Watch Out Safety’s on Site

Silence concept with handsome constructor in closeupWhen you’re on the tools one of the common warnings that circulates quicker than a free feed is that Safety is on site. This can be a good and bad thing, depending on what identity Safety is given in the culture on site. For some it’s the same warning as if the police are coming, for others it’s warning of an interruption and for others it’s, who cares?

How Safety presents itself (read archetype), how Safety is known, how Safety engages workers; shapes what workers identify as Safety. How workers attribute identity to Safety also depends on their history of engagement, common attributes, norms and shared disposition across past jobs of what Safety does. It should be of concern to anyone in the industry how Safety is identified on the job, in the real world (

You might think you are the best safety advisor across the industry. You might think you are a great communicator but this doesn’t count for much if a worker’s history with Safety is of policing, telling and compliance fixation.

Sometimes it’s an uphill battle because the general experience of Safety is so poor. You arrive on site and the attribution of what Safety is, is already anchored before the first sod has been turned, before the tender acceptance ink has dried.

If this is the case, then one can thank the Industry in general and its curriculum for its extensive and comprehensive mis-education of people for the work they are required to do.

If this is not the case, then you are lucky but this is NOT the norm. In general Safety doesn’t have a great name and is often understood as an embuggerance. I’m on jobs every week and the common perception of Safety is most often negative.

Why is this so?

There is nothing in the safety curriculum that teaches people basic skills of ethical engagement. Neither is there anything on: the psychology of helping, social influence, listening, psychology of motivation/perception, people skills and, self-understanding. All of these are essential for developing skills in engagement. If you happen to pick up some of these skills by accident then well done, but they are not considered foundational in the safety curriculum.

If anything, the safety curriculum sets up Safety to fail. In engagement.

No wonder it’s a battle to develop a good name for Safety on site.

Every time I walk the job and workers ask who I am and what I do, I never identify with safety. Unfortunately, anchoring identity to safety inhibits relational engagement. Framing identity is anchored to expectations and common cultural identifyers of what workers think who Safety is.

Most often I identify with risk and culture and this is better received. As for those who identify as ‘safety nerd’, safety geek’, ‘safety sam’ or ‘safety sue’, why would you want to anchor your identity in such a way?




I don’t get it. Making safety an adjective descriptor of identity is the best turn off I know to disable listening, helping and care. Walk around a job site and describe yourself as ‘safety x’ and see how well that goes down. In Australia, it would be quickly equated with ‘w@ nk3r’.

I don’t identify with safety. Safety is not my reason for being. I don’t care how passionate you are for safety – persons, being and living are critical, not safety. Your safety is not my business. It is not my job to control, police or manage you. Such a disposition inhibits helping, care, listening and learning. Safety is NOT my number one priority. This silly slogan and agenda inhibits listening, helping and care. This silly fake slogan inhibits a focus on persons by making acceptance of others conditional on safety. What it says to others is: ‘I will only engage with you if you are safe’. Every worker knows on site that this safety first slogan is not true, same as ‘stop the job for safety’. When the concrete is on the road and the concrete pump is pushing its load up to the deck, there will be no stopping of the job!

What often discredits Safety is this silly sloganeering of speaking nonsense to people (; The best way to show you care and want to help people in how they tackle risk is NOT to speak nonsense to them about zero or ‘safety is a choice you make’ or ‘all accidents are preventable’. Workers can smell the odour of Safety at 10 paces when they hear such nonsense talk.

And once workers have been turned off, made sceptical and cynical, the most important asset to safety (listening) is lost.

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