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SLC 2018: To Build Safety Culture, You Must Get People Talking

Dec. 29, 2018
Instead of just ticking things off a checklist, assessments bring people from across the organization together to take stock, do some soul-searching and make improvements.

Safety is often looked at as just being a cost—"something we have to do”—said Walter Fluharty, vice president of EHS and organizational development at the Youngstown, Ohio, based Simon Roofing. But if you build a culture around safety and engage people in working toward a common goal, “you can actually add value to an organization,” he added.

Fluharty, whose company has a fleet of 400 trucks spread across 66 U.S. branches, led the “Distracted Drivers R US—Assessment RX for Success” session at the 2018 Safety Leadership Conference.

“How many of you have been to a safety course, a safety presentation and it hasn’t been a whole lot of fun?” said Fluharty, who’s not averse to cracking a joke or telling a goofy story on his way to making a point. “We’re going to try to make it as fun as possible.”

Assessments are different than audits, he explained. Instead of just ticking things off a checklist, assessments bring people from across the organization together to take stock, do some soul-searching and make improvements. And they are different from surveys, which don’t allow for additional questions and often have a low participation rate.

In order for an assessment to be successful, Fluharty recommends at least 20% of a workforce come together in “focus groups”—to discuss open-ended questions.

Some other things to know about assessments, said Fluharty:

  • Focus groups are best if they’re broken out by the functional group, i.e., maintenance, service people on the road, operations, engineering.
  • Sometimes one person wants to dominate the conversation, or has an agenda and wants to be sure it gets attention. Chastising that person for talking too much will just insult them, however, and cause everyone else to clam up.  Instead, stay positive. “You can say, ‘Bert, that is a great input. Can we take that offline?’” Or, “Is there anything else you’d like to share about that? Who else has thought about that?”
  • Avoid having a direct supervisor in the assessment—employees might not open up if they fear any type of retaliation.
  • Include a self-assessment, and let respondents know that the responses they give on paper will be anonymous.

Fluharty had the SLC group take a distracted driving self-assessment. “It’s really, really quick. It can be an antecedent. Use it as a trigger, to get your drivers thinking about ‘Am I at risk or not? What do I need to do to change these behaviors so I’ll be safe on the road.’”

He recommends that safety leaders actively facilitate these self-assessments, rather than just handing them to people. Preface them with a reason to care: “Here’s why this is so important.”

When he facilities self-assessments at Simon, Fluharty sometimes shares this story to wake up the group: “One of our drivers was texting, he didn’t look up, he didn’t see the stop sign. He ran into the side of an 80-year-old gentleman in a Ford Ranger. Horrific injuries. The person was in intensive care for 37 days. His life has changed forever.”

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

Focus: IndustryWeek Contributors, Leadership, Automotive
Email: [email protected]
Call: (954) 361-1535
Twitter: @LauraPutre


Senior Editor Laura Putre manages IW contributors and covers leadership as it applies to executive best practices, corporate culture, corporate responsibility, growth strategies, managing and training talent, and strategic planning.

A former newspaper journalist, Laura has written for Slate, The Root, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian and many other publications.

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