News & Information Blog

Safety Goals vs. Values

By Tom Fitzgerald | 04/01/2019

Your assignment to Safety Managment is a very important one. In my opinion, nothing is more important!   Danger may lurk everywhere in your organization; the equipment and environment can kill and maim in the blink of an eye.  Even more insidious, are the environments that can be just as dangerous, but occur over time, often so slowly that the employees do not even know it until it is too late. 

If you are like me, you want to get right out there and protect your people from all that lurking danger.  However, most Safety veterans will tell you that you cannot keep everyone safe!  Your only hope is to coordinate and manage the safety effort so everyone may keep themselves safe!  Everyone keeping themselves safe is the basic component of a World Class or Zero-Injury Safety Culture

First, you need to know where you are at in this journey.  You can simply test for SAFETY CULTURE with one simple question by approaching the highest site manager with one simple question, “How important is Safety?”  

In many organizations you might hear something like, “Safety is number one!”  To most layman, this sounds wonderful. Before you are satisfied with that, let me tell you what most veteran Safety professionals know.  To say the above means your organization feels Safety is a goal.  Goals are mostly good things. They are things we can aspire to accomplish, things that we can measure ourselves against. Who in the business world has never heard of MBO (Management by Objective)?  However, there is one thing about goals that are dangerous for any Safety Culture: They can be changed or substituted, sometimes all too easily.

When I was a young supervisor, I was told routinely, “You get that order out before you go home, or we will shut down an Auto Assembly Line!  I do not care what you must do!”  In the automobile supply business, you never want to be the one to shut down an entire auto assembly plant!  Back in those days, in that culture, I might be tempted to let my employees take shortcuts, that were dangerous, like not locking out machines during set-up, to get that order out quicker. That was a choice no one should ever be placed in.   All too many make the wrong decision. 

Values that put goals in perspective.  Organizational values cannot change without the entire organization changing.  If the site manager answers the above question more like, “There is nothing more important than Safety!”  your organization feels Safety is a value.  In such an organization the order from a supervisor’s boss above would probably not be phrased as above. Even if it was, the idea of a Safety deviation would never even be an option.  That is what you want.  The Safe thing is just what is always done, without question or compromise, it is automatic, a given!   

If Safety is a goal, I would urge you to make Safety a value!  You need everyone to get involved and promote Safety.  Employees might get behind a goal, but if you compromise one against another, they will see it and doubt your real commitment.  However, with a well-crafted honorable value, like Safety, everyone will get absolutely behind it!  Your people do not have to weigh things against the other, they know they must just stay safe!  If the organization resists, keep at it, stick with it, and fight the good fight!   Sometimes, you might feel, “Like a voice crying in the wilderness!”  Be that voice, you will find it to be well worth it!

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