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Safety Tips for Sweeping Professionals

How to Create a 'Culture of Safety' in Your Organization

June Safety Month

Axiom #1: The most important part of your Safety Program is the part that combines the employee and the job at hand... SAFELY.

Axiom #2: The more hazardous or complex the industry, the more advanced your program needs to be. (Hint: Power sweeping and related work activities are often both complex and hazardous!)

by John Meola, CSP, ARM, Pillar Engineers, Inc.

John Meola Experience has shown the predominant perceptions of occupational safety by managers of most small- to mid-size companies – as well as that of some municipal entities – are best summarized by the name of a major river in Africa.

The fact that you are reading this article shows your interest in establishing the key elements necessary for keeping the jobs under your control running smoothly, as well as incident- and injury-free. Here are the basics for how to accomplish that:

The Number One Basic Action: Tell your staff, your people, and your supervisors: "I want you to work safely. I do not want you to get hurt."

The above may sound simplistic, but it is, in fact, the basic first step in acknowledging that your organization has an ongoing, never-ending safety problem and challenge. It's kind of like a reforming alcoholic: We know that our behavior needs correcting, so we need to make the admission and then get help. You have now moved past the "De Nile" stage.

Step #2: "Now what?"

Achieving a basic level of compliance is relatively easy. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) spells out the steps in their voluminous information. However, your own unique Safety Program will be based largely on a number of technical details that correspond to the work you do.

The fact is, though, that most everyone reading this, whether a sweeping contractor or a public works' professional, will be operating a business that includes exposure and safety issues that are more complex than most. These types of businesses typically involve what safety professionals call "increased exposure." Classic high-exposure categories include driving vehicles of any type, work at heights, confined spaces, high-energy sources, chemicals and hazardous substances, and strenuous manual labor. Probably most of these sound familiar to what your employees do, right?!

Because these risk exposures can easily cause something very bad to happen to your employee(s), you already pay more for your insurance even if you've had no claims ever. And, having good insurance helps ease management's anxiety to a degree. But, without a strong safety program, you won't be able to sleep at night if you're wondering if you and your people are properly protected.

Enter: The Supervisor – the person on the ground who is going to organize and lead the crew, protect the operation and, at the same time, actually try to get some work done.

Most supervisors have a fairly good technical skill level for what it takes to do the jobs done by their employees. They wouldn't have been promoted to that position if they didn't. And, they're probably safety conscious as well. What will give everyone the best night's sleep is the knowledge that your supervisor(s) are actually leading the crew in a way that exemplifies your concern for safety and getting the work done.

Let's face it, we all take shortcuts. We'll always be on the lookout for 'efficiencies' in any process. And, even with great initial training, any change in the process is something that can impact the safety factors of the process. This is how we improve over time.

However, we need to recognize there must be limits to shortcutting the 'tried-and-true' processes, particularly when it comes to shortcuts that might negatively impact safety. Your supervisor needs to know what these limits are before taking a shortcut or allowing others to take them. Some shortcuts are also defined with "The L Word" (Laziness). The problem is, you're back at the office and your crews are on the job. Oftentimes, an owner or supervisor is not there to control what is occurring out where the action is, on the jobsite.

The most effective restraint against 'safety blowoff' on the job is called 'Your Established Safety Culture.' This is the ingrained understanding that certain (SAFE) behavior is expected, and that other certain (UNSAFE) behavior will not be tolerated. All supervisors and employees need to know which is which. (This should have been part of their safety training up in Step 2.)

Be Careful!

So, here's how your people actually learn about your company's Safety Culture:

  • You tell them—face-to-face, in person—during their initial interview and any number of times after that.
  • You remind them during the interminable phone calls with them while they're out running around on the job.
  • You post it on their hard hats and uniforms.
  • You post it on the walls of the shop, at the time clock, in the lunch room, etc.
  • You write "Thank you for working safely!" on their pay stubs.
  • You buy them lunch every so often and say "This is to thank you for not getting hurt."
  • You add a couple of lines about safety on your performance evaluation form.
  • You hold regular safety meetings and actually talk about applicable safety topics employees can relate to.
  • You investigate accidents, incidents and near misses, and take preventive action to discuss what happened, what caused the safety issue, and the solution(s) to keep something unsafe from happening again in the same or a similar situation.
  • You do a safety inspection of your shop, yard, office, jobsite, etc., and actually write safety issues you identify down on a form and include the name of the person responsible for corrective measures along with the date when it will be accomplished.
  • You force people to sit on the Employee Safety Committee and shower them with free safety stuff, like new gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE), and seasonal gear to try out. Then, you buy what they recommend, which is the only way to get buy-in such that they'll wear it, and get their associates to wear it.
  • You bring in outside experts to give sermons, show movies, or read books to further your employees' knowledge of safety.
  • You teach some defensive driving rules, and tell the drivers to make sure their family drivers are similarly informed – because everyone drives.
  • You buy a lot of safety hardware and PPE, and not the cheap stuff. Unless you get good quality safety gear, items that actually hold up on the job and that your employees will like and/or tolerate using, then they won't get used.
  • You do your best to stay informed on developments in the safety business through trade associations, vendors, Google searches, etc.
  • This list can go on for a long time, but you should have the idea by now. What we're talking about is developing a "culture of safety" and making it your own. Remember: The collection of all that you do to reinforce your concern for safety becomes the manifestation of safety in YOUR workplace.
Safety Steps

The fact is, the programs and principles about safety are all your people are going to actually 'see.' They are not going to read your safety wallpaper manual. They are also not going to be the ones who end up sitting down with your accountant to figure out what happened that made your insurance bill go through the roof or why you got stuck in the high-risk pool because of your lousy accident experience. All of that is your problem. (So is notifying next of kin about what happened to their loved one while they were on the job working for you...)

What the employee sees is extremely important: that you bought heavier grade ladders to replace the ones that wore out; that they can actually see through their safety glasses because the Safety Committee recommended you buy the scratch-resistant, coated lenses, etc.

Even if you do some of the above, you're ahead of the curve. If you actually plan on being in business for the next five or 10 years, I suggest that you enroll your high-potential supervisors into formal education classes (i.e., community college and/or tech school) in classes like business communications, leadership and coaching, occupational safety, introduction to industrial psychology, human resources development, and other subjects that are designed to increase knowledge about employee management, including safety.

In summary, safety is like any other business management function – only it's personal. However, you're dealing with people instead of machine tools. You will learn that the simplest, most visible actions speak louder than a bookcase full of paper.

You just read almost 1,500 words in order to teach you to convey ONE word to your people: SAFETY! If you find any easier ways to develop a culture of safety with your personnel, be sure to let me know.

John J. Meola, the safety director at Pillar Engineers, Inc., is a Certified Safety Professional and adjunct instructor in Occupational Safety at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. He has over 25 years of hands-on safety leadership and management experience in construction and industry, and he has published two safety handbooks and numerous technical articles in trade industry publications. John may be reached via email.

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