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A Culture of Safety for All Californians

By Doug Parker, Worksafe Executive Director


Health and safety professionals talk about safety culture as the essential factor in preventing injury and illness at work. It’s true: if putting people and their well-being first is not ingrained in the fabric of an organization, safety programs will fail to protect. Components of a strong safety culture include management that leads on the issue by setting an example and embracing their accountability; involvement and voice from workers at all levels; and a premium on safety and health training, knowledge and inquiry.

It’s also true that too many employers co-opt the language of safety culture. They view it not as an issue of organizational values and accountability but as one of individual behavior, a pretext to blame workers for getting injured or to argue that protective standards are not needed. 

This struggle of values is not a bad analogy for approaching the current struggle over our national values. As a country, we need to put people’s safety and well-being first, not the bottom line. We need to live our values in how we protect one another, and not let our ideals of freedom, plurality and democracy be co-opted as tools to blame and scapegoat. We need to address inequality and other social problems by looking at systemic root causes, not with superficial reasoning and victim blaming. And, we need to demand that our political leadership lead by example and be accountable, rather than deflect, divide, and trade in “alternative facts.”

The Administration’s recent decrees attacking immigrants and refugees and banning their entry into the United States are shameful examples of disregard for people's health and safety, both in terms of the immediate individual suffering and the long-term consequences of bad policy. The orders to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall, to force states and localities to enforce federal immigration law, to strip sanctuary cities of funding; and to publish the names of “criminal actions committed by aliens” – these policies are racist, mean, wasteful, and cynically manipulative of people’s fears and prejudices. They are certainly not the product of safety culture leadership. 

California must be an example for the nation of a safety culture. We must provide a model for protecting workers, immigrants, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBTQ people, women, journalists, and whoever else is under attack because prejudice and ignorance makes them vulnerable. The leadership of our state and many of our cities has, so far, been courageously defiant of recent executive decrees. As activists, our job is not only to hold national policymakers accountable, but to make sure that our state and local leaders consistently reflect our values by ensuring California embraces a culture of safety for everyone.