There’s no argument that can be made against the value of safety in the workplace. Implementing and following a safety program on the jobsite comes with a set of challenges that’s unique to every site and company – industry, size, and type of work to name a few.
However, whether a large quarry, midsize commercial construction projects, or a small farming operation, every jobsite that includes equipment comes with potentially hazardous situations that wouldn’t be the norm in traditional workplaces.
No matter a company’s situation or unique characteristics, one factor remains consistent across all: a safety program is a must.
Building A Safety Culture
Safety is successful when it’s part of a company’s culture. It must be modeled and supported starting from the top, then lived by every team member, every day.
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RDO Equipment Co. has seen positive results from its safety program, due in large part to strong Leadership support and emphasis on making safety a vital part of its culture.
For those that don’t yet have an established safety program, RDO shares four safety best practices that companies of any size can put into action now.
1. Assigning Responsibility
While safety is everyone’s job, the oversight of a safety program should have one primary responsibility holder, which is why the first step of building a safety program is designating a Safety Lead on every worksite. The Safety Lead should be a management-level team member, both to properly enforce the program and to demonstrate the company Leadership’s commitment to the program.
A closely-related next step is establishing a company safety committee – a group of both managers and employees – for added support. Not only does this provide a good mix of perspectives and input, OSHA requires managerial and non-managerial participation on safety committees.
With jobsite safety, the concept of diffusion of responsibility comes into play – people are less likely to take responsibility or action when others are present. The more people who are “responsible”, the greater the assumption that someone else will address an issue. By designating a manager to champion safety at each site, there will never be a question whether or not someone will follow through, follow up, or take action.
Responsibilities of the Safety Lead include hosting monthly safety meetings with a safety committee, conducting monthly safety inspections, and ensuring that all safety issues discovered in the inspection are assigned for resolution.
Many organizations don’t have the resources to dedicate individuals to only be safety champions. This is typical and putting one person in charge of safety doesn’t mean it has to be his or her only job. Any employee in a management role can have the responsibility of Safety Lead as part of their overall job expectations.
Any type of ongoing effort in a business needs to include regular review and follow-up strategies as part of the overall plan.
Accidents are going to happen. Incidents will take place. Even the best safety plan isn’t immune to human error. There are a couple of follow-up strategies that can be implemented to learn from accidents. In order to be successful, these initiatives must be treated as a way to improve, not to place blame.
Safety Leads should consider sharing incident reports with employees and across other worksites, anonymously, to bring awareness to an issue and try to prevent it from occurring again or at another location.
A deeper follow-up strategy is to conduct root cause analysis after incidents to get deep into the issue and determine what’s needed to prevent a similar incident in the future. RDO bases these reports on the concept of five why’s – asking ‘why’ five times to lead back to the ultimate or root cause of the issue. This process can also reveal a topic for a larger, widespread safety discussion or lead to a new policy to improve safety.
Most importantly, following up on incidents can lead to a better policy or new resource to prevent the same incident from happening again or at another location.
3. Ongoing Communication
Similar to ongoing follow-up of incidents, ongoing safety communication is key to a safety program’s success. Not only does regular communication ensure safety remains top-of-mind, it’s a great way to keep seasonal workers in the loop on important safety initiatives.
Ongoing safety communication can include sharing safety tips on an intranet or via email, however, technology isn’t always readily accessible on worksites. A better strategy can include formal discussions by way of a daily safety reminder or monthly meeting diving into a larger topic. Discussions can be built into meetings already taking place or provide a reason to bring together the crew more often.
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Consider a quick morning meeting every day. Gather the entire team for 5-10 minutes and let everyone share a quick update for the good of the group, then let the Safety Lead close with a tip for the day and a reminder for all to be safe.
On a more in-depth scale, a monthly team meeting can weave in a safety message along with updates and general housekeeping items.
So what should the monthly safety message be? This will vary, and one tip is to plan a calendar of the 12 most important safety topics for the year, then plan to address one each month. For example, July’s topic could be tips for safely working in heat. September’s topic might be safety precautions to take while performing daily equipment maintenance. Be flexible and add something new if there’s a pressing need.
For companies that have work happening in multiple locations, an added challenge of executing a safety program also brings an added opportunity. Each site and each crew is unique, which can make it tough to have consistent best practices across all. However, this also presents an opportunity. Committees and safety leads at each location can share ideas and expand their knowledge. A monthly safety conference call among Safety Leads can be a quick, simple way to do this.
4. Never Alone
Once a safety program’s processes have been put into place and put to work, leadership can begin to identify actionable changes that can be implemented as new safety policies. Here’s an example from RDO.
It's not uncommon for employees to find themselves in situations where they’re working alone in remote areas. Whether a parts runner who goes back and forth to the equipment dealership or a technician who heads out to the field to repair a down tractor, there will be times employees are alone.
Trying to implement a policy that states an employee can’t work alone – away from the store – isn’t realistic. However, technology can make it feasible to ensure work-alone employees have a reliable communication link to their store or emergency services.
RDO employs several positions where it’s not uncommon for team members to work alone, from field service technicians to salespeople. The company began providing GPS satellite communication devices in every vehicle or as wearables for employees who work alone in remote locations. The devices offer the ability to send text messages if the work-alone employee needs assistance and are preprogrammed with messages that can be sent quickly, with one touch, in case of a more serious emergency.
While cell phones offer this connection, cellular service can be intermittent or nonexistent in many areas. 100% reliability is crucial to protect work-alone employees.
The impact of a practice like this is significant and best exemplified in a non-analytical way. Shortly after implementing, a Field Service Technician’s wife called the store’s General Manager. She told him how grateful she was that the company implemented this policy because now she won’t worry when her husband is working at remote sites.
While some successes can be recognized with simple comments and non-measurable ways, there are options to add data-driven metrics to gauge a safety program’s success and to look for ways to improve in the future. While not one of the crucial steps needed to build a safety program, it’s a tip worth mentioning, especially for those that do have established programs, yet are looking to improve.
RDO benchmarks its safety program based on OSHA’s TRIR (Total Recordable Incident Rate) and DART (Days Away Restricted or Transferred) standards. In the past year alone, RDO has seen an improvement of more than 28% in both TRIR and DART.
About the Author
In partnership with RDO Equipment Co. Leadership, Greg Erickson leads RDO’s safety culture, built on the company’s continuous improvement philosophy. Greg and his team of Safety Specialists work to put systems into place that encourage worksite safety and ensure team members remains aware of their responsibility for creating a safe work environment. Greg has nearly 15 years of experience at RDO in safety, marketing, and customer data.
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