Work ON Your Safety Program, Not IN It

Do you feel that you are constantly busy but you are not making real progress in improving your company’s safety program? All too often, it is easy to get sucked into time-consuming low-leverage tasks that eat away your days when working in the safety field.

Filling out paperwork, attending unnecessary meetings, manually tracking inventory, etc. are sometimes necessary tasks, yet these actions aren’t going to move your safety program forward. Some of these monotonous tasks need to be done but do YOU need to be doing it if you are the “safety director” or “safety manager”?

safety program paperwork

Can it be put on an administrator? Can a software solution cut the needed time down to complete the task? Sometimes, just saying “no” to every request of you can significantly free up your time to focus on impactful efforts.

The Important Distinction Between Working IN and Working ON

I heard the quote “Work ON your business, not IN it” on a podcast several months ago, and I think the same message is important for high-level managers or safety pros to understand as well when considering how you are spending your days at work.

If you are the one who is supposed to be overseeing the safety program and making sure progress is being made in getting buy-in for safety improvement from the workforce and reducing the risk for losses, but are spending all your time in the office filling out paperwork and answering emails, who is making the meaningful impact?

Working ON Your Safety Program

To put it simply, working ON your safety program means seeing the bigger vision, being proactive, working on initiatives that will bring positive impacts for months and years to come.

Working IN your safety program means being caught up in the minutiae, saying yes to every request, not protecting your time and energy, and being reactive. The problem is, working IN the safety program sometimes feels good because you can check the box or get that to-do list done- very quantifiable actions.

Working ON the safety program can be less quantifiable. Actions such as getting out of the office and doing safety observations, coaching employees on safe behaviors, overhauling the training program, etc. does not always equate to that instant gratification of checking the box on your to-do list.

Putting a Value on Time – A Truly Finite Resource

Your time is valuable, put a number on it. Not is it valuable to you, it is valuable to your employer as well.

safety program roi

You should be actively seeking ways to offload low-leverage tasks to be able to focus on actions that will really push your program forward. Using different methods to calculate cost savings is a great way to get buy-in from operations who largely focus on return on investment for every dollar they spend, even if they support safety efforts.  This line of thinking can be used in trying to get buy-in from managers or owners to invest in personnel, products, or services that will free up your time.

Giving Your Time Quantifiable Value

Let’s take a basic example of implementing a new learning management system to streamline and track training.

This system will cost $2,000 per month to implement, but it will cut the time you need to focus on administering training and keeping training records by 20 hours per month. Not to mention it will improve the accuracy of coaching

When speaking to your manager or the owner of the company about implementing this program, communicate the idea of your time savings to free you up to focus on more meaningful items. The true cost of the system is much lower than the $2,000 a month when taking this savings into account.

If the company’s cost of your salary plus taxes and benefits is $70 per hour and this program is saving 20 hours of your time per month, the true cost of the system is $600 per month.

$2,000 (dollar cost of system) – $1,400 (20 hours of your time x $70) = $600

I use the same sales pitch in some of my marketing for the membership for Safety Talk Ideas. Why waste your time looking or creating resources when you can pay a small fee to access 100’s of additional resources? You can use the same pitch to ownership or purchasing managers regarding any time-saving investment you want to make into the safety program.

Use the method above to calculate the time you spend on a task that is important, but not very impactful on moving the safety program forward. Examples could include training solutions, content (like this site offers), third-party safety services, SDS tracking, etc.

Using this Thought Process Outside of Safety

I use the same thought process in my personal life. I don’t cut my own grass, change my own oil, repair major things in my house. It’s not because I am lazy or I have a pile of money to be able to do it. I rather spend my time in more meaningful ways, whether that is working on this website or spending it with a loved one.

value your time

I value my time more than what I can pay someone else to do those tasks. I am also a strong believer in capitalism and supporting local businesses, so making a choice to pay for someone else’s services has a net positive effect in my community. It is very easy to overlook these considerations when making an investment decision, whether at work or at home.

Once you start calculating the return on investment (ROI) of your time compared to the financial cost of goods and services, it can open your eyes to what you should be handling versus handing it off to someone else.


Being able to understand big ideas such as working ON your safety program and not IN it is vital to your success and sanity if you oversee a large safety program. The easy part of safety is learning the rules, regulations, and best practices that should be in place. All that knowledge is worthless if you cannot communicate what should be implemented and WHY in a convincing manner.

Soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and team work are invaluable for the safety professional. These skills are needed to be able to “see the bigger picture” as well as getting the buy-in necessary from all stakeholders to move the safety program forward.

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