2015 CEOs Who "Get It"
The National Safety Council recognizes nine leaders who demonstrate a personal commitment to worker safety and health
Friede & Associates
Commercial success and a commitment to community service helps FRIEDE & ASSOCIATES stand out as a dominant building contractor in the region, contributing to numerous significant economic development projects in the area. The Reedsburg, WI-based company employs 24 workers.
Why is safety a core value at your organization?
We are a commercial/industrial construction company and, as such, our employees are exposed to a number of work-related risks in the daily performance of their jobs. Without the proper safety training, these situations can be hazardous. So, for us, it is about our employees returning home every night in the same condition that they began the day.
With a goal of zero incidents, safety is a part of our culture and considered with each decision made by management, office personnel, superintendents and all field employees. Every team member at Friede & Associates, 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.
Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who understands the importance of worker safety. What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?
Safety is about protecting people, whether it is our employees, subcontractors or clients. It is essential that we constantly focus on safety as we expand and grow.
When I started in the business more than 25 years ago, safety was an afterthought for most companies and, in fact, getting hurt in construction was thought of as “part of the job.”
Initially, safety only received attention in the industrial setting, but as safety awareness expanded to the construction industry, contractors looked at safety as a necessary evil and only did the bare minimum.
As I came to realize the importance of safety, I created a safety manager position to implement and improve the safety culture in our company. After expressing my commitment to safety, I encouraged our safety manager to lead with safety incentives and recognition for positive safe work practices. The company culture has evolved to where it is today, where we are recognized by numerous associations and industry journals as being one of the safest small contractors in the area.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been helping employees understand that their decisions affect not only themselves, but also their families, friends, co-workers, their co-worker’s families and the sustainability of the company as a whole. If any one person loses the focus of safety, it has a domino effect.
Being a construction company, we have numerous new hires or temporary employees in any given year and many of these individuals have not been exposed to a progressive safety culture. We provide new hire orientation for all new employees, including those who may have worked for us in the past, and we communicate safety on a daily basis.
How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?
As a general contractor, we coordinate with multiple trades in various work environments. Complacency regarding repetitive tasks and pressure to meet a schedule deadline threatens both safety and quality. We have good success by using a project team approach that encompasses creating a safety committee, ongoing safety training, pre-job safety planning and never stopping the safety message.
Ensuring our employees are integrating safety into everything they do, including their activities at home, is a challenge. It requires continual effort to keep safety at the forefront of their minds, especially during these difficult economic times. We emphasize the importance of safety through efforts such as regular safety training and environmental, health and safety campaigns; and reward their efforts semi-annually with companywide steak dinners or bonuses for superior performance.
How does your organization measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?
We use a number of different measurement criteria such as our OSHA recordable injury rates, our workers’ compensation insurance experience modification rate and number of lost workdays to obtain a sense of our safety performance. All of this data is reviewed and used to assist in identifying any safety program elements that might need added attention or upgrades.
We use leading indicators, such as setting and accomplishing yearly safety goals, participation in weekly field job safety discussions, participation in bi-monthly corporate safety meetings, our lockout/tagout programs, proper labeling and handling of chemicals, and electrical safety programs. Our areas of improvement would be in reducing the minor injuries that do not require emergency care.
Basically, safety is a part of the way we do business. Improved safety leads to motivated, healthier employees; less absenteeism; fewer injury and incident costs; improved process uptime and efficiency; and recognition by industry, contractors, suppliers and customers – all of which impact our bottom line.
What advice would you offer to other leaders whose organizations are at an earlier stage of the journey to safety excellence?
Make it personal. I would tell them to make safety a part of their corporate culture, and set the tone from the top. You need to set the standard, take responsibility on a day-to-day basis and ensure your leadership teammembers role models for these behaviors as well. Safety must involve everyone and it begins with your commitment to it and flows as a continuous improvement process that encourages the entire company to make recommendations for improvement, which produces critical updates to the company’s safety initiative.
Make it visible and set goals and communicate regularly on your progress. Recognize and reward success. Just like other investments, safety, health and environmental performance must be measured, reported, evaluated and continuously improved. It should be part of your company’s regular review process.
Most importantly, it comes down to people and our obligation to them as leaders. We’re successful because safety isn’t just a program, it’s a way of life for us. I know our safety obsession has saved lives.
What advice would you offer to a safety professional whose CEO doesn’t “get it”? How can safety pros secure buy-in from the C-suite?
For a safety-conscious culture to grow, you need to be a champion of safety in your organization with a leadership team that is committed to being safety role models. Safety must be embedded as a core value throughout the workforce, supported by each person’s commitment to stay safe and be responsible for the safety of those around them.
As employers, we have a moral obligation to provide a safe and healthful work place for our employees. This in turn provides improved morale for employees. No one wants to work for a company that has little or no regard for him or her as a person.
Today’s project owners scrutinize your safety profiles with a rigorous prequalification process and if you don’t measure up, you won’t get their business.