Monday, August 13, 2012

I am responsible for – Your personal safety culture

Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” host (and Caterpillar spokesman) Mike Rowe roused much controversy in the safety community with his blog entry and subsequent stage monologue asserting that even where posters advertise “Safety First!” many work environments seem to exercise “Safety Third.” Safety professionals everywhere gasped when Rowe dared to share, “Of all the platitudes automatically embraced in the workplace – and there are many – there is none more pervasive, erroneous, overused, and dangerous, than “Safety First!” in my opinion.”

Indeed, this seemingly fearless entertainer has encountered many significant safety issues during his career. One of my favorite anecdotes from Rowe’s trove of harrowing tales is about crab catching in the wild Alaskan seas that often run with swells of 50 feet or more.  In this sketch, the boat captain is questioned about his paying no attention to OSHA safety rules while his crew is working amid extreme, life threatening dangers for hours on end.

The captain’s initial response to OSHA rules is not printable in this blog.  The second part of his response is, and goes something like, “My job is to make you rich!  Your job is to stay alive long enough to collect it.  Get back to work!”

Ouch!  What a shocking message.  However, once you get beyond shock and awe, dig deeper.  No matter where you work – on the job – at the home – during travel, who is responsible for your personal safety?  If the answer is anything but “I am responsible for my own safety,” it is an accident waiting to happen.  This is true no matter where you are on the planet, no matter what you do to earn a living, no matter what you do in the off hours.

Many of you are aware of the mini-firestorm Mike Rowe’s comments caused.  In May my friend Dave Johnson, chief editor of Industrial Safety & Health News weighed in on the issue with an editorial that praises Rowe’s candor while cautioning readers against guzzling his Kool-Aid. Rowe kept the fire of debate burning with a letter to Dave thanking him for his editorial and reiterating his position on the “safety first” mentality. He recounted some of the ineffective rules, paperwork, one-size-fits-all mentality and tripe about “safety first” he has encountered while pursuing dirty jobs.  Rowe’s ending comments suggested all this safety noise may cause people to become complacent because they are convinced their safety is someone else’s responsibility. 

What is first and second in Mike Rowe’s world of “safety third?”  I like Mike’s viewpoint that your common sense and your personal responsibility had better be the answer.  Isn’t this what Dr. Dan Petersen told us: “I am responsible for my own safety.” 

Mike goes on to point out that “Every day, workers fall through the cracks of a one-size-fits-all safety policy.  Complacency is the real enemy, and I’m pretty sure the way to eliminate it will not involve more rules and more soothing assurances that an individual’s safety is someone else’s priority.  ‘In compliance is not the same as being out of danger.’  How effective is repeating the same dogmas that have been out there for the last hundred years and forcing people to watch thirty-five year old safety films that would put a glass eye to sleep?” 

Mike Rowe has ruffled a lot of feathers with his comments.  Is this the real issue?  I think not.  I like that he is trying to force us to get out of our comfort zone ruts and get real.  Common sense and your personal responsibility are paramount to worker safety.  This is the real message he is sending.  I hope we all hear this message loud and clear, no matter what background noise is going on.

And may you be blessed with working in safety environments better than those shown in “Dirty Jobs.”

The Doc


  1. The root of the problem is that our profession is filled with people who saw safety as a quick route to authority without responsibility. People who are more comfortable with a clipboard than with a handshake and a joke. People who can only justify their continued employment by creating new rules, new checklists, new forms to sign. People who must constantly exaggerate the threat of the lawsuit or no one will take them seriously.

    If people aren't paying attention to us anymore, it's no ones fault but our own.

    1. Gee, that sounds just like politicians.

  2. You are held accountable for your actions outside work, you will be held accountable for your actions at work.


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