What is "Safety 3rd"?

I didn’t want to hijack another thread where this was mentioned ( in a legitimate concern ), but it comes from a very real and very legitimate perspective.

I wanted to launch this micro-thread (or at least I hope it remains a micro-thread) in case people haven’t heard of the concept. I highly recommend reading about it:


Even if you don’t subscribe to the concept, its important to know what it actually means when you hear it.

I think it’s an intriguing concept, but it’s more about criticizing the complacency and cargo culting that comes with wide adoption of anything, than proposing a solution, and it strikes me that the “Safety Third” is throwing the baby out with the bath water because they don’t like the fact that corporate is now dominating a discussion that originated with labour.

In my experience in a wide variety of dangerous work, Safety needs to come from the top of a crew. But it needs to be backed by the top of an organization. In pyrotechnics, we practice safety first, and we understand that that means that even most junior guy on the crew is expected to tell anyone up to and including a producer to pound sand if they’re asking them to do something unsafe. But in order for that to happen, you need to have buy-in from all levels of leadership that they will back a decision that was made in the name of safety, even if it turns out to be expensive. Getting cute and calling it “safety third” just strikes me as clickbaity.

Disclaimer: I got my start in the business I’m in hauling fire hose up hill through animal shit in the freezing cold for 14-20 hour days. I have my dirty job creds, and I am really not a fan of Mike Rowe. I think the SWEAT pledge is abhorrent, and is at best misguided, and at worst manifestation of the attitudes that get new workers injured, raped, and killed on the job.


For me the take away is:

  • think about what you’re doing
  • don’t blindly follow the rules and assume that this makes it/keeps you safe (outside of your couch or bed, you’re by definition not safe)
  • no one can look after you as good as you, so safety starts with you

Just so people know where I’m at, I am neither supporting or criticizing safety 3rd, just that when you say it or hear it that it is not intended to be from a place of “f**k safety” which I think is how I have heard it here and there.

Janet, I love your points you bring, COVID is actually a great counterpoint to safety 3rd as a current example. I only bring this up so the phrase isn’t brought forward to disavow safety considerations.

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Oh, I’m all for avoiding cliche when it comes to things like safety. But I’d rather see some earnestness behind it than the too-cute-by-half approach of “safety 3rd”. For one thing, it sounds too much like the joke “safety top 10, if there’s time.” and it’s easy to confuse it for the joke version because the words don’t carry that much meaning, they’re just a device to trick the listener into thinking, and that only works once before you’re back to complacency again. All those takeaways that @TyIsI listed… there’s no reason you can’t take those things away from safety first, so long as the organization means it, through and through, and is actually interested in seeing its people go home every day above profit.

An example of alternative approaches that actually mean something: In film one of our named shots is called the Jonsey. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martini_Shot#cite_note-THR_2015-02-20_Jonesy-6 It’s not used formally every day, partly to keep it from becoming a cliche, but it is deeply meaningful, because it’s naming one of our own who was killed following unsafe directions from her superiors. When somebody calls the Jonesy, it is a powerful reminder that we need to be looking out for ourselves, and for each other, and there is no confusion about what it means.