Is it true that safety shouldn't be a top priority?
I have heard that safety should not be a company's top priority. Why is that?
This is a great question, because this is a statement that really grabs people's attention. We know that, unfortunately, there are some companies that, in practice, don't treat safety as an important consideration (for historical examples, see Lessons from 3 of the Worst Workplace Disasters). But why would anyone say that we shouldn't prioritize it?
Well, it all has to do with the nature of priorities. Priorities are important – they help us strategize, meet our goals, and deal with issues as they arise. But the thing with priorities is that they change.
Priorities are what we need to focus our immediate attention on, and that's rarely the same thing from moment to moment. Your top priority when workers come in might be to give them all a toolbox talk about the work they'll be facing that day, but by late morning your top priority might be to perform some inspections, and in the afternoon it might shift again to tackling the paperwork that's been piling up on your desk.
So when we say that safety is a top priority, we're implying that that it's temporary, that it's just what we're focusing on at the moment but it might change when something else requires our attention.
So if making safety a top priority devalues it, what should it be instead?
Safety must be a top company value. Your values don't change from minute to minute, but they stay the same over time. If you value community, good sportsmanship, and dedication, that will influence everything you do – morning, noon, and night.
By making safety a top company value, you make it the foundation of how the company operates. Priorities will shift, new strategies will be adopted, and procedures will be tweaked, but throughout all those changes, safety will continue to inform everything the company does.