Safety Articles

How to Avoid Being a Safety Hypocrite

Have you ever thought about the value of safety? Value can be thought of in terms of money, standards, and morals. Safety values can encompass all of these. Effective safety leaders find ways to balance value regarding people (e.g., employees and the public), profits (e.g., production and loss control), compliance (e.g., rules and regulations), and data (e.g., numbers and statistics). On a bridge recoat job, for example, you might need to balance how you’ll get the job on time, on budget, and with zero safety incidents. However, because safety values can be viewed from different perspectives, there is potential for leaders to actually be or to be perceived as hypocritical.

What is a hypocrite? According to Webster, it is a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. It’s not hard to watch the nightly news, read a newspaper, scan social media, or simply view those around you and come to the conclusion that you may be surrounded by hypocrites. But let’s not be too quick to judge. We may only see part of the picture or only have some of the facts. One thing of which I’m certain: No one wants to be judged as hypocritical…especially when it comes to safety.

Overcoming the Potential for Hypocrisy

Here’s how hypocrisy plays out. Sometimes workers say they are expected to get a job done quickly, and they have to cut a corner on safety to get the job done within the allotted time and budget. Certainly, a number of problems exist with this type of rationale. First, when questioned, workers will often say they are afraid of being disciplined or fired for not getting the job done within the stated objectives — even if it’s unsafe. A few further questions, such as “when is the last time someone was fired in your company for stopping a job that was unsafe?” or “have you been disciplined for following the safety rules in the past?” usually do a lot to squash the erratic thoughts that time and money are more important than a true safety concern. People’s limbs and lives should not be put in danger for any reason. Second, workers are being hypocritical when they say they value their personal safety if they put themselves in a situation where the project is more important than their own safety. This shows that their actions aren’t lining up with their stated values.

On the flip side, if you are the person in charge of a job — for example, the lead person, foreman, or supervisor — you must guard yourself against hypocritical actions. Lead by example. If someone on your job comes to you with a safety concern, take the time to listen. Hopefully you will have taken the time to do a pre-job briefing to demonstrate that safety is a critical part of the job. This is a great time to demonstrate the value of safety — before the job begins. The pre-job briefing is the time to listen and guide.

Take the time to address any job-related safety concerns immediately. Certainly, people are human, and some humans can come up with things that are not relevant to the job and cast them as “safety issues.” For example, sometimes workers will have something on their minds regarding a management decision and try to bring it up as a job-related safety issue. We often see workers who are unhappy about the number of people assigned to a job state that this is a safety issue when the same job has been done numerous times with the same number of people. Leaders must be willing to listen and refer to the facts consistently. You’ll have to learn to properly deal with those one-offs and focus on the real safety issues.

Living out Your Value of Safety

It’s true — no matter what level of the organization you represent, people are watching you to see if you do what you say should be done.

No one likes to think of themselves as a hypocrite. If you are going to be around people, you may not be able to stop them from thinking you are a hypocrite. Remember: they may only have some of the facts or part of picture. But you are in charge of living your life, and your life should line up with what you say you value.

You’re not alone! Let’s do what we can to live out our safety values to create workplaces where it’s difficult to get hurt.

About the Author:

Carl Potter, certified safety professional and certified management consultant, is a nationally recognized safety speaker, consultant, and trainer. He is the CEO of the Safety Institute, an organization he founded in 1992. He has authored nine books, including the newly released Conquest for Safety. For more information, contact:,

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