Is Safety a Priority or a Value?

By Josh Welp, FNF Safety Manager

We’ve all heard the saying, Safety is a Priority! It may be the most common safety slogan heard today.  But when we stop to think about it, safety should not be one of our priorities. Wait, did a safety professional just tell me that safety is not a priority? I know what you are thinking and I can hear you saying it at this very moment: “But, that’s what I’ve been told for years and I always make safety a priority!” I understand. But let me take a moment to explain why safety should not be a priority, and instead, should be a value.  Not only at work, but in your everyday lives.

But first, let’s take a step back in time. For those of you old enough, you probably remember riding in a car without seatbelts. Yes, it was a common practice back in the 70’s where children were allowed to ride in vehicles without child seats or seatbelts. I can vividly remember lounging in the back of our 1975 Ford station wagon without a care in the world about being restrained. I loved it because it was a great place to lay down and take a nap.  My parents didn’t think it was a safety issue as they did not buckle their single lap belt either (there were 44,525 highway fatalities in 1975).

When you got into your car to come to work today, did you have to think about putting on your seatbelt? Did you make it a priority to buckle up? Most of us put on our seatbelts without even thinking about it. Over the years, seatbelt safety studies have shown that car seats and seatbelts save lives and because of those studies, we now value that piece of safety equipment and what it does for us and our loved ones. Most of society now buckles up instinctively without having to consciously make it a priority. Instead of being a priority, it’s a value that has become a part of our everyday lives, whether at home or at work.

According to Webster’s dictionary, a priority is “the factor condition of being regarded or treated as more important”.  In contrast, the concept of safety as a value can simply be viewed as a way of life, a core principle, or an ethic that guides everything we do as a company both in financial and human terms.  In the construction industry, priorities change day by day and even task by task.  For example, the workers have a routine in the morning where they conduct stretch/flex exercises to warm up the muscles, participate in a job hazard analysis, inspect tools, equipment, electrical cords, PPE, and wear appropriate PPE for the given task.  Those tasks are their priority before work begins. What if a worker was told by his supervisor to forego his/her daily inspections due to schedule constraints that morning? The worker’s priorities have now changed where there is a tug of war between production and safety.  Safety is no longer a non-negotiable value.

Just as the child playing in the back window without a seatbelt or child seat is seen as socially unacceptable, unsafe work practices on the jobsite should also be socially unacceptable as well.  We should say something to the person working at heights without fall protection, we should say something to the worker not wearing his or her eye protection, and we should say something to a careless equipment driver not because safety is a priority, but because we value that person’s life and what they contribute to our projects.  We should believe that the value of safety guides our safety culture which in turn leads to a safer and more effective workplace.   

Safety is a value, not a priority.

Josh Welp, CSP, CHST, CRIS

FNF Safety Manager

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Josh brings to FNF more than 20 years of experience in construction safety.  He holds a Master’s degree in Safety, Health and Environmental Management, is a certified OSHA trainer, and holds a number of professional certifications. 

Josh has both field and program management expertise from his prior positions as a safety professional in the construction industry.  Earlier in his career, he spent 4 years as a Compliance Officer at ADOSH (Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health), which adds to his perspective from the compliance side.