You know Mike Rowe, the guy on the Discovery Channel who hosts Dirty Jobs? A viewer recently called him out on not wearing the proper safety gear on his show. His response? “Of all the platitudes embraced in the workplace there is none more pervasive, erroneous, overused and dangerous than ‘Safety First!'”
The viewer posted this on mikeroweworks.com:
“My husband works on the oil rigs as a well tester. We watched you folks do so without any eye protection! Are you crazy? Drilling a hole with no protective eyewear? Between him, a well tester, and me, a workers’ compensation lawyer, we’re cringing! Somebody could LOSE AN EYE! Seriously — Safety First fellas!”
Rowe responded, “It is not the objective of Dirty Jobs to conform to any particular set of safety standards, other than those dictated by the people for who I happen to be working at the time. I take my cues from them.”
That was followed by the quote in the first graph of this story. Rowe called the “Safety First” slogan “a load of unmitigated nonsense.”
“In the jobs I have seen thus far, I can tell you with certainty, that safety, while always a major consideration, is never the priority,” Rowe wrote. “Never. Never, ever. Not even once.”
He goes on to say that safety is important, but not more important than getting the job done. “Making money is more important than safety — always,” he writes.
Rowe’s point: If an employer tells you safety is the most important thing, don’t believe it. He says that causes workers to become complacent and careless.
“When a business tells you that they are more concerned with your safety than anything else, beware,” Rowe says. “They are not being honest. They are hedging their own bets, and following the advice of lawyers hired to protect them from lawsuits arising from accidents.”
Rowe says he wears safety belts and motorcycle helmets not because it’s the law, but because it seems like a reasonable precaution to him and “the only one responsible for my own safety is me.”
He concludes that he probably should have been wearing safety glasses, but not because “safety is first,” but because he likes to hedge his bets.
(NOTE: Whether you agree or disagree with Mike Rowe’s opinion on “Safety First”, there’s no disagreement that a strong safety culture can help prevent accidents and injuries. Read "10 Ways to Create a Better Safety Culture" and learn concrete steps you can take today to build safety awareness and buy-in across all levels of your organization. Get it now »
The comments on Rowe’s website replying to his post about safety are interesting, to say the least. Here are some sample excerpts:
- You very clearly pointed out that your employer (everyone’s employer) simply does not make our safety their priority. Thank you for that bit of truth-telling.
- Safety is never the first priority and all these laws and rules and BS are intended to minimize statistically insignificant risk while ignoring major risk.
- Thank you for this. I have had to fight more than one boss tooth and nail for what I (and OSHA) considered basic safety precautions. In business, business always comes first. Even an employer who likes you as a person cares more about lawsuits and their workers’ comp rates than your safety. We always say: Safety Third.
- The further we push toward mandating safety this or that, the less people are forced to take responsibility for their own actions.
Then there was a lengthy post from “Harry,” who identified himself as a safety professional. An excerpt:
“I find your attitude ignorant and potentially dangerous … Safety is the reasonable efforts to make the risk lower … About the only thing in your rant that is true, is that everyone is responsible for their own safety … the tired and lame reasoning you spew out will continue to have good workers hurt or killed.”
Harry’s post got these responses:
- Notice the safety professional defending his job. My own work place has two dedicated safety people, and honestly there isn’t really anything for them to do. It’s a scam.
- Just providing gloves and eye protection to workers can be an incredible expense for a manufacturing company. If you really work in safety, you should be privy to the annual budget for safety equipment and compliance. It’s the smallest number possible because it does not contribute to the bottom line. Companies evaluate the following: Is the expense for paying a fine coupled with either a settlement or higher insurance rates if a horrible accident occurs more or less expensive than full compliance?
All this just because of a TV show.
So here are some questions for those of you engaged in keeping workers safe on the job:
- Do you agree with Mike Rowe’s position on workplace safety?
- What responsibility do employers have toward their workers’ safety? Is it, as Rowe says, mainly up to workers to keep themselves safe?
- Does Rowe provide a bad example by adopting just the safety precautions that other workers do on the jobs he takes?
- Do you believe your company when it says, “Safety First?” For most companies, is it really “Production First, Safety Third?”
As always, let us know what you think in the comments below.