Built-In is Better than Value OR Priority

This isn’t my real house, I’m using it as a stand-in just in case I ever get internet stalkers.

My house was built in 1994. That means, aside from having very mature trees in the yard, everything inside is beige, gold, and scattered with built-ins. As far as the fixtures go, we have some updating to do. But the built-ins are pretty useful, even if they’re a little old. 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).

Among some of the other built-ins are 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 doesn’t feel like a nuisance. I’m 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 post just to brag about my 90s furniture. I’m sure it comes as no shock that they were the inspiration for a safety profession parallel. Well them along with some online keyboard warriors.

Que the beating of the drums…

I started this blog with a pretty forward statement about how tired the safety profession is. It’s rife with the same mantras, the same awareness campaigns, the same forceful compliance mindset that doesn’t stop people from getting killed at work. One need not look far into the corners of the internet to see examples of it. My least favorite is the timeless debate between the statement that safety is a “value” vs. the idea that it is a “priority.”

Most people who engage in this useless battle of semantics tend to side with the “value” side of the argument. That’s what’s trendy these days. As with any good debate, each side has it’s highs and lows.

Proponents of safety being a “priority” will argue that safety isn’t important to an organization if it’s not willing to put it on that pedestal. Detractors argue that “priorities” can be changed and shuffled at will. I won’t go too much deeper than that, we’ve all heard it a million times.

Conversely, the other side argues that if safety is a “value” it can’t be changed or swayed by outside influences. Detractors, in this case, make the assertion that just because something is valued it isn’t necessarily useful. Much like the piece of home-made woodburning art I gave my wife one valentines day.

We’ve pulled safety out long enough. Time to put it back in

If you haven’t written this post off for safety heresy yet, I applaud you. So many just choose to take their ball and go home when someone says something anti-establishment. When you think about it, though, it makes a whole lot of sense to drop the whole tired debate. In the end, it’s just a whole lot of words that don’t really move any organization forward. When we start talking about how much we “value” safety or that it’s our number 1 “priority,” you can actually hear people’s eyes rolling back into their skulls if you listen closely. People don’t want slogans and eloquent philosophies spewed at them, they want tools they can use.

The biggest problem with the value vs. 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 that 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 12… A built in, intrinsic part of of the work that makes our businesses run.

We don’t need debates, we need action

Anyone that strives to make worker’s lives safer knows we have a long road ahead. It’s a road with no end for that matter. If we’re going to make the journey easier we can start by changing the way we define what safety is. We should make it a “part” of every job our people do, not some philosophical mumbo jumbo.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about that “valuable” piece of art I gave my wife, it’s not doing much. But it is chilling on the built-in shelf above the fireplace. It also gets priority whenever the kids are told to dust up there.

4 Replies to “Built-In is Better than Value OR Priority”

  1. Jason

    This article feels like a teaser for another one (or maybe your book). You talk about the two side of the argument, but you offer nothing in return.

    Action plans – ohh you mean your version of a magic bullet. I will see what watch you offer. But the last time, I believed in something was when I learned about the research that CII had completed (in the early to middle 90’s.)

    Good Luck

  2. I’m not offering any magic bullets, just a plea for some pragmatism. We need to stop philosophizing and get to work helping people identify the safety aspects of each job they do. Then try to make those items stronger. If you click the links in this article, there are some simple job planning aids and suggestions for how to build safety into the work process. My point is that it shouldn’t be pulled out and simply done as a pre-task briefing or a CYA form the company makes everyone sign before the real work begins.

  3. Jason, not “beat the dead horse”, I truly believe that your article really drives the point home, for instance, if people are not fully aware of what the task, project or process is, then they cannot properly identify, address and build the controls to keep employees from getting hurt. A good supervisor would preempt those risks, and before the task is even begun, he would make his employees aware of them (built-in safety). As Safety professionals our work is with those supervisors, not with the employees themselves, we need to bring safety to life with those supervisors for them to care enough about their people…through training!

    I must agree entirely with your mind set, the key is to have the management’s support to have those supervisors see how it is a company culture, not just a mandate. That’s the key!

    My humble opinion.

Comments are closed.