My Four Non-Negotiables: #1 – Safety

Over the years, I have developed a management philosophy I call the Four Non-Negotiables. Over these next four weeks, I’ll share what each of them are and what they mean. This week is about Non-Negotiable #1, Safety

Safety is often strongly encouraged, or at least given lip service, in most organizations, but it’s something management usually has ownership of and accountability for.

But why is it only reserved for management? They can tell employees to be safe, but if the employees don’t have ownership of their own safety, how can you expect them to take it seriously?

Personal protective equipment is an important part of any safety campaignToo many times, employees don’t heed safety warnings. They think it doesn’t apply to them, or that they won’t be hurt, or that they know better “how things work.” They feel that same invulnerability we all felt as teenagers, and they’ll circumvent safety equipment and procedures to make things work.

For example, some idiot runs an extension cord across the floor so they can plug a fan in at their work station. Someone else walks by, trips on the cord, and breaks their wrist. The first line supervisor or manager didn’t run the cord for somebody to trip over, it was one of the associates.

Management had gotten safety training and they were given ownership of the plant’s safety protocols, but it didn’t make a difference. They weren’t around when the decision was made to plug in the fan, and they didn’t see the cord on the floor in those crucial minutes between the decision and the other person tripping over it.

This is a very simplistic example, but it shows that many safety violations are done out of ignorance. In other words, not having the latest education on OSHA requirements, or even general common sense practices, leads to many workplace accidents.

EVERYONE Needs Safety Training

If you want everyone in your company to practice safety, you need to train everyone in your company. If you invest in giving all of your associates the same training and education on safety, extending it beyond management and first line supervision, it makes your associates capable of managing their own safety.

In this way, it becomes a non-negotiable throughout the whole organization.

So, in our example, who should the consequences fall on? The associate who plugged in the fan, but didn’t have the right training? Management? They weren’t around when the decision was first made to plug in the cord.

The problem is, there are plenty of consequences. Someone has broken their wrist, which means lost time and wages. They have family disruptions and issues centered around the broken wrist.

There are also plenty of business consequences. There are related costs, such as the medical costs to the company, the worker’s compensation costs, and the loss of productivity, as well as any training costs for training a replacement.

It was such a simple thing — plugging a fan into the wall — but it caused so many problems.

But if we make everybody accountable for safety, the associates should get the same training and education as managers and supervisors. The associates should police their own environments and be responsible for their own safety. And they should hold each other accountable.

The associates should be able to speak up about their safety to management. If they see something that’s unsafe, they should have the right to say, “I’m not going to operate that piece of equipment until it is right.”

And most importantly, they should not be fired for refusing to perform an unsafe act.

If a guard is missing on a hydraulic press, the worker should refuse to work until it’s fixed, without fear of punishment. If that means reassigning that person until the equipment is repaired, so be it.

The benefit of this way of thinking is the associates become the safety committee, not management. All management has to do is to provide the resources to the associates to ensure they can create a safe environment.

This turns everything on its head, because I’m sure most organizations have safety committees comprised of managers and first line supervisors. But the associates are the victims of the decisions — or non-decisions — of the front line supervisors.

A Real Example of the Safety Philosophy

At Robroy, one of our machines was a conveyor that moved pipe along at a steady pace. One of our associates wanted to get from one side of the machine to the other, but rather than stop the conveyor, and go to a catwalk to cross over the machine, he thought he could just run across the moving pipe.

The problem is, the conveyor won’t stop for anything. It’s controlled by hydraulics, which won’t recognize if there’s an obstruction in the way. If this guy’s foot had slipped, he would have gone between a couple pieces of pipe, gotten stuck, and would have been cut in half.

Needless to say, he was fired immediately. This was not a behavior we could afford to have established as a precedent in our organization.

We had already established Safety as a non-negotiable, and the machine had all the guard rails, safety devices, and warnings. So by doing what he did, the associate put himself and whoever might try to save him at huge risk.

We had invested in training 100% of our people in the same way we trained our managers and supervisors. We made sure they heard the same message from the same safety professionals and understood what was expected from each of them. We made the associates, not the managers, accountable for the safety of the production environment.

Doing it this way also eliminated the excuses people might make for why they weren’t practicing their own safety, like wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) while they’re doing something like grinding metal or using a hydraulic press.

“My supervisor told me to do it,” “I can’t see through the goggles,” or I can’t hold the workpiece properly.”

That’s all nonsense because Safety is non-negotiable. If you are going to be grinding something, you should have all the personal protective equipment necessary to ensure a safe operation. And it’s the associate’s responsibility to use it, not their supervisor’s.

Remember, in this philosophy, an associate can’t be fired for refusing to do something unsafe, but that also means it’s their responsibility to do everything they can to ensure their safety, like wearing gloves and goggles.

Ultimately, a good safety program is created by the associates and supported by management, it’s not created by the managers. If you want associate buy-in, give them ownership for it right off the bat.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business using the Four Non Negotiables as a template. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Photo credit: Voltamax (, Creative Commons 0)

Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.