Friday, May 7, 2010

Adopt a Safety Culture

(from the April/May 2010 Editor's Note of AsphaltPro Magazine)

While at the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s 55th annual meeting back in January, I sat at a table with a gentleman from the Midwest who is in charge of safety for his company. I didn’t ask him if I could use his name in the magazine, so I’ll paraphrase what we talked about. He stated during our conversation that safety in a company has to become the standard. Well-being has to become a part of the company’s culture. If you can establish a safety culture in your company and with your employees, you have a much better chance of keeping employees safe from harm. You have a much better chance of seeing them take better care of their health. You have a much better chance of keeping insurance costs manageable. It comes down to mindset and culture.

I’ve talked with dozens of safety directors, consultants and OEMs who agree with him. Safety has to be drilled into each employee. When I climbed up on a Cat paver at the Rocky Mountain Asphalt Conference and Exhibition Show in February, I heard Jeff Richmond’s voice in my head telling me, “Maintain three points of contact,” from a Roadtec training school I’d attended more than 10 years ago. Now, I wasn’t out on a paving job. Slipping from the back of the paver on a carpeted tradeshow floor wasn’t going to smash my skull against a milled, hard surface. But the safety lesson was in my brain and I heard it the way I’d learned it.

That’s the kind of safety you want “in” your employees. When a member of the ground crew is about to step out of the tool shed at the plant, something in his brain should say, “Am I wearing my PPE? Will the loader operator notice me?” No one should be smoking around equipment or chemicals. No one should let summer heat surprise them with sunstroke or other sickness. No one should step between a dump truck and the paver. These may seem like simple statements, but they’re part of a safety culture that your safety director can orchestrate. Once every employee’s safety mindset increases, accidents, injuries and insurance costs decrease.

Think about insurance for a moment. A construction company without insurance isn’t in business. If your employees are racking up accidents and injuries, your insurance company is going to get nervous. Your premium will rise, if the agency doesn’t cancel the policy outright.

I don’t want to be so callous as to suggest that financial risk is an owner’s big concern when it comes to safety, but it’s one concern you’ve got to consider. Yes, you want employees to return home to their families safe and sound at the end of each shift. You want them healthy and happy and eager to be part of your team. But you also want them working toward lower overhead costs. Insurance is a pretty big line item when it comes to overhead costs.

April 19 through 23 is National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. Visit the Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse for more information and special events you can host to increase your workers’ safety awareness.

As you’ll see throughout the pages of this special safety issue of AsphaltPro, your magazine staff takes all angles of the concept seriously. From programs for the asphalt professional to simple devices contractors can use to keep workers and motorists safe, we’ve gathered information pertinent to a sound safety mindset. Please review not just this issue, but every Safety Spotlight department in every issue of AsphaltPro for tips and advice from the industry professionals who deal with safety every day. Our hope is that accidents, injuries and fatalities can be prevented when we all adopt a safety culture.

Stay Safe
Sandy Lender, Editor

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