Columns / Editorial Comments

He’s nobody’s safety model

Mr. “Dirty Jobs” debunks some safety myths

May 3, 2012
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Is this any way for America’s number one blue-collar guy to talk:

“Of all the platitudes embraced in the workplace there is none more pervasive, erroneous, overused and dangerous than ‘Safety First!’”

“In the jobs I have seen thus far, I can tell you with certainty, that safety, while always a major consideration, is never the priority.” “Never. Never, ever. Not even once.”

“Making money is more important than safety — always.”

Calling out the emperor

Perhaps only macho Mike Rowe is man enough to call out the emperor for forgetting his clothes. Lots of people say this heretical stuff under their breath. Mike lowers the boom. It’s a dirty job but he’s used to it, having hosted the show, Dirty Jobs, on the Discovery Channel since 2005.

Seems Mike has been caught out of compliance, not wearing the proper safety gear, more than once on his show. (So have we on the magazine cover.) One viewer posted this comment on

 “My husband works on the oil rigs as a well tester. We watched you folks do so without any eye protection! Are you crazy? Drilling a hole with no protective eyewear? Between him, a well tester, and me, a workers’ compensation lawyer, we’re cringing! Somebody could LOSE AN EYE! Seriously — Safety First fellas!”

Mike the non-conformist

Rowe’s response might make a safety pro cringe: “It is not the objective of “Dirty Jobs” to conform to any particular set of safety standards, other than those dictated by the people for who I happen to be working at the time. I take my cues from them.”

So Mr. Blue Collar is a non-conformist who plays follow the leader. He’d make for an interesting subject in a safety orientation session.

Mike comes in, grabs a chair, and tells you about his own safety orientation. (The following come from Mike’s own writings.) “Safety is important,” he says, “but not more important than getting the job done.” You know,  many companies would hire him on the spot. “This guy gets it!”

Unmitigated nonsense

It’d be a good idea to hide your “Safety First” posters if Mike comes to your dirty job site. He calls the “Safety First” slogan “a load of unmitigated nonsense.”

We’ll let Mike elaborate: If an employer tells you safety is the most important thing, don’t believe it. That causes workers to become complacent and careless, he says.

Which is a problem, because in Mike’s world it’s every man for himself. No one has your back. You gotta suck up your own responsibility.

Back to the safety orientation session. You tell Mike all about your company’s emphasis on safety, how you want him and every other worker to go home at night safe and healthy. That this is a core cultural value.

I see Mike leaning back in his chair, grinning that friendly, slightly goofy grin, shaking his head, and breaking out laughing. After all, he has written that “When a business tells you that they are more concerned with your safety than anything else, beware. They are not being honest. They are hedging their own bets, and following the advice of lawyers hired to protect them from lawsuits arising from accidents.”

Let’s get real

I’ve never heard a public figure be so… blunt about safety. Thanks, Mike, you’re nobody’s role model but you cut through decades of safety BS. But be careful about blanket generalizations, buddy. Every business is lying about its safety intentions? I’ve talked with CEOs who sure aren’t lying when they say never again do they want to make a midnight phone call to the wife of a worker just killed in an accident.

Rowe says he wears safety belts and motorcycle helmets not because it’s the law, but because it seems like a reasonable precaution to him and “the only one responsible for my own safety is me.”

Go observe someone else

Here is where Mr. Blue Collar lets too many folks off easy. Senior leaders have no responsibility for his safety. Supervisors, forget ’em. Safety managers, you don’t have to worry about Mike Rowe, go train someone else. Just watch out because Mike might play fast and loose with safety laws if that what he sees people around him doing.

Don’t try to hook Mike up with a safety coach or mentor; I doubt the conversation will go far. And Mike is not your best subject for an observation and feedback session. You probably won’t like the feedback you get from him. And by all means, keep the “Brother’s Keeper” and “Actively Caring” stuff away from him.

Comments on Mike’s website replying to his post about safety are refreshingly politically incorrect. For instance:

“You very clearly pointed out that your employer (everyone’s employer) simply does not make our safety their priority. Thank you for that bit of truth-telling.”

“Safety is never the first priority and all these laws and rules and BS are intended to minimize statistically insignificant risk while ignoring major risk.”

“In business, business always comes first. An employer cares more about lawsuits and their workers’ comp rates than your safety. We always say: Safety Third.”

There is truth in some of what Mike Rowe has to say about safety. Thankfully Mike goes on to make some generalizations about attitudes toward safety that cross the line of reason and remind you that, yes, he’s not a model, he’s acting.

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