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Safety 1st Culture

“Safety 1st – Always” Is this a personal motto of yours? What about your current company? Does your company have a robust safety culture? Is safety listed as a company value? Does company leadership provide frequent visible and felt leadership on safety initiatives, safety goals, safety incidents, and the overall state of safety in the company? Is safety prioritized over schedule, progress, and cost? These are important questions to reflect on frequently.

All individuals working on Capital Projects will likely be able to share a story about a safety-related incident that occurred at their site. As a young Project Management graduate student 18 years ago, I often think about one of my professor’s lectures. The discussion was around how large capital projects (in the early days) expected that a casualty would occur. As a result, many companies included a hidden budget in the estimate to cover some of the associated expenses. The statistics speak for themselves:

  • 1930 – Empire State Building [5 Deaths]

  • 1936 – San Francisco Bay Bridge [28 Deaths]

  • 1942 – Grand Coulee Dam [77 Deaths]

  • 1970 – World Trade Center [60 Deaths]

  • 1974 – Sears Tower [5 Deaths]

  • 1977 – Trans-Alaska Pipeline [32 Deaths]

In modern times, any casualty on a project site is completely unacceptable. If a company has a strong safety culture; near misses, minor injuries, lost time incidents, property damage, and serious events are communicated, investigated, and learned from.

The definition of culture is: “the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society” and thankfully the safety culture has evolved in many companies. I have been lucky that the companies I have worked for have had a strong safety culture. This has directly impacted my safety values when I am not at work. Many meetings start with a brief safety share. The share can range from discussing: a recent incident, a new initiative, or a best practice. They can also become personal and reflect on something that happened away from work. Another consideration is the fact that areas of the world have varying cultural standards. The way people were raised affects their risk tolerance and it can be very different from what is considered acceptable by others. A global company must recognize this and ensure consistency throughout every regional jurisdiction. I recommend that you periodically reflect on personal and company safety culture. Always consider safety when planning your project. Chris Kilbourne has highlighted “8 Core Elements of a Safety Culture” on the website EHS Daily Advisor

1. Management commitment to safety

2. Job satisfaction

3. Training, equipment, physical environment

4. Organizational commitment

5. Worker involvement

6. Co-worker support

7. Performance management

8. Personal accountability

Stay Safe,


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