly (or actually) quitting?

That paradox disappears when we understand that dissatisfaction doesn't come from the work, but from how workers feel they are treated. To feel secure, we must feel safe on three levels:

  1. Emotional Safety: "Management cares about me and I know I can trust them. They see me as more than just a function."
  2. Professional Safety: "Management wants me to be successful as an employee and values my contribution."
  3. Physical Safety: "Management cares about my health and wellbeing."

We are only fully engaged at work when all three levels of safety are in place. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. The best we have to offer is not from our back and hands, but from our mind and heart. You can hire someone to show up, but their loyalty, trust, full engagement, and resourcefulness all must be earned.

As Dr. John Maxwell is fond of saying, “People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

(Learn more about The Three Levels of Safety)

Shareholder Value vs. Stakeholder Value

Just as we need to consider the whole person while thinking about safety, we also need to consider the whole company or organization when making decisions regarding the overall wellbeing of the business. We need to broaden our focus beyond profit and profit alone.

In other words, we need to take the perspective of stakeholder value rather than shareholder value.

What's the difference? Well, all businesses are in a three-part symbiotic relationship made up of employees, suppliers, and customers:

  1. Employees are your work family and team, the ones who meet the needs of the customers
  2. Suppliers are your business partners - you need them to be profitable so you can stay profitable
  3. Customers are the ones you serve with your goods and services

Any decision you make that harm one of these groups will also harm your business. And a litmus test for good business decisions is to make decisions that benefit all three. The world’s best organizations see 72% of their workforce engaged.

What would happen if this became mainstream - if most organizations aimed at benefit their stakeholders rather than simply enriching their shareholders? The answer is simple: employees would thrive, suppliers would be treated fairly, and customers would be proud to support these organizations.

Shareholders wouldn't be left behind, either. They would reap the rewards that come from a more productive workforce and a more profitable business.

(Find out How Planning and Worker Engagement Can Reduce Your Operational Costs)

The Evolution of Safety

We all want our companies to be profitable. Profitable businesses help the community - “a rising tied lifts all boats.” However, profit should never come at the expense of stakeholders.

Putting people first instead of safety is a progression in safety management and the next step in the evolution of worker safety. It is widening our scope of concern beyond physical safety to include all three levels of safety: emotional, professional, and physical.

From an operation perspective, it's a shift of focus from shareholder value to stakeholder value. It's a recognition of the company's impact on the individuals that work for them and the community they serve.

So how about your company? Are you a people first company that focuses on stakeholder value over shareholder value?

If not, you should start taking steps in that direction. Be a company that serves people and community. Your employees, suppliers, and customers all happen to be people, so focusing on stakeholders is a win/win/win.

Narrowly focusing on physical safety alone is like saying "we care about your safety, we just don't care about you." We can do better than that. We can care about our people and keep them safe in every way.


Share This Article

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter

Written by Bryan McWhorter | Lead Safety Advisor, Author, Writer, Speaker

Profile Picture of Bryan McWhorter

Bryan McWhorter is a safety professional with eight years of experience in driving and teaching safety. Bryan gained his knowledge and experience as the safety officer and Senior Trainer for Philips Lighting. Philips is a strong health and well-being company that promotes a safety first culture.

  • Follow on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on LinkedIn
  • View Website

Related Articles

Go back to top