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By: Stacey Godbold

Safety as a Priority Versus Safety as a Value

In a recent episode of my new podcast, I talked with Billy Hawley, safety manager for AAON Inc, a manufacturer of HVAC equipment.   

At one point in the episode, Billy talked about working as a safety manager at a previous employer, and how it took years to have “the safety culture move in the direction of being a corporate value, outside of just being a priority.” 

That got me thinking: What are some helpful examples of safety as a priority, compared to safety as a value? 

The way I look at it, if something is a priority, then you’ll try your best to do it if you have time for it, and as long as it doesn’t get deprioritized. However, if something is a value in your life or at your company, then you’ll always do it. 

Here are three examples of safety being just a priority

  • If it’s a priority to keep the factory floor clean (so that workers don’t trip or slip(, it’s quite possible that this priority might be temporarily overlooked at times (such as when urgent orders need to be filled). 
  • If it’s a priority that your workers bend at the knees when picking up heavy things, it’s quite possible that when things get really busy, workers will ignore this and bend forward to pick up heavy things (and risk straining or injuring themselves).
  • If it’s a priority to distribute PPE to your workers, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily going to wear them.  

Here are are the same three examples, but now they’ve been flipped so that safety is a value

  • If having a clean floor is a value in your factory, then there’s no way that a dirty floor will be tolerated (and thus there’s much less of a chance that workers will trip or slip over things). 
  • If using a proper lifting technique is a value among your workers, then everyone will do it that way, every time, to safely pick up heavy objects. 
  • If wearing PPE is a value among your workers, then they’ll wear them like it’s second nature (not like they’re an imposition placed upon them by management). 

To sum up, when safety is just a priority, it’s as if it’s tacked on to a worker’s list of tasks. However, if safety is part of a worker’s value system, then it’s seamlessly embedded within each of their tasks. 

I really want to thank Billy Hawley, safety manager at AAON, for helping me think deeply about these important, helpful distinctions. I also want to thank Courtney Knudson, a safety analyst at AAON, who also participated in our conversation. Be sure to check out our chat!

Subscribe to the podcast: 

* Apple Podcasts

* Spotify

* Google Podcasts 

On LinkedIn, also be sure to connect with myself, Billy Hawley, and Courtney Knudson

This episode was produced by Story On Media & Marketing:


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