As we enter another new year, many people are making resolutions for 2022. A common goal at the start of each year is to be healthier — including getting stronger and avoiding injuries that may cause nagging pain throughout the year. A dedicated safety program at work can go a long way towards helping people avoid accidents and achieve this goal.
BSCAI recently discussed the importance of workplace safety programs with Tom Covilli, vice president of safety and risk management at 4M Building Solutions, and Gunter Langston and Dawn Weber, IH Services’ vice president of human resources and safety and director of inclusion, learning and development, respectively. All three agreed that building service contractors (BSCs) looking to introduce or revamp safety programs should be mindful of the language they use in their program materials.
Covilli says 4M’s safety program existed before he began there in 2007, lauding founder Mitch Murch and CEO Tim Murch for their unwavering commitment to safety. When Covilli joined the company, he worked together with the operations department to modify the existing program and make it more proactive and structured. In redeveloping Zero Path, the safety program, the goal was to change the way 4M’s team members thought about safety, encouraging them to think about safety as more than just a box to tick to avoid repercussions.
The redesigned Zero Path program breaks down into six different components: 1) establishing standards of performance; 2) effectively communicating and promoting the program; 3) training and educating all employees on safety; 4) evaluating the success of the program; 5) recognizing and celebrating success; and 6) incorporating changes when needed.
“Over the years, the safety culture has evolved to where team members understand that safety is for their personal wellbeing and not just words on a piece of paper,” Covilli explains.
Langston and Weber echoed a similar sentiment; safety should be seen as something positive and empowering, not negative. Langston spearheaded IH Services’ safety program, which officially launched in January 2011 after a 13-month development period. The program, called “12 Steps to Zero Accidents,” includes different aspects of education and training, and Weber says its “backbone” is comprised of 12 positive safety affirmations. Each month of the year is dedicated to one of the affirmations, and the affirmations build on each other throughout the year.
IH Services' safety program has a mascot called Zero the Hero, pictured above in this year's casino-themed marketing materials.
For example, in May, employees tell themselves that they are “expert[s] at identifying and communicating safety hazards.” Then, in July, employees tell themselves that they “will challenge [a situation] if it appears that [their] safety will be compromised.” In August, they vow to “intervene in any situation that appears unsafe.”
“We want to teach you to be an expert and then we want you to have the authority to stop work, to challenge if it looks to be unsafe, and then to go a step beyond and be an advocate and an asset within our customer sites,” Langston says.
Another important aspect of safety programs is accessibility, Covilli says. He points out that many employees in the BSC industry are bilingual or multilingual, and that there can be high staff turnover in the industry. It is essential that all employees receive — and understand — the same safety training. Accordingly, BSCs looking to introduce or revamp safety programs should ensure it is available in multiple languages.
“Making sure we communicate well with [multilingual] team members, that they understand the principles of the program and that they know what we’re trying to accomplish” is one of the most important elements of Zero Path, Covilli says.
Meanwhile, Covilli, Langston and Weber all agree that one of the most important aspects of a workplace safety program is its marketing.
“Ultimately, you have your safety policy. You’re supposed to wear your safety glasses; you’re supposed to store chemicals correctly. The safety program is really the marketing piece,” Langston says. “How do you get people to do that? How do you get people out in the field to be excited and positive about safety?”
Weber points out that there can be an additional challenge: employees might be alone throughout their work day, and therefore might be tempted to cut corners when it comes to safety, comfortable in the knowledge that no one will see them do it. Accordingly, safety programs must be marketed and communicated effectively to ingrain safe habits into people, even when nobody’s watching.
For IH Services, the answer lies in creativity. The 12 Steps to Zero Accidents program has a cartoon mascot called Zero the Hero, and every year the program’s marketing materials feature a different theme. Langston lauds Weber as a “marketing genius” who has made the program memorable and fun for the company’s employees.
Another important point on which Covilli, Langston and Weber all agree is that safety should be emphasized across the board, from longtime CEOs down to the newest hourly worker. When company executives prioritize safety and lead by example, they are reinforcing to the company’s entire workforce that safety is truly a top concern and should be taken very seriously.
“Make safety part of your culture,” summarizes Covilli.
And though the safety programs are primarily intended to prevent accidents and injuries on the clock, both 4M and IH Services want their safety programs to create safe people, not just safe workers.
“It’s not just about work,” Weber explains. “It’s about taking safety from work into our homes, into our communities, into our churches; where we live every day when we’re not at work.”