Should ‘safety’ be the first priority for an organisation?
My simple answer to the question is ‘No’! I also don’t believe that safety should always be the first item on the agenda at meetings.
If safety is the first priority, then by definition there are other aspects of work that are also vying for a place on the list of priorities. That could lead to something being so important, that “just for that project” it has to be the number one priority. The unspoken message is that for just this one project something other than safety gets to the top of the business priority list. I suggest this is NOT a good message!
If safety is first on the agenda as a matter of course, then there is a chance that it might, for a very specific ,’one-off’ particular reason, be placed somewhere else on the agenda at a particular meeting. Or for a really good reason, something else might be so important that it has to be first at that meeting. So safety is NOT FIRST on that occasion and might move down the list as other things have an increased priority. On other occasions it might also be the case that safety is an item on the agenda that we need to get through before the real business is done! This then means that safety is not first on the list at that particular meeting. I suggest this is NOT a good message!
Finally if safety is the number 1 priority or first on the agenda there is an implication that there is something finite about safety.
What safety should be is part of what the company does!
What safety should be is part of everything!
Priorities change as the environment changes (and as the business changes); issues, goals, and tasks will change depending on other dynamic factors. Safety as a value is defined by the company’s attitudes and beliefs, which might be represented by its corporate vision. Many companies have written statements in which the company describes its safety values, attitudes and beliefs. But do these statements have real substance behind them? Do they actually mean anything? Probably yes, but it would be even better if they were deemed unnecessary.
Behaviours are aligned to a value, an attitude and a belief; thus if the organisation has safety as a value, attitude and belief, then the organisation as an entity will behave in a way that will give it the best chance of avoiding incidents and injuries. Without the need for prioritising safety!
Safety is a value, an attitude, a belief; it is not a priority. (Idea from E. Scott Geller, Ph.D. Professor, Virginia Tech)