Worker with safety equipment

Last Word: The Foundation of Safety

Gary Gagliardi Midwest Mole


One of my favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt which goes: “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This statement exemplifies the most critical aspect of safety and the heart of achieving safety success.


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The cliché “Safety starts at the top,” — while critically important — simplifies how safety success is obtained and allows an easy excuse for failure. Often, the owner, CEO, or president subscribe themselves to be the safety driver for the company. Indeed, most individuals in these positions understand the significance of safety to a successful business and gladly assume or feel they need to assume, this designation. While safety funding, programs, incentives and enforcement absolutely must have support from the top, the heart and energy of a successful safety program comes from the people within the organization. This is where the safety culture, or better described, the “culture of caring” develops and grows. How this culture of caring grows depends on the guidance that is given and the care that is exhibited.

Caring is the foundation of safety and should be the heart of every safety program. Replace the statement “Safety starts at the top” with “Caring starts at the top.” Before any successful safety program can take root in an organization, caring must be at the start, and must be the driving message. You can implement the latest safety trend or training and tell everyone how this will make them safe. Yet, when you balk at providing a safety item requested by the people who use it and would be protected by it, or if foremen ignore the safe way to do something and take a shortcut placing production over safety, what message do you think is heard the loudest? Truly caring for employees is self-evident and is the most powerful message that your employees can receive.

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I have heard workers say, as I am sure you have, that their previous employer or a company “just doesn’t care about safety.” When an employer or company demonstrates that they do not care about safety, what the employee is perceiving is that the employer does not to care about them. No amount of safety slogans, banners, incentives and promotions, or countless committee meeting can overcome the hurdle of not caring.

The message of caring about employee’s safety needs to be relentless and it needs to be demonstrated. Without this key safety ingredient, and without the leadership necessary, safety programs often drift aimlessly in a sea of store bought safety answers. They may put a fresh coat of paint on the problem, but they quickly remain drifting or run aground. Most of us that have been around construction for years know that; when possible, a crew or workers will stay with or move with a foreman that they feel will keep them safe, a foreman that they recognize as caring about them.

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A successful safety program needs to have a safety champion(s) to continually lead and drive the culture of caring forward. What form does a safety champion take? For companies with a safety management position, this needs to be the safety champion. For companies that are not sized to have a safety position, it can be a safety minded employee with the backing that will provide them with the time needed to promote safety. This may also include a safety committee that can be used as a conduit for ideas to channel communication to and from all workers.

Worker with safety equipmentWhat Does Caring Look Like?

How does a company express concern for the safety of employees and workers? Listen to your workers. Give workers the respect and opportunity to speak out and to be truly listened to. Instead of talking at workers, talk with them. Chances are they are the ones that know what safety issues there may be, and often have the solutions. Visit with workers at the job sites, take them to lunch where the environment is more relaxed and they feel comfortable to talk. Let your workers know that you care about their safety, tell them. Actively speak those words to them over and over.

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How does a company demonstrate concern for the safety of employees and workers? Act when needed and do it in a timely manner. If there is a defective piece of equipment, ensure it is taken out of service and repaired or replaced promptly. Let that crew or crews know of these actions being taken. Do not let safety hazards linger. Identify the hazard(s) with the crew and seek an immediate solution. Letting a known hazard remain unaddressed, sends the signal that you don’t care. Stress to all workers from day one, that they individually have the right and the responsibility to stop work when there is a safety issue.

Expressing and demonstrating caring, this is the foundation of safety. It can’t be bought, and it can’t be faked, but it can be developed, and it will work to build or to strengthen your foundation of safety. Remember, No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

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Gary Gagliardi is corporate safety director at Midwest Mole Inc.

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