The Meaning of Safety

January 18, 2024

It is without question, one of the most difficult explanations that people struggle to define. Is it having no accidents? Is it having no Incidents? Is it being compliant with DOT? What does Safety really mean?  Why is it important for your employees to understand this six-letter word and how does it apply to their everyday work?

Let us start with the word Safety. When I look up the word, I find that the definition states that safety is the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury. As it relates to our business, this definition is almost correct. The simpler and more defined meaning of Safety is the freedom of Risk. Risk is the possibility of having harm/ bodily injury or damage to property. So, when you put these two definitions together, Safety means the freedom from harm/bodily injury or damage to property.

Understanding safety begins with understanding risk and how do we remove risk in our operations?  Risk involves two areas of concern, the first is unsafe conditions, and the second is unsafe behaviors. By eliminating or reducing these unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors in your operations, you will become a safer company. 

What are unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors?

It is easy for an operation or its employees to end up in these areas. Unsafe Conditions can start with bad housekeeping in the shop, walkways or driveways not treated for snow removal or ice removal, bad drivers’ room or office furniture, potholes not filled in the yard, use of improper tools, improper shop safety rules, and the list can go on and on. Unsafe Behaviors are not any better. Drivers not completing a pre-trip inspection, not stopping properly at stop signs, improper turns, speeding, bad intersection behavior while driving, improper following distance, smoking in a no smoking zone, using a cell phone while driving, again the list can go on. We must remember when thinking about unsafe conditions or unsafe behaviors, that people are the root cause of all accidents by their actions or inactions.  Accidents do not just happen! They have a cause.

Teach employees to see safety!

When we talk about safety in our operations, it is important to teach our employees to see safety! It is up to us to identify and eliminate unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors. Accidents happen when the following occurs:

  1. People fail to pay attention: Not looking for the unsafe condition around them or practicing an unsafe behavior(s). 
  2. People exceed their capabilities: lifting an object that is too heavy, or drivers driving without enough sleep, are examples of when people need to recognize the unsafe behavior or condition.
  3. People can develop a pattern of unsafe behavior. Our employees need to recognize what is unsafe behavior and change the way they do things. Unsafe behaviors lead to accidents or unsafe conditions. Examples would be a failure to check your mirrors before backing, not tapping on the horn before backing, or an unsafe behavior of picking up tools on the ground after a job is done, or a hose laying on the ground that could lead to a tripping hazard.

As Managers / Supervisors/ Staff, we must correct unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors when we see them. If needed, we must discipline employees to help them understand what events are unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors that can cause and have the potential for being a tragic event. We need all our employees to help eliminate risk.

About the People We Hire

Each person that we hire will behave differently to given circumstances. This is based on their individual CAN DO – Is the person capable of doing the job and WILL DO – Does the person desire to do the job?  Understanding these factors is job critical.

Can Do – is made up of a person’s Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities of the job.

Will Do – is made up of a persons Values, Motivation and Personality

We must understand that people are different and managing their behavior will help you, as a manager and your staff, to lead and motivate employees to act safely. If you make sure that employees have the knowledge and skills, they need to do their job, then their Can-Do factors will be aligned with their job and they will be safer.

If you have established that safety is an important value, then your employees Will Do factors will also be aligned to be safer executing their job performance.

In Summary

It is important for you and your staff to become Safety Leaders and to value safety. Whenever unsafe behavior exists, or an unsafe condition exists, you must take action to eliminate the risk when you see them. Whenever I talk with companies about Safety, I try and educate them on creating a safety culture of “Double Zero Tolerance” which means, No Unsafe Conditions and No Unsafe Behaviors! 

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