The Best Vs. The Worst by Mackenzie Wilson

#8 Production Vs. Safety: Ancient Myth or Current Reality?

by Mackenzie Wilson / Based on the following SafeConnection panels

SafeStart author Larry Wilson tackled an age-old problem in the latest round of SafeConnection Panel discussions: blaming ‘production’ for rushing at work. Experts from world-class companies gave invaluable contributions on how they are tackling the classic conundrum of balancing production and safety.

A reality-check to begin: It is not rushing ‘for production’, it is rushing to make up for time lost because of a mistake, whether in the process itself or in the lack of preparation. Unfortunately, it remains common to find people who think that safety costs time and money while not improving production or quality. The fact is that taking the time to reduce human error increases both!

Research insight from SafeStart Vice President Teg Matthews: From his experience of roundtable focus groups, Teg estimates that one in five HSE professionals have a blind spot in which they don’t see any problem when it comes to balancing production and safety. 

About 70 percent still struggle with the issue but will openly talk about what they are doing to address it. The remainder, ten percent, come from organisations where safety is genuinely built into the cultural system and thus there is no tension between the two.

Boiling it down: Given this background, the question that Larry wants to pinpoint now is how the panellists feel in terms of the overall perception around the production/ safety balance and if their colleagues still think the two are at odds with one another:

Not to be overlooked: there has been significant progress in terms of integrating safety into all business processes and recognising its importance across the board.

Industry perspective from SafeStart’s Teg Matthews: “We need to make sure the people on the front line understand – that’s the alignment and systems piece – and that they have the skills to talk about safety and how it fits in. We need them to understand too that there is a system of communication within the organisation that allows that to go both ways, up and down”. Sometimes the emphasis on safety that senior management would like to communicate is not what’s being perceived on the front line.

Culture change takes time – but there is a positive remedy that can be brought to bear on this problem: young entrants. It is not a quick fix, but it could be a meaningful one if a company is committed to a long-term view:

How about the production/safety balance for companies working with contractors? Certainly, the challenge of getting the message of ‘safety as equally important’ to a transient workforce would only be magnified. And that calls for patient and constant cultivation via ‘safety champions’ and communicative leadership of the right mindset:

The panellists also explain the importance of understanding production’s point of view, as well as creating reasonable projections and margins for error.

Topic context from SafeStart’s Larry Wilson: “The part about the client is really key: in order for this to work you have to explain the reality of humanity to the client. You don’t want the publicity of opening up your new business on the heels of a tragedy…and you don’t want the tragedy. So, if something happens like an unforeseen delay, either due to our-fault negligence or circumstances of force majeure, we have to have an understanding that we mitigate the risk, we don’t just increase it”.

In business as in life, ‘wait times’ can happen: it’s what you do about them that counts:

While the reality is that production and safety can come into conflict, these panel discussions have shown that collaboration and integration of the two is the way to achieve optimal outcomes.

Safety can improve production, and production can assist safety. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive, but it takes maturity to realise that human error is a problem, not just for safety but also for production, quality and customer service.

And that it can be minimised significantly by improving the system and training the employees. However, this will take strong leadership, and good communication from top management down to the shop floor to make it work.

Take Aways

  • Production and safety are not in opposition, but need integration.
  • Time taken for safety is never wasted time.
  • Admit your leadership blind spots – and work on them.
  • Progress has been made: sharing lessons helps!
  • New workers and ‘safety champions’ seed culture change.
  • Communicate human realities to your clients.
¹ Based on SafeConnection panels on North America, Europe, The Middle East, India and Asia.
² All opinions expressed in here are purely those of the panelists. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of SafeStart and the panelists’ companies.
³ For more information about the SafeConnection Expert Panels and to watch past or current sessions, please visit

Topic list:

Get an email notifying the release of these articles