People and ProjectsJanuary 3

Safety: A Shared Responsibility

I am blessed to have led hundreds of the best and brightest construction minds throughout my 50+ year career in the building industry. Leading this many people and seeing how many different construction organizations operate, it has become clear to me that the success of any team or project comes down to one key factor; Safety.

A colleague recently gave me a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The book was a great collection of stories about why habits exist and how we can change them. One chapter in particular stood out to me. The chapter recounted the story of Paul O’Neill, former CEO of Alcoa, the large American aluminum manufacturer. When O’Neill took over leadership of the company, profits were waning and labor relations were strained. To address these issues, O’Neill did not turn to new manufacturing techniques or leaning of operations, he focused on improving the company in one area; Safety.

The story continues by illustrating how a focus on safety throughout Alcoa’s operations forced all of their employees to analyze each step of the manufacturing process for safety risks. Along the way, workers found ways to improve the process that both decreased risk of injury and sped up the manufacturing process. Attention to safety also exposed quality control issues, which were quickly resolved. According to O’Neill, “You can’t order people to change. That’s not how the brain works. So, I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.” As you can guess, Alcoa’s overall corporate performance quickly improved.

This story touched me deeply and reinforced a philosophy that I have lived by for many years. Start with safety and you will change the habits, attitude and performance of your team. Here are a couple of reasons why I believe this is true:

1. It is difficult to argue about the importance of safety. When you are in a dangerous business like construction, or aluminum manufacturing, the possibility of death in the workplace is real. A culture of safety championed by leaders who genuinely care about their workers is tough to grumble about at the water cooler. Investment in people’s safety is a moral obligation, and when it is you who holds this obligation above all others, you are telling your staff that you truly care about them.

2. Safe people are smart people, and smart people don’t do dumb things. I have seen over and over again that the extra attention required to work safely changes the way an individual sees their job and the environment around them. Safe project sites tend to be clean and well organized. Safe project sites tend to have less quality issues and fewer delays. Conversely, unsafe project sites tend to be unorganized and inefficient, factors that tend to cause poor quality and performance out of teams.

3. If your team buys into a culture of safety, they will buy in on all levels. Leaders are constantly frustrated by the lack of “buy-in” or engagement across their team. A concept that is so clear for a leader can be muddy as it works its way through the organization. I have found that if you start with a cultural message that values people, like workplace safety, your team will be more open to messaging around other corporate initiatives. The key is to never, under any circumstances, place safety second to other corporate activities. Placing safety second will quickly undo all the positive momentum that you have gained.

Whether you are a multi-national corporation or a small business owner with a few team members, focusing on safety as a key performance indicator will signal to your team that you care, it will improve your job performance, and ultimately, you will see that investment return to your bottom line.

We Are Here to Help
With all of that being said, we will be the first to admit that starting and maintaining a safety program is no easy task, but we are here to help. Elzinga & Volkers has found safety success by sharing the responsibility of safety with its employees and its Trade Partners. By sharing the responsibility with the entire company and project site, we have made a move toward a safety culture that (1) leads from the heart, (2) remains consistent in accountability, and (3) invests not only money, but time into safety. Interested in learning more about our culture shift? Check out the opportunities available to you:

Join Us!
• Attend Elzinga & Volkers’ Safety Committee Meeting | Occurs Monthly
• Attend Elzinga & Volkers’ Corporate Safety Meeting | Occurs Monthly
• Attend our Annual Alive 365 | Safety Week Symposium | Occurs Annually
• Meet with our Safety Leadership Team

We’ll Come to You! We will…
• Review and advise you on your journey to improve safety
• Attend your Safety Committee Meeting
• Give a presentation on “Safety and Safety Standards | A Shared Responsibility”
• Share our best practices (and learn from yours)

What Others are Saying:
“Thanks so much for the sincere outpouring of your heartfelt passion for safety and the positive benefits of an effective safety committee. Hopefully, your wisdom and enthusiasm will sustain us in the future months as we try to build our committee into a meaningful and cohesive force for improvement. I know a lot of safety leaders in our industry and can say with 100% certainty that very few have your passion for safety, not only for your employees, but others in the industry too.” – Chuck VanVliet | Vos Glass

“Thank you and E&V for being a leader in safety! Your efforts are making a difference in West Michigan!” – Douglas A. Scott | Dependable Fire Protection, Inc.

“Thank you again for speaking at our safety day on Friday. Your experience and passion were really appreciated as we are striving to develop (and keep developing) our safety culture.” – Dave DeMann | Van Dyken Mechanical, Inc.

If you’re interested, give us a call!
Tony Roussey, COO & Safety Director
616.392.2383. ext. 420