Safety and Security

By Maeve Maddox

Cora wants to know the difference between safety and security.

Safety and security and their adjectives safe and secure are often used in tandem, as in the hymn:

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms

These definitions from the OED treat them as synonyms:

safety: a. The state of being safe; exemption from hurt or injury; freedom from danger. safety chain, a chain providing additional security

security: The condition of being protected from or not exposed to danger; safety.

Nevertheless, the words differ in connotation and writers will weigh the context when deciding which to use.

Safe and safety, for example, push emotional buttons that secure and security don’t. We speak of national security, but personal safety. Threatened townspeople seek the security of castle walls, but a frightened child runs to the safety of her father’s arms.

Security surrounds, but safety enfolds. Perhaps the lingering differences between the words can be found in their differing etymologies.

Safe comes from Latin salvus, “uninjured, healthy. It’s related to salus, “good health.”

Secure comes from Latin securus, “without care,” from se, “free from,” and cura, “care.”

To my mind, security suggests freedom from worries that derive from knowing that certain external safeguards are in place and that I can rely on them to protect me and my property. Safety is a richer word that includes an inner certainty that all is well. In a sense, security is external, while safety is internal.

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7 Responses to “Safety and Security”

  • Andre Bourque

    Does it make you crazy when people tell you to drive safe? You can be a safe driver but you can only drive safely!

  • Ed Buckner

    “Safety” comes from the word salvus. Is that the same root word for “salvation?”

    “Security” also refers to the idea of securing a load, that is, fastening it down so it won’t fall off the conveyance. The crate was secured to the deck of the ship. Also, one might secure the hatches on a ship so they won’t blow open.

    Seems to me that “safety” refers to protection where as “security” refers to certainty. Perhaps safety is physical and security is mental.

  • rod

    to be safe is to be free from danger and to be secure is to be free from doubt or fear so I agree with Ed

  • Kathryn

    Interesting post. In enhancement, not contradiction, I point out that “security” has an additional use in the language of the law, referring to “Collateral given or pledged to guarantee the fulfillment of an obligation”, or “A person who is bound by some type of guaranty” or “An instrument that evidences the holder’s ownership rights in a firm [or] the holder’s creditor relationship with a firm or government.” Clearly related to the concept that one is without care, as also to that Ed Buckner mentions, of fastening something down.

  • Meg

    Security is intensely personal for me, as in security blanket, or a secure hold; implies steadfast constancy. One can be secure in the knowledge of something.

    Safety, on the other hand, suggests precautions taken or put into place–safety latch, safety button, personal safety.

    But they are probably interchangeable in most cases, or according to custom, such as security guard or safety patrol.

  • Stephen Thorn

    I keep the two terms separate and defined by a quote (although I can’t remember the author’s name right now): “To be safe, never feel secure.” This meant, by my definition, that when one feels secure one may let one’s guard down and thereby become unsafe (i.e. in one’s person and effects).

  • Taky

    Safe means that the condition is protected.
    Car safety = safety belt, airbar, etc.

    Secure means only people allowed by the owner are able to access it.
    Car security = lock, alarm, gps tracking, etc.

    Secure means it cannot be stolen. Like passwords, or money.
    Safe means it cannot be destroyed. Like health.. Or a painting is safer in the right conditions, like perfect humidity…

    Safe location = you will not be killed here.
    Secure location = you will not overheard here. It’s OK, to talk.

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