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2012 CEOs Who 'Get It'

February 1, 2012

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Jim Gribbins

President & Founder
Gribbins Insulation Co. Inc.

Why is safety a core value at your company?

Jim Gribbins: Our core values – integrity, quality, productivity and innovation – all have a common thread: safety. Our core values form the foundation on which we make our decisions and perform our work. With a goal of zero incidents, safety is a part of our culture and considered with each decision made by management, administrators, foremen and all field employees. Every team member at Gribbins Insulation, including the person we hired yesterday and the person we may hire tomorrow, must place safety in front of all actions. There is absolutely no task that is so important or necessary that we might consider sacrificing safety, to even the slightest degree, in an effort to perform it.

How do you instill a sense of safety in your employees on an ongoing basis?

Maintaining a culture of safety begins the first day an employee is hired with Gribbins’ New Hire Orientation. All new hires are formally trained by a Gribbins safety professional before they are allowed to begin work. Every new employee must score at least 80 percent on the safety exam or submit to additional training. This initial training is supplemented through additional formal training, including internal foreman training, a six-month mentoring program for all new employees, voluntary CPR/first aid classes and required retraining upon violations of safety policies.

Effective communication is essential for implementing our successful safety program. Beyond training, we have the formal processes in place to ensure consistent communication of safety changes, updates and alerts.

Daily job hazard analyses and safety task assignments are conducted by the foremen with help from the employees to discuss their tasks for the day, the hazards associated with those tasks, and what can be done to mitigate the hazards.

Weekly safety meetings are conducted by the foremen to review safety regulations and policies. Employees are encouraged to ask questions and bring up any concerns they may have. A signed attendance sheet is completed at each meeting, which is then forwarded to the safety department for tracking. The content of these meetings also is posted on our company safety blog and Facebook page for additional review.

Safety bulletins are sent out monthly and reviewed during safety meetings. The safety department uses information from the management meeting, the behavior-based safety committee meeting, and audit findings to address trends and corrective actions in the bulletin. Company incident investigations, along with other incidents that have occurred on our jobsites, are reviewed as well as lessons learned. Safety alerts are sent out to every employee if there is a serious incident, a rash of incidents in a short period of time, or if the safety department sees a trend in certain types of incidents or violations. Management hosts a biweekly meeting that includes the president, vice president, project managers, construction manager and safety manager. The first topic at this meeting is always safety. This allows the safety manager to address any concerns with the management team.

Annually, a corporate safety meeting is held. All employees are invited to this meeting, in which we review the prior year and update everyone on new policies. Employees also are given the opportunity to ask questions of upper management. The attendance rate has steadily improved over the years, and we now average 95 percent voluntary attendance.

Finally, our Safety Incentive Program serves as another tool for raising awareness around safety. We want our employees to think about safety with every step. Our incentive system rewards employees for working safely, abiding by our safety policies and procedures, and actively participating in the safety program. Every Gribbins employee participates in the incentive program, and receives 10 safety points on the first day of work after successfully completing new hire orientation, redeemable immediately. Employees can receive points each quarter by attending safety meetings; reporting near misses, incidents, injuries or hazards; conducting observations; assisting in audits; and submitting suggestions.

What is the biggest obstacle to safety in your workplace, and how do you work to overcome it?

Being a construction company with a cyclical business, we have numerous new hires in any given year. Many of these individuals have not been exposed to a progressive safety culture and come from the “cross your fingers and hope for the best” approach to safety.

We provide new hire orientation for all new employees, including those who may have worked for us in the past. Plus, for all new hires, we ensure they are with a safety mentor for at least the first three months of their employment. We communicate safety on a daily basis.

How does safety “pay” at your company?

First and foremost, our commitment to safety allows our employees to return home safely from work each and every night. That is the most important goal of our program. Beyond that, we believe our safety program allows us to differentiate ourselves in our industry. We are honored to work for many companies that are as committed to safety as we are.

Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.”

I started in the business more than 30 years ago. Safety was an afterthought for most companies and, in fact, getting hurt in construction was thought of as “part of the job.” In my early years, we did not allow for safety and, quite frankly, never gave it a second thought.

Sometime in the late 1980s, safety started receiving the attention it deserved on the construction job, but only in the industrial setting. Initially, the mandate was from owners requiring contractors to perform the work safely. Contractors looked at safety as a necessary evil and only did the bare minimum, enough to satisfy the owner. The commercial projects – schools, hospitals, office buildings, etc. – were light-years behind the industrial construction jobs and, in fact, still have not caught up.

My company worked primarily on industrial projects in the early 1990s when safety was coming into its own. I came to realize the importance of safety at first because the companies we work for required it. But by the turn of the century, I had come full circle, and we hired a full-time safety manager (likely one of the smallest companies to have such a position) to implement and improve the safety culture in our company. I was involved daily and led the way with safety incentives and recognition (I learned early that the “safety cop” approach does not work) for positive safe work practices. The company culture has evolved to where today, we are recognized by numerous associations and industry journals as being one of the safest small contractors in the country.


Gribbins Insulation is a commercial and industrial mechanical insulation contractor. Its 200-plus employees insulate piping systems, ductwork and equipment in facilities throughout the Midwest, including power plants, factories, chemical plants, schools, paper mills and hospitals.

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