The universal lie of "Safety First"

Your safety is our number one priority. Please ride your motorcycle responsibly, safely and always obey local traffic rules.


Your safety is our number one priority, which is why we’ve introduced a new barrier system at the Main Stage. The primary barrier is not a golden circle but will have a restricted capacity.


Family and friends are mourning the death of a construction worker, killed after he was hit by a steel beam in the Twin Peaks Tunnel in San Francisco on Friday. Loved ones have identified him as 51-year-old Patrick Ricketts. “Safety is always our number one priority,” said San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA) Deputy Spokeswoman Erica Kato.


“Qantas would never operate an aircraft unless it was completely safe to do so,” Qantas said. Having looked at a photo of the mangled door, it is hard to imagine how they could tow the aircraft out of the hanger.


“Safety is our top priority, and while we respectfully disagree with some of the report’s findings, Fox thoroughly reviewed its stunt safety protocols immediately following the tragic accident and has revised and implemented enhanced safety procedures and enforcement,” the spokesperson said.


How do these quotes make you feel

Do you feel safer? Or did you roll your eyes?

Do you genuinely believe that the safety of staff and customers is the first or only priority for these organisations?

If you do, you’re the sort of naive and overwhelmingly positive fool the world needs more of.

A dose of reality

Apart from a very few examples - I can think of organisatons like the Health and Safety Executive - safety is never the number one priority. Never.

Now that doesn’t mean an organisation (or an individual) who says that doesn’t have good intentions. They might rank safety reasonably high in their priorities, but it is not highest. What ranks highest is their raison d’etre. Making money. Catching criminals. Visiting your grandmother.

If Amazon’s number one priority was safety, they wouldn’t be running hundreds of warehouses with reversing trucks, motorized conveyor belts and other such finger-inserting opportunities. But we like buying chinese goods with next day delivery, so we do it.

If the police’s first priority was safety, they would never attempt an arrest, because an officer might get hurt. A member of the public might get in the way. The alleged criminal will almost certainly be injured to some degree. But we like being safe from criminals, so we do it.

If your first priority was safety, you wouldn’t visit your grandmother. The drive to her house puts you at risk. But you love oatmeal and raisin cookies, so you do it.

Let’s just be honest

We sacrifice safety for convenience every day. It’s the reason that the motorway speed limit is 70mph, not 5mph. Or for that matter, why we’re allowed cars at all, it would be safer after all if we walked everywhere.

But that kind of life would be very inconvenient, wouldn’t it. So why can’t we just be honest. We’re absolutely fine giving up a little safety if it means we get our takeaway pizza that little bit faster.

There’s a balance, and when they want to make an announcement like the ones above, what they should really be saying is “We’ve decided that we got the balance wrong. We are sacrificing a bit too much safety for profit, so we’re going to spend more money on hard hats.”

But it doesn’t have quite the same ring does it?

Written on July 16, 2020