My previous house was built in 1994. That means, aside from having very mature trees in the yard, everything inside was beige, gold and scattered with built-ins. As far as the fixtures, there was a lot of updating to do, but the built-ins were pretty useful despite their age. The first one we used when we moved in was the kitchen table (for pizza on move-in day when all of the dishes were still packed).
Making safety an integral part of the construction process is better than identifying it as just a priority or value
Among some of the other built-ins were an elegant shelf above the fireplace and a large inset bookshelf in the middle of the living room. The latter is the only bookshelf I’ve ever had that didn’t feel like a nuisance. In fact, I was proud enough of it that I actually dug my collection of Stephen King and Richard Laymon novels out of their garage boxes to put them on display. But I’m not writing this just to brag about my 90s furniture and my priceless collection of trashy horror novels. The built-ins themselves took me down a rabbit hole we could all benefit from.
For all the good it does, safety—with its less-than-creative slogans and initiatives—has made everyone roll their eyes at least once in their careers. Perhaps a lot of those eyerolls wouldn’t even build up enough momentum to reach the back of your skull if we used safety practically instead of philosophically. Take for example the timeless debate between the statement that safety is a value versus the idea that it is a priority.
Most people who engage in this useless battle of semantics tend to stand on the value side of the argument. That’s what’s trendy these days. The truth is each has its points, but neither really hits the (safety) nail on the head.
Proponents of safety being a priority will argue that safety is not important to an organization if that organization is not willing to put it on the highest pedestal. Detractors argue that priorities can be changed and shuffled at will. I won’t go too much deeper than that; we’ve likely heard it a million times.
Conversely, the other side argues that if safety is a value it cannot be changed or swayed by outside influences like production or quality. Detractors, in this case, make the assertion that just because something is valued doesn’t necessarily make it important. I value my high school yearbook, for instance, but it’s not particularly useful.
We’ve Pulled Out Safety Long Enough
In fairness, I’ve just glossed over a topic that many spend their careers and lives learning, so admittedly my assessment is a bit unfair. The point is simple though. Stop the debates. Just stop it.
There are so many other ways we can use our energy to actually make work safer. By that, I mean figure out how to build safety into your process. Then it won’t matter how much you value it or what number it is on a list. It will be an integral part of your business. When you think about it that way it makes a whole lot of sense to drop the tired debate. In the end, it’s just a whole lot of words that don’t really move any organization forward. People don’t want slogans and eloquent philosophies spewed at them; they want tools they can use.
The biggest problem with the value-versus-priority debate is a little more obscure than you might think, though. It isn’t that we waste too much time arguing about it, or that one is more right than the other. It’s that both perpetuate the idea that safety is some separate, added, extra thing people have to do before getting to the real work they should be doing. In reality, safety should be built-in. It’s not number one, it’s step 3, and step 7, and step 11. Like a built-in, it’s an intrinsic part of the work that makes our businesses run.
Jason Maldonado has worked as a safety and health professional for 17 years in a variety of industries. He is the owner and lead contributor of RelentlessSafety.com, as well as an accomplished author and speaker. His first book, “A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit,” is available now.