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Is safety our number one priority?

A different thought process...

‘Safety is our number one priority’ – is a term overused by countless companies and industries across the world claiming to put safety at the top of the list above everything else in a company. Look across the Oil and Gas, Transport, Manufacturing and Construction sectors, and this is all you see everywhere. Is it really a number one priority? Let’s consider the perspectives and where this should actually fit into a company’s ‘must haves’.

Many Industries are driven almost to obsession to have safety as their ‘number one priority’

Any company surviving in the competitive world we now live in must juggle multiple risks and live issues with how they operate, how their industry operates and how their people (the culture of the organisation) operate, and what the customer wants or mandates from them.

On top of this challenging list, a company needs to make money, satisfy shareholders and fulfil development of people, product and challenges alongside supply chain management and logistics – all of which have risks, issues and ramifications for a company if not fulfilled, and therefore all of these are ‘priorities’ as well.

Yes, safety is vitally important, yes legal compliance is vitally important (it must be done – it’s the law) and can bring very large associated liability and ultimately fines if a company falls foul of such legislation and requirements, but can this be classed as number one priority? It may well be for any company who fell short of legislation or were involved in a serious accident and litigation case but for how long after that incident would the ‘priority’ change again?

The new International Standard ISO 45001 focuses on a system approach along with engagement and involvement of employees which is ground-breaking. This will assist industry to adopt an open approach to H&S management, drive collaboration inside companies and ultimately make organisations safer – but again is this a priority? Larger companies adopt this standard to drive their OH&S systems and gain external international certification to convey their compliance to stakeholders, customers and gain a competitive advantage in the market.

Does every company certified to this standard have safety as their number one priority?

No of course not – the clear message here is priorities change and always will. So, having such a bold statement like, having safety as the ‘number one’ gives a false insight into a company, desperately trying to show off how important they regard safety in their virtual shop window. It doesn’t have to be this way….

Occupational Health & Safety is critical for an organisation – how many times do we hear ‘people are everything’, or ‘our people are the most valuable asset we have’? It is true that people often make or break a company in terms of success and growth – a strong leader equals strong company. Protecting employees and other affected parties should be a vital link for any company going about its work business and operations, but where does it sit and how should it be embedded?

Company values, processes and a well-developed system driving a culture of maturing safety communication, thoughts, lessons shared, ownership and involvement is the true way to filtrate safety within a business. People’s thoughts and feelings are often how they act and work and how their mindset determines their actions – this is where the safety ‘bow and arrow’ should be fired at, not a shop window strapline of ‘safety is our number one priority’. Take an average day, week or month – how many priorities do you have? How often do they change? Become altered or move to the right? If we adopt this stance with safety, no wonder it won’t work. Safety can be the number one priority at some point and for some time but not always and forever.

Safety is a vital valve pumping away supplying the heart of any business delivering critical control, compliance and assurance for the organisation. Now, we must acknowledge the role of other priorities and business activities and where and why they fit into distorting and removing the truth of safety being our number one priority.