Former host of the hit show Dirty Jobs, Mike Rowe made waves earlier this year when he shared some pretty strong opinions about the growing emphasis on safety culture being a bad idea.
Rowe spoke to Fox News program host Tucker Carlson in a 6 minute segment that started with stories about entitlement, including a 30-year-old man who sued his parents for kicking him out.
But the conversation quickly segued into Rowe’s views about society’s declining work ethic and the perils of safety culture worship.
He believes that leading with the trending business model of “safety first” is idiotic, and more problematic than it’s worth.
“What happens when we elevate safety and feelings to a level of primacy – I think it creates a real disconnect that people are struggling to parse,” Rowe said.
To clarify what Rowe was saying, the Fox News host asked, “Are you saying that safety isn’t the most important thing, ever?”
Row replied, “I’m saying that everyone wants to go home safe at the end of the day. Safety always would be a delightful bromide, a wise platitude. Safety first is the stuff of idiocy.”
Rowe Says “Safety Culture” Makes It Hard To Get The Job Done
He said that the moment people believe that someone other than themselves cares more about their own safety than they do, then we embrace “the warm grip of complacency”.
“Safety is not the enemy, but if you make it the priority, then let’s just wrap ourselves in bubble pack and drives at speeds approaching 5 mph and let’s never assume anything that can ever be confused with risk,” he said.
On the Dirty Jobs show, Rowe said he and his crew sat through more than 100 mandatory safety briefings, and in the beginning, during the first couple of seasons they were very effective.
“But over time, the big safety first placards, and the mandatory boxes that you have to check… these things start to sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown, ‘womp, womp, womp’ and you stop listening. So the unintended consequence of telling you nothing is more important than your safety, is the very dynamic that leads people to walk across 5th Avenue when the little man says walk, instead of looking both ways. It’s not a coincidence that the most dangerous intersections in the world are the intersections that tell you when to walk.”
Instead, he believes that safety should be third rather than first, and implies that overemphasizing safety undermines and devalues hard work ethic.
Why Safety Culture IS Important
With all due respect Mike Rowe, the industrial cleaning business and any related industries need to take this opinion with a grain of salt. Hard work and safety culture aren’t mutually exclusive.
While there are many people who make safety their personal responsibility, this is also an area of weakness for people, or else incidents of workplace injuries and fatalities would be little to none.
Before the safety culture movement, many business owners would turn a blind eye to safety and were willing to jeopardize people’s lives in order to meet a deadline.
Enforcing safety protocols provide a standard holding both employees and companies accountable to reduce hazards as well as maintain a schedule that supports productivity goals.
Working with technology or methods that reduce the dangers not only allow employees to mitigate life-threatening risks and work smarter, it’s the right thing to do.
What Happens When You Don’t Put Safety First
Even if a business doesn’t care about doing the “right thing”, companies generally don’t enjoy lawsuits.
Walmart, one of the biggest retail giants in the world, is facing a class action lawsuit for poor working conditions and safety violations.
Incidents like those negatively impact you financially, not to mention damaging your public image.
Taking the time to implement safety culture – be it checklists, protective equipment or safety briefings – might take more time, feel repetitive, or get downright annoying. To that, we say, so what?
The truth is, safety culture works. It’s not a coincidence that organizations that invest into safety culture experience a decline in workplace accidents and workers compensation claims. So when it comes to a “safety first” approach, we’ll quote the famous sneaker company, Nike: Just Do It!