We’ve all heard “safety first.” It’s drummed in our heads from an early age, on the playground, in the classroom, then later on the job and even as we drive on the highways. However, the idea that safety is first doesn’t sit well with Mike Rowe, the former host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs.” When the term “safety first” is uttered, it’s usually in relation to being compliant with some sort of standard.

On Mike’s blog titled “Profoundly Disconnected,” Rowe says, “…the whole ‘Safety First’ mentality might be having a counter-intuitive effect. Moreover, it struck me that on-the-job safety, for all it’s critical importance, is never really ‘first.'” Ultimately, Rowe is saying that being in OSHA compliance is a good thing, but just because a company or a worker is complying with safety standards doesn’t mean that danger is no longer present.

OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency under the United States Department of Labor. It was created when President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health act into law in late 1970. The law gives the agency powers to create safety regulations in the workplace, and to enforce those regulations. “Compliance safety and health officers” perform the enforcement. They are tasked with conducting workplace inspections of hazardous job sites and issue fines when safety violations are discovered.

According to Rowe, safety rules such as those concocted by OSHA are third most important to a business, i.e. safety is third, rather than first. What comes before safety for Rowe? In his blog, he says getting the job done and making money are both more important than safety – to the business, that is. Rowe says if a business says otherwise, it’s disingenuous. However, Rowe says he’s not denigrating the importance of safety measures and OSHA compliance; rather he’s suggesting that the best person in charge of personal safety is that individual.

Safety signs are a key element in OSHA standards; what better way to make sure a worker is aware of hazards than by posting a sign making that worker is aware of the threat? For workers to take charge of personal safety, signs need directives rather than platitudes. Think about a stop sign. It doesn’t try to make drivers feel good to stop at intersections; it tells them to stop.

Speaking of stop signs, “Mental Floss” (2014) wrote that the stop sign has eight sides due to the level of danger present. In 1923 in Mississippi, the state’s highway department came up with the idea of using the number of sides on a sign to denote the level of risk on the road. The more sides a sign has, the more risk there is present on the road.

The Mississippi Highway Department decided that informational signs should be rectangular. A diamond-shaped sign, likewise with four sides, would also denote the less dangerous threats. Next were stop signs, with eight sides, and beyond that was the railroad crossing sign – a circle, with infinite sides, denotes a high level of danger.

As a result, people know what these signs mean. Road signs are great examples of safety signs. The consequences of running a stop sign are obvious. However, in the workplace, a sign explaining the virtues of safety will fail to carry the same weight in message. In a perfect world, employers will comply with OSHA sign standards on the job site, and the signs will offer clear and concise directives. This will influence the employees to do as Mike Rowe suggests and take responsibility for their personal safety.

(7 August 2014). “Why Do Stop Signs Have Eight Sides?” Mental Floss. Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/56877/why-do-stop-signs-have-eight-sides. Retrieved on 12 September 2014
Rowe, M. (1 March 2009). “The Only One Responsible for My Own Safety is Me.” Profoundly Disconnected. MRW. Retrieved from http://profoundlydisconnected.com/the-only-one-responsible-for-my-own-safety-is-me/. Retrieved on 12 September 2014.
(11 August 2014). “Off The Wall: Safety Third Conversation Continues.” Profoundly Disconnected. MRW. Retrieved from http://profoundlydisconnected.com/off-the-wall-safety-third-conversation-continues/. Retrieved on 12 September 2014.