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Safety Leadership Willful Act: Nefarious or Not

Sometimes confusion exists concerning the willful act of either creating an unsafe condition at work, putting workers in an unsafe condition, allowing an unsafe condition, or flagrantly disregarding an unsafe condition or act.  In my opinion all could be considered nefarious safety.  Nefarious behavior can be committed by leaders, employees, or anyone in the organization.  The behavior may be intentional or not.

Nefarious: Latin (typically of an action or activity) wicked or criminal.

In 25 years of consulting to prevent workplace injuries I have met only a few leaders who willfully put workers in harm’s way to get a job accomplished.  On the other hand, I have worked with many supervisors who without any intention made decisions that after they were reviewed, have said, “That wasn’t the right thing to do.”  Nobody wants to get hurt, see anyone get hurt, or be the reason someone got hurt.  Safety leadership is more than following the rules; it also should be evident at all levels of the organization.

In my experience, even an employee can become nefarious when it comes to safety in the workplace.  Many times it is simply an ego trip when one employee says, “Oh I can do that safely without wearing my PPE.”  This becomes nefarious safety because they are promoting unsafe activity that will be repeated by others in a game of “one-upsmanship.”  It is the job of the supervisor to step in at this point and make sure that the unsafe behavior is stopped and the offender is coached to help them understand the errors of their ways.  For this to happen we have to see evidence of safety leadership from the top down.

One of the key roles of leadership is to set the values of the organization – to set the tone against nefarious behavior. One way is to help people grasp the priority of safety among other organizational elements.  I tend to believe that if employees understand the balance for safety, quality, and production then everyone will agree that keeping these three elements in line will make sense.  If it makes sense then people will support the premise and the company can be safe and profitable.

Companies exist to produce a product for a profit.  Profit is usually given to share holders or owners for their willingness to risk their own resources.  Typically some of the profits are applied back into the company to produce growth and stability in the marketplace.  If a company is having to spend money on lawsuits and high insurance premiums the “bean-counters” get nervous and begin to put pressure on production so that more profit is realized.  This becomes a nefarious situation.

To find the balance that results in safety, quality, and production (yes, in that order) everyone must be engaged in the business process.  When executives and leaders through the organization understand that mitigating hazards in the workplace actually leads to improved quality and production safety takes a whole new role.  Creating a workplace that is “safe” means continually finding ways to mitigate risk from hazards to a lower level.  If all personnel are involved in this process and not made to feel like underlings but partners in the success of the organization then anyone being nefarious sticks out like a sore thumb.

Safety leadership is required to attain, maintain, and sustain a successful safety culture.  Everyone in the organization must be aiming for the same goal and trust must be fostered at all levels.  Every level of the organization will be held accountable for safety.  Workers who don’t act responsible for safety may be injured or witness injuries of co-workers.  Either way, they pay.

All leaders from executives through supervision can be held legally accountable if they are nefarious with safety.  It does take everyone in the organization to accept responsibility and it starts at the top.  With that said, it is vital that safety leadership is seen all through the organization and everyone is working together and trust is continually sought.  When everyone is working together to hit the same target of zero-injuries the goal is likely going to be reached.  Make sure your behavior is not nefarious.  Ask yourself today: “Am I doing my part, at my level to help create a workplace where it is difficult to get hurt?”


Carl Potter is a Certified Safety Consultant and Certified Management Consultant who has become a trusted advisor to many companies across the globe.  Through his work as a keynote speaker, advisor, facilitator, and coach he has likely prevented thousands of people from being injured.  If you are looking for someone to assess your current state of workplace safety and help you identify ways to take it to the next level, contact Carl at: or call 800.259.6209


One Response to Safety Leadership Willful Act: Nefarious or Not

  • Steve cunningham says:

    great share. we all too often loose the importance of the balance between safety, quality, and production. A safe organized work place will lead to high quality and increased production.

    Or we can repeat the same actions and just expect different results.

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