Safety as a value, not a priority

The following article is courtesy of Don Winningham of the Anniston Army Depot Safety Office, United States Army.

A priority is something that changes, due to outside influences and demands. A value is something outside influences can’t change. For a culture of safety to catch on, don’t prioritize it. Value it. Safety must become part of the value system for each employee, supervisor and manager.

Every employee should advocate that intrinsic company and personal values include core regulatory requirements and the concept that working safely is not just a “program,” but a way of doing things. There is a strong link between active workplace safety programs and low rates of occupational injury and illness. Ideally, safety and health programs should correspond with, and become part of, the organisation’s overall mission or business plan.

Every employee should know the goals of the organisation’s safety program and how they are to be achieved while meeting positive business and production outcomes. Safety must be integrated as a basic business value among every leader, manager and employee in the organisation.

Safety should be viewed as a value like honesty, working hard and reporting to work on time.
Values are embedded; while priorities can change. Making safety a business value leads to building a workplace safety culture. So, safety is fundamental to operational excellence.

Safety is a core value. It requires a personal commitment at all levels in the organisation. There’s a big difference in how a company thinks and behaves when safety is a value, rather than a program or a priority. For a company with safety as a core value, safety has become a way of life. The age-old saying that “safety is everyone’s responsibility” becomes a reality when safety is a value. Teamwork is also needed for a safe culture. Management can demonstrate this teamwork by working with employees to constantly implement safer methods and processes.

Does having safety as a value really pay off? To companies which value safety instead of making it a priority, this is a silly question. The payoff comes in minimising the cost of accidents and the related cost of lost productivity; customers recognizing safety efforts and hence qualifying for more contracts. But it pays off most when each employee goes home safe each night.