'Dirty Jobs' Star Mike Rowe Says, 'Safety .... Third'

Today's cuppa: Mystic Monk Decaf Chocolate Mint Coffee (just for the flavor, then chased with full-caf office coffee)

Dirty_Jobs_Mike_Rowe.jpgAs any fan of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" knows, Mike Rowe has his own view of the world and is not afraid to ruffle feathers (of course, he's willing to do a lot more to farm animals than ruffle their feathers, but that's a conversation for another time).

For example, the whole idea of green --specifically, the choice of that color to represent environmental awareness -- irks him.

"Any fundamentally good idea," he says, "is just a committee or two from being perverted into something that's off-kilter."

As a man who spends most of his working life caked in grime, Rowe always puts brown before green (he explains more about that at his website, www.mikeroweWORKS.com).

"We're right with green," Rowe says, "in terms of, obviously, what we'd like to see as an outcome -- a healthy planet. No one's opposed to that. But every single thing that 'Jobs' comes in touch with, I'm starting to realize, is essentially an opportunity to try to bring things back to a balance.

"So by putting brown before green, you know the whole argument, but it's in a larger sense with work. If we're disconnected from the environment, and we're confused by the wrong choice of color, all of this pandemonium surrounding the issue makes sense.

"If our relationship with work is equally dysfunctional, and we're confused by the definition of a good job, then that part of the DNA of the show starts to make sense."


On Tuesday, Nov. 24, on Discovery Channel, Rowe takes on another off-kilter aspect of his experience with a "Dirty Jobs" special called "Safety Third."

Says the official network blurb: "In a thoughtful look back at his most challenging and hazardous apprenticeships, Mike makes a practical case for safety and reaffirms the critical role of individual responsibility in a dangerous world. ... Safety considerations must always be present, but that doesn't mean they will always be first."

Says Rowe, "For people who look at the title and give it a very quick glance, they're going to be outraged. They're going to be outraged. But if you really look at it straight through, it's the same sort of message as 'Brown Before Green' was, which was, obviously, we don't want a sick planet; (in this case), obviously, you don't want to get hurt on the job.

"But when you say 'Safety First,' and you say it over and over and over, you create
Dirty_Jobs_Mike_Rowe_Safety_Third_.jpg the sense of complacency among your employees, along with the belief that slowly sinks in that allows them to assume that somebody else cares more about their own well-being than they do.

"Then you abdicate personal responsibility, and you ultimately send a counter-intuitive message."

Rowe has a plan to counter this, explaining, "So we start saying 'Safety Third,' which is what we teach each other on the crew, because after 350 of these things, the 'Safety First' banner has become ubiquitous.

"So we look back at all of the safety training that we've had, the mandatory, compulsory, confined-space training on jobs that don't have confined spaces, that we have to sit through. We have footage of crew members falling asleep during these things.

"Of course, behind it all is the thousands of pages of OSHA. In the absence of authority, we look to whatever there is. And OSHA certainly has saved lives and calls a lot of shots, but it's amazing, when you really talk to workers one on one, and get to the root of their views on safety, how disconnected we were from the basic tenets of risk -- how risk has become a thing that has slowly evolved in the way we assimilate work.

"You have to fall. You have to get bruised and knocked around. Of course, nobody wants pain, danger, agony or misery, but when you build an entire philosophy based on keeping those things from happening, there's an unintended consequence. It's obviously this twitchy, jerky, sort of pedantic creature we've created that is us.

"Risk used to be something that you were compensated for, straight up. But our insurance companies and our lawyers have basically assumed the job of eliminating risk, and they've succeeded to a certain degree."


But what if we took the lawyers and insurers and the government regulators out of the equation? What if we just let people assume risks in the full knowledge and acceptance of the possible dangers, in hopes of receiving the possible rewards, but willing to take their lumps if it doesn't pan out?

" If we simply let the consequences play out as a result of our action," says Rowe, "we can then react to them and adjust or not adjust, depending on how we vote."