Brock shares a recent example: “When we were putting together the program for this year, we knew that ergonomic injuries would be on the list. What surprised us, though, was that 40 percent of these injuries occurred when a worker was reaching for something, not because he or she was lifting a heavy object.”
Gordon is quick to emphasize an important point, “Safety is just good business. Aside from the primary goal of keeping people safe in the workplace, it also keeps costs down for the business. So, in one way, the economy has actually become a driver of safety. If you want to trim your insurance, your reserves, you need to maintain a good safety program. Not the fake, ‘plastic’ program with signs and placards, but something that rings the chimes for people.”
Nurturing belief-based safety leadership
As a former Army infantry officer, Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety at Schneider National, sees the value in empowering people, whether it’s soldiers or warehouse employees, to stop an unsafe act. His approach is admittedly more “esoteric,” he says, but it’s firmly rooted in sound science.
Simply put, people become more desensitized to safety risks over time, and it’s insidious. “The speed at which things are moving in a warehouse can cause people to rush or hurry. It sounds obvious, but when we look at injuries in the warehouse oftentimes it occurs because workers are not taking the time to do things safely. Pushing the envelope and cutting corners works great, until it doesn’t.”
The way to combat this is to make sure employees and leaders develop situational awareness, says Osterberg. “That’s where it starts. Next, you have to have the courage to assert yourself to become a catalyst of change.”
Osterberg says that while it may have been acceptable in the past for safety leaders to be “clipboard-carrying, checklist-using people who were out there looking for workers doing things wrong,” the better approach is to “create engaged safety leaders who are out there looking for people who are doing things right.”
Furthermore, while many safety professionals adhere to a behavior-based safety program, “My view is that this is old school,” says Osterberg. “If you’re addressing the behavior, you’re treating a symptom of the problem. Instead, you need to reprogram what people believe, through affirmations and self-image, that nothing is worth hurting themselves or others.” This sets the foundation for “belief-based safety leadership, as opposed to behavior-based safety management,” he explains. Another way to look at it is this, “We manage processes. We manage data. But, we lead people.”
When a company’s safety program extends beyond the warehouse to the road, there are new challenges, primarily the lack of constant supervision in a controlled environment. “We have drivers who may not see their supervisor more than one time per month. This really validates the importance of creating a true safety culture,” says Osterberg. And, that’s why Schneider empowers its drivers to make decisions based on safety concerns, such as shutting down even though a customer’s freight may miss a delivery deadline. “It may not be popular, but we support our drivers if they need to make that call,” he says.
Safety is also about protecting brand names and reputations, adds Osterberg. “As transportation professionals, we really have a moral obligation to the motoring public to operate safely. We also have a financial obligation to operate safely. Safety really does pay; it’s the low-cost approach.”
According to Osterberg, settlements involving commercial truck accidents have risen over the years from $1 million or so to as high as $60 million. “We can ill afford to put our brand at risk. If you damage that brand, it’s irreparable in so many ways.”
Creating a Safety Culture for Your Fleet, By Andrew Leavitt
Building a safety-driven culture is about more than just implementing the right policies and procedures—it’s about creating an overall awareness and focus on safety that permeates the actions of everyone involved in operating and maintaining a commercial vehicle. A safety culture lets drivers, technicians, and managers know that safety must be prioritized above all else.