Safety Prioritization and the effects on safety culture

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By Brie DeLisi

Most organizations believe that by having ‘safety’ as a company value and conducting annual safety training is sufficient to drive the message that safety matters. At Propulo, we’ve heard time and time again that “it goes without saying” and “employees know that safety matters” when we ask about a lack of safety conversations. However, the human brain doesn’t quite work like that – the brain prefers to prioritize what is considered important.
Imagine the following scenario: as an employee of Widgets and Co, you received new employee training on safety (delivered by the safety professional) and heard from HR that safety is a value, and other than that, you rarely hear about safety unless there is an incident. However on a daily basis your supervisor stresses the importance of getting the work done faster, deadlines are creeping up, the customer needed their product yesterday, there is a backlog, etc. What do you perceive as important based on the above, safety or production?

Safety typically falls to the wayside in these situations and the priority becomes “get the job done fast” – which can result in rushing and taking shortcuts in order to meet these dictated demands. Rushing and shortcuts will lead to injuries due to being distracted or skipping a safety step. Then when someone does get hurt, it is not uncommon to hear a supervisor saying: “he/she knew better, they know safety is important.”

That being said, it is still possible to highlight the importance of safety and getting the job done simultaneously. If organizations place the same level of priority and discussion around safety as they do for production, the employees will treat safety and production as equal priorities.