A typical day or week in the life of a safety manager can be chaotic.  We have our daily, weekly, monthly to-do’s to get done, but then we also have projects we are working on, not to mention the knocks at our door with constant questions or request for help; throw in an accident here and there and it is a wonder how we ever get anything done. Knowing how to prioritize the most important first will make you more effective.

I can’t help but laugh when someone asks me to describe a “day in the life” of a safety manager.

Taking all this chaos and making a meaningful impact can be hard.  When there is so much to do and every single thing is important (honestly, everything we don’t do can possibly result in an injury, right?), how do you organize it and know what to work on first?

Let me break down how I make those decisions.  I have walked into organizations where everything looked like it was on fire and everyone wants you working on their problem first. So having a solid system to prioritize is a lifesaver.


Only work on 3 things at one given time.  I am not talking about multi-tasking and doing all three at one time.  But your focus needs to be on only 3 things.  So when you have a list of tasks to do, improvement projects, or demands of your time; only focus on 3 and let the others go.

Having too many things on your list can cause overwhelm.  Many people freeze up when the list gets long.  So stick to just 3.

When one of your three is complete, then a new one can be added.

For example:

I make a list of everything that has to be done.  Then I circle three and work on those until completion.  When a new demand comes in, unless it is a 911 type of emergency, it gets added to the list to be circled at a later time.


The first question I always ask is what items, on the list, if left undone, could potentially kill someone?  What items, if left undone, could shut the business down?  Shutdowns are usually serious regulation violations or building damage (collapse, fire, etc…).

These items always get worked on first.  Day to day tasks, meetings, minor issues can all be put aside until these are completed.  These are your 911 items.

In my experience, I have seen situations with damaged warehouse racking could collapse, operations with no forklift training in place, unknown chemical exposures, and confined space violations.  Most of the time, it is when the operation never had an experienced safety professional and they have been surviving on luck.

In these situations, all my other work is put to the side until these are fixed.


Risk ranking is a way of quantifying hazards so you can prioritize the most important.  What you focus on will be based on the possible frequency and severity of a resulting incident and by the number of people affected.

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First Download Your “Risk Ranking and Matrix Template
  • Frequency refers to how often the incident may happen based on how often a risky task is completed and on the history of incidents while completing this task. I like to use a numerical rating of 1-5.  One being very rarely and five being regularly.
  • Severity refers to how bad the incident is when it happens. A minor bump or bruise may be low and death or it affecting surrounding community would be high.  I also use a numerical rating or 1-5 so I can multiply them together to get my ranking.
safety management risk matrix

For example, here in Florida, there is a high frequency of hurricanes.  For a coastal city, I would rate it a 4, because there are years hurricanes miss large areas of the coast, so it’s not 100% certain they will happen.  If I was doing the ranking for the entire state, I would rate it a 5.

Next is severity.  For 2018, there were 16 named storms and only 2 of them reached Category 4 or 5.  So I would rate the severity as 2 because there was a 12% chance of a severe storm.

This makes my risk ranking for hurricanes in a coastal city an 8.  If another task on my list ranked higher than an 8, then I would put off hurricane planning for right now and focus on the high ranked task.


This is where the number of affected people comes in.  Look at how many people could be injured if the task is not completed.  The ones with the most people get done first.

If they affect everyone, then it may be a matter of picking what you want to do or looking at the time and budget resources.


There is not cut a dry right way to rank anything.  It is very subjective.  I rank a coastal hurricane frequency at 4, you may think it is closer to 2.  Neither one of us is wrong.

When you are deciding on a rating, just do it, don’t second guess yourself.  The goal is the focus on what is most important.  Spending time debating on the rating is a waste of time.

If you are not confident in your opinion, you can always get others involved.  This can be a great way to get employee involvement, by having them help risk rank what safety projects get worked on.  It will also help with buy-in when you go to implement a new program.

You can get your management team involved in the ranking as well.  This will help improve management support on a project.  I also find that getting them involved in deciding what I am working on, reduces the amount of extra work they try to pile on me.


Now that you have the three things you are going to focus on, you have to make time to do it.  This involves managing your calendar.

It is easy to let other people take over our calendars.  They send requests for countless meetings or you have training/orientation to complete.  The use of a shared calendar – where everyone in the company can see your free time, doesn’t help either.

The first step is to put the big rocks on your calendar.  These are your must-do no matter what events; there is no one else who can do them or you have to be there.  These could be staff meetings, new hire orientation, safety training, etc…

Next block off time where you are going to work on your focus tasks.  Even if the task means you working at your computer by yourself, still put it on your calendar.  You now have a meeting with yourself to work on a specific item.

I have tons of time management and work efficiency techniques.  Knowing how to prioritize the most important is just a start.  I am a junkie on the topic.  So stay tuned for more on that.  But just taking this step will improve your focused completion rate dramatically.


Click Here to download the RISK RANKING TEMPLATE.

Enter in your list of items to do from your latest hazard assessment.  Rate each one for frequency, severity, and number of affected people.

Select your top three focus tasks and put them on your calendar this week.  Repeat weekly until the list of items is complete.  Side note – the list is never complete, so don’t stress about getting it all done.  Stress about getting the top three done.


I want to know how you prioritize your tasks?  Do you go by deadlines, pressure from others, or a more quantifiable method?  Leave a comment below and share your best tip for deciding what to work on first.

Hey, I have a feeling you know another overwhelmed safety manager.  Share this article with them and spread the love.

Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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