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10 Phrases NOT to Use When talking about Safety

I recently assisted a client with an injury investigation when I heard the supervisor comment, “you can’t fix stupid.” It’s not the first time I have heard this or similar phrases used in this context. The supervisor’s comment brought to mind Dan Peterson’s 10 Basic Principles of Safety. In particular, #10 states that there is no one right way to establish an effective safety management system, however in part, it must “be perceived as a positive.”

If you have been in the safety and health profession long enough, you know Dan Peterson. Dan Peterson is the ‘godfather ‘of safety management systems. His book Techniques of Safety Management, published in 1998, was one of the first books I bought early in my safety career. His ten basic principles of safety have guided my approach to safety for many years. 

The supervisor’s comment made me think of all the phrases and cliches we use or allow others to use that negatively reflect on the safety profession and safety in general. At the very least, it makes our job as safety pros that much tougher. 

Here are my Top 10 Phrases that don’t lend credibility to your safety program:

  1. Be careful
  2. Pay attention
  3. It was just an accident
  4. It could have been worse
  5. We’ve always done it like that
  6. Knock on wood
  7. Just use common sense
  8. Can’t fix stupid
  9. It was an act of God (my personal favorite)
  10. (insert your cringe-worthy phrase)

I cringe when I hear these phrases applied to safety.

It not only creates a negative environment around safety and health, but it also cheapens our contribution to the organization, the profession, and our people. 

In my Selling Safety presentations and safety leadership workshops, I talk about knowing what people want most. Something everyone wants is to work in positive environments and be around people with positive attitudes. 

You can shift the perception of safety from a negative to a positive by avoiding these phrases and challenging others to do the same.

 Encourage management and leadership to set the example; words are meaningful. Focus on the positive aspects of your safety program. 

For example, you are viewing near-miss incidents or audit findings as an opportunity to improve rather than finding fault. 

Do you hear these phrases used in your organization? If so, what is the perception of safety in your organization? If it is not positive, impactful, and results-driven let me help. 

Contact me at or to learn how I can help or learn more about my talks and safety leadership workshops. 

Do you have a cringe-worthy phrase that you can share? 

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