Safety Leader

Core Value Vs. Cultural Mindset: Safety should always be first and foremost

Published On
Feb 14, 2022

As we embark on another year in our uncertain world, I’d like to challenge you to think about the following statement: Safety is a core value in our company. Protecting our employees, our most valuable asset, is our most important goal.

I would venture a guess that most, if not all, of you have a statement something like that in your company’s mission or value statement. Nice words, but do we really practice what they say? All too often we get caught up in day-to-day operations of our business and lives and that particular core value does not resonate to the top.

We tend to take safety for granted. That is, until something—a serious incident with an injury or near-miss—happens and causes us to stop and look at the result.

Training programs in the classroom or during field demonstrations cover all the necessary safety measures. But is that enough? I would say, emphatically, “No!”

Safety doesn’t need to be a core value. It needs to be in the company culture. Safety should be the first thing we think of, no matter what we are doing.

On complex jobs, we go through the planning process and look at all the probabilities of something going wrong. But do we do that on routine jobs? They will, of course, vary, but our hazard analyses and job briefings need to be the same for every job, regardless of complexity. We sometimes skim over the safety issues that come to mind with a routine job or one with an experienced crew. It is in these situations that the potential for something bad to happen increases.

Years ago, Randy Fellhoelter was a guest speaker at a meeting I conducted highlighting the complacency we face with routine jobs. Fellhoelter detailed how, when doing a routine job, he knowingly violated company safety rules because he was in a hurry and knew he could get the job done quickly and—in his mind—safely. Well, as you can probably guess, that didn’t go so well.

Fellhoelter was injured when he came in contact with 7,200 volts of electricity and lived to tell about it. His message was real and raw, and he showed pictures of what he endured during the many surgeries and the resulting loss of body parts. He embarked on a mission to share the message that safety should be a priority, particularly for routine jobs. He discusses his experience at Fellhoelter’s story is just one of many that focuses on what can happen when you take safety for granted.

As a leader in your company, you set the example for safety. The adage to “lead by example” is never more relevant than when safety is the focus. How we project our safety attitude is key to establishing that cultural mindset in our crews.

Don’t be complacent about correcting an improper work practice when you see it. Stop the job and explain why doing it that way has the potential to result in an incident or injury that could be avoided if proper safety procedures are followed. Yes, it’s not as simple as it sounds. You have to know your audience and correct accordingly. Sometimes you play the role of trainer or counselor, but others times you may fill the team member role. It all depends on who you’re working with at the time. How you lead will measure your success in establishing a cultural mindset within your work crews and company.

Don’t get comfortable. Always look at each job with the potential for something to go wrong, and work to mitigate those potentials as much as you can.

To learn about other electrical accident survivors’ experiences, read “Making Safety Personal” in Safety Leader, May 2020.

About the Author

Chuck Kelly

Kelly, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or

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