Safety 101 – Lesson 1

There are about as many definitions of safety as there are safety professionals and organizations. However, there are some realities about accidents, injuries, property damage and death that are consistent and continually fit into the environment or business in which we function.

In real terms, accidents cause economic and social loss, impair the productivity of both individuals and groups, create inefficiency, and lower the standard of living. In all cases, the elimination of accidents becomes vital to public interest.

The traditional definition of safety is

  • the condition or state of being safe, freedom from danger or hazard; exemption ,from hurt, injury or loss.
  • Incapable of doing harm, no longer dangerous, in secure care or custody

There were minimal concerns for safety before the industrialization of the United States. However, as factories expanded and humans interfaced more and more with machines and hazardous situations, the concern about being "safe" while working at a job became more significant. In 1911 with the passage of the first effective workmen's compensation act, followed by several other states, suddenly the need to work more safely became more important. However there are more significant issues to "safety" than just workers compensation insurance coverage.

In all cases, by intent, definition, or interpretation, the term "safety" means to keep one safe from injury, illness, damage or theft. As we have worked through the last century, we have seen that safety has become a vital part of business, industry and general daily activities; growing - in fact - to become an integral part of emergency service operations.

The National Safety Council has advanced six reasons for the continuing, concerted effort to prevent accidents...

  1. Needless destruction of life and health is a moral evil.

In 1970, yet another external force was created to direct safety initiatives. Known as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the legislation was intended to "assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation, safety and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resource'. At the time of its adoption, the legislation was designed to consider not only safety issues of the day, but consider working environments of the future and to protect workers accordingly.

While there have been other initiatives that have impacted industrial safety over the last 100 years, this author believes three major issues have contributed to the impact of "safety" in the workplace.

These initiatives

  1. The human factor of being safe and the adversity of financial loss, injury, illness, death and property damage;
  2. the introduction of worker's compensation insurance protection; and
  3. the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

Specific approaches to safety adopted by individual industry segments (secondary standards (e.g. NFPA standards, NIOSH, etc), insurance company loss control requirements, and changes due to litigation); are secondary impacts upon the original idea of safety.

Safety IS NOT the same as risk management!!

Despite the common interusage of the two terms, they are not the same. Risk Management evolved from the insurance industry, and as you will see in a future article, combines approaches of both risk control and risk financing to MANAGE RISK. The Safety function is one component of risk control, which includes the practices of loss avoidance, loss prevention, loss reduction, transfer of risk by contract and the segregation or separation of exposures to reduce risk.

Suffice it to say, many times the application of the term risk management to fire department operations is either an unintentional or intentional misnomer for loss avoidance, loss prevention, loss reduction, or separation/segregation techniques.

Now that we understand the nuances of safety versus risk control versus risk management we can move on to an important element in keeping firefighters and emergency medical personnel from being injured, becoming ill, being killed or having property damage created - IDENTIFY AND ANALYZE HOW INCIDENTS OCCUR AND PREVENT THEM FROM HAPPENING AGAIN.

Safety (being safe) is a concept every person in the emergency service organization must understand and accept as a key principle of operation or your efforts to reduce accidents, injury, property damage and death, will not be successful!


Dr. William F. Jenaway, CSP, CFO, CFPS is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in Safety and Risk Management, in the insurance industry. Bill is also an adjunct professor in Risk Analysis in the Graduate School at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia (PA) Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management.