What Is ‘Safety Third’ and Is It Right for Your Company and Industry?

You’ve always heard, “safety first,” but is it better to think “safety third”?

As you well know, a typical industrial or manufacturing workspace represents several hazardous situations, and workers are exposed to risks, both predictable and unpredictable.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • 5,333 fatal work injuries were recorded in 2019, a 2% increase from the 5,250 in the previous year
  • A worker died every 99 minutes from a work-related injury in 2019
  • Falls, slips, and trips increased 11% in 2019 to 880
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments led to the deaths of 642 workers in 2019, the highest figure since 2011

Even if organizations train workers to exercise safety first, that’s not always enough. This is where the “safety third” concept comes in.

What Is ‘Safety Third’?

The concept of “safety third” was popularized by television personality Mike Rowe through his television show Dirty Jobs. During the show, Rowe and his staff suffered several injuries while working with professionals from different industries. It was then that Rowe realized that the constant reminders of “safety first” and notices about Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) equipment and policies never really helped on a personal front.

According to Rowe, such reminders create an illusion that someone is there to keep your workers safe or protect the company. Just because you are compliant doesn’t mean you’re safe.

“Safety third” says that safety is ultimately an individual’s responsibility. The main idea behind it is to promote safety for yourself and then people around you. What your company would like you to be safe about should come third.

How Organizations Can Promote Safety Third

An organization’s success is defined by the provisions in place to promote workplace safety and service excellence. In the event of an unexpected incident, serious damage can be done to the organization’s name. However, the shift from “safety first” to “safety third” calls for the need for effective approaches. Therefore, to promote the “safety third,” organizations should leverage these three impactful methods:

  • Culture
  • Internal Systems
  • Leadership

Both organizations and workers can benefit by ensuring the involvement of the leadership in workplace safety programs. If an employee has a safety-related concern, he or she should be able to provide feedback to management. The management should immediately communicate with the workers and implement the necessary steps to address their concern.

Existing internal systems can help a great deal in implementing streamlined and integrated safety protocols. Therefore, an open dialog between employees and the leadership can help in better managing risk and encourage improvement and innovation when it comes to workplace safety in the industrial/manufacturing industry.

The Swiss Cheese Model

The Swiss Cheese Model described by James Reason in Human Error highlights the need for sophisticated risk management techniques instead of exercising care when the surroundings are safe. According to him, each slice of a block of swiss cheese represents a point where a dangerous outcome can be stopped. The presence of holes in any one slice cannot lead to a bad outcome. It can only happen when the holes in different layers line up to form a trajectory of accident opportunity. These holes are formed due to two reasons — unsafe acts committed by people (active failures) and inevitable accidents (latent conditions).

The PEEPS Framework

James Lieberman, an anesthesiologist and wilderness medicine physician recommends using the PEEPS framework to avoid fatalities in the workplace. PEEPS stands for:

  • Person: How are you and your peers? Are you feeling healthy today? Is anyone feeling dehydrated or sick? Are you stressed?
  • Environment: Are the environmental conditions suitable for your workplace?
  • Equipment: Is your workplace using the latest equipment? Is the equipment optimized? Are you wearing the necessary gear to operate the equipment?
  • Partner/team: Partner with someone if required.
  • Scenario: Imagine yourself in different emergency scenarios and try to walk through them verbally.

Safety is a top concern for ClearStaff. When we tour prospective clients’ facilities, if we don’t think the environment will be safe for our employees, we will pass on the opportunity for a staffing program or require changes prior to working together. To learn more, please contact us.

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