Selling Safety: A Three-Dimensional Approach

Oftentimes, there are many elements of the safety codes and standards that overlap and appear to conflict with one another. That can make it difficult to determine what requirements to prioritize to ensure the safety of a facility’s occupants and patrons.

In my career, I have asked myself during inspections, “What deficiencies or findings do I need to push them to immediately correct?” I also ask, “What deficiencies can I give them more time to correct?”

During an inspection or audit, you will discover multiple deficiencies, findings and/or violations. Any issue you identify has a level of significance and addressing it falls on a priority scale. The priority of a finding, however, is not always indicated in the code you are applying during your inspection or audit.

As a safety professional, safety inspector, or safety officer, you encounter situations where you may need a compass to guide you in terms of the deficiencies you identified and where they fall on the priority scale.

The Three Incident Priorities

In firefighting and other emergency situations, there are three incident priorities that guide tactical operations and tasks: life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation.

Life safety refers to items or situations that pose an immediate danger to life and health. They must be corrected and/or addressed immediately. If you find something that rises to this level of hazard, it is easy to explain and stress the importance to your workers.

Incident stabilization refers to preventing and/or limiting situations or circumstances that could lead to the expansion and acceleration of a given hazard. This priority can be easily explained to your employees because it is quantitative. If “X” issue is not addressed and “Y” incident occurs, then “Y” incident will expand to “Z” incident, which will cost you time and “Z” dollars.

For example, storing a 5-gallon container of acetone by an exit door is not immediately dangerous to life or health, but in a fire emergency an exit can become blocked or compromised. A blocked exit way does not lend itself to stabilizing a fire emergency.

Property conservation oftentimes comes into play post-incident or accident. In safety inspections or audits, property conservation involves limiting liability. For example, consider how much a slippery floor in the workplace could cost.

In a fire emergency, after the fire has been extinguished and the carbon monoxide has been ejected from the structure, the last step in the tactical process is salvage and overhaul. Salvage efforts protect property and belongings from damage, particularly from the effects of smoke and water. If there are undamaged furnishings, firefighters move the items outside of the structure. Some items will be damaged and/or destroyed by the fire and water, but firefighters work to save or salvage what remains. Overhaul ensures that a fire is completely extinguished by finding and exposing any smoldering or hidden pockets of fire in an area that has been burned (Firefighting Essentials Handbook, 7th Ed). The consequence of not effectively performing overhaul is an increased chance of rekindle, meaning the fire starts again. When a fire rekindles, it results in additional loss of physical property.

Application of these priorities to safety inspections and/or audits helps safety professionals obtain compliance using rational persuasion. This creates a three-dimensional approach to selling safety.

Making Safe Decisions

Keeping these three incident priorities in mind helps you establish priority on the findings and/or deficiencies you found during an audit or inspection. For example, you note there is a fire extinguisher that, according to its tag, is overdue for annual inspection by more than four months. You find three exit signs and emergency lights that are not working. You also note that the commercial hood system has a heavy accumulation of grease and oily sludge inside the ductwork of the hood system. It was allegedly cleaned last month, but this accumulation suggests otherwise.

If you had to pick one issue, what would you try to push the hardest to get corrected? In other words, which of these deficiencies has the greatest chance of costing someone their life: the fire extinguisher, the emergency light, or the kitchen hood system?

The grease accumulation in the hood system poses the most significant hazard to life because it can ignite without warning. If there is too much of an accumulation of grease and sludge inside the hood system, it can continue to burn even after the suppression system has fired.

This example demonstrates, in one instance, how the incident priorities can be applied to safety inspections and audits. The rationale that you used to push for the immediate correction of a finding must be clear and apparent to your workforce. That clarity helps promote buy-in and prompts action.

It could cost somewhere between $350 and $650 to thoroughly clean a dirty hood system to standard, but it would cost thousands in fire damage and possibly someone’s life.

When you conduct a fire inspection, safety inspection or OSHA audit, you are using a rational process to help your workers make a rational choice. In many instances, the rational choice to correct a deficiency or safety concern does not translate to your company’s immediate financial bottom line.

The Cost of Being Unsafe

Eighty-five percent of workers’ compensation claims come from employees that slipped on slick floors, according to the Industrial Safety & Occupational Health Markets, 5th edition. Furthermore, 22% of slip/fall incidents resulted in more than 31 days of lost work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lost work is lost money.

Occupational injuries caused by falls that are temporary and serious in nature cost between $250,000 and $300,000 per year. Falls account for 16% of all workers’ compensation claims and 26% of all costs, according to Works Compensation statistics from ITT-Hartford Insurance Company.

Cost mitigation is a form of property conservation. Companies and organizations all have limited resources. Slips, trips and falls can negatively impact their bottom line, but they can also be prevented. It is essential that safety professionals and safety inspectors conduct thorough audits and inspections.

Many facilities focus on OSHA safety compliance. An OSHA inspector can fine your facility for not meeting established workplace safety standards. Yes, fines directly affect your company’s bottom line, but what about not complying with the fire or building code? The financial aspect of noncompliance with building and fire codes may not be readily identifiable unless the authority having jurisdiction serving the area where your facility is located has an aggressive inspection and compliance program that results in fines for noncompliance.

The most significant financial consideration comes post-incident or accident through litigation for not meeting the standard of care set by fire and building codes. Knowledge and understanding of codes and standards are essential for safety officers, facility managers and so forth. If you are not familiar with what is required in the building and fire codes, how can you point out deficiencies and violations to your employees? 

Selling Safety

Every finding has three dimensions that must be considered to establish priority: life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation. The aspect that is most applicable to a given finding or code violation determines how important it is for your company to correct. Applying these three dimensions gives you a tool that can help you sell the importance of safety compliance to your company and persuade them to spend their capital to do it. That is the three-dimensional approach to selling safety.

The three incident priorities are a compass for your safety audit and inspections. They are the guiding principles that allow you to become more effective and allow you to obtain compliance with codes and standards.

When an automotive sales professional sells you a new or used vehicle, they must build value to you regarding the car they are trying to sell. The car salesperson must persuade you that the thousands of dollars you are about to spend is worth it. The same is true for a safety professional. You must build the value in complying with codes and standards for your company. Your company’s senior management must then make the rational decision to spend their capital to meet the safety standards set by the code.

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