Safety Martyrdom: 4 Steps to Breaking the Cycle

She sat across from me in the Seattle Central Public Library. A pen went flying and I thought it she had dropped it. Then she threw her eyeglasses and a string of expletives followed. She slammed her laptop shut, retrieved her pen and eyeglasses, and minutes later the eyeglasses were tossed again. More words followed, the kind you’d hear in a bar or Navy port.

I don’t know for sure, but she might have worked in EHS. She had the symptoms of a safety martyr.

Safety martyrs work tirelessly for the oppressed worker. The ones abused by a profit first/safety last manager. The workers who want to get the job done even if that requires putting a bucket on top of a ladder to finish the work. The safety martyr feels unappreciated, undervalued, and generally unloved, but resolutely stands by the principle of worker safety. This mixture of principled work and under appreciation can devolve into the disease known as safety martyrdom. 

How to break the cycle in 4 steps:

1. Identify your company’s value drivers: Your company believes in a few things. Not those espoused core values…but the beliefs which drive decisions. Find those. Maybe cost control, productivity, reputation, market share, etc.

2. Identify EHS activities: What actions do you take in EHS? This might be training, inspections, permit compliance, waste reduction, compliance, etc.

3. Link EHS activities to value drivers: List the value drivers (Step 1). Which of your EHS activities (Step 2) support the drivers? Draw lines between drivers and activities. Hopefully you can match multiple activities to a single driver (and vice versa).

4. Measure and communicate: Find a way to measure what you do and why it matters. Communicate results constantly and always align these results with value drivers.

Want more on this idea? I’m presenting at the ASSE Alaska 2017 Safety Summit on 24 Oct 2017. If you’d like a copy of this portion of the slides and you’re a connectingEHS subscriber, send an email request to Not yet a subscriber? Subscribe here and send me a note requesting the slides.


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