Company culture leads to safer construction sites

Feb. 7, 2018

This piece is presented by Journey Group.

Of course, there are rules and regulations. Best practices and preventative measures. But safety at Journey Group starts with a very personal goal: Send everyone home safe every day.

“When we started talking about that, it hit home for everyone,” superintendent Chad Munce said.

“In the last few years, we’ve really stepped up and are striving to improve safety culture. And we’re continuously improving. We’re constantly getting better.”

Munce sees that focus reflected in his jobsite, where he supervises dozens of workers daily who are building Avera on Louise.

“We have safety observations daily and weekly. We’re having one-on-one talks with our subcontractors, trying to catch things before they happen,” he said.

Every worker goes through a safety orientation before stepping onto a jobsite. That covers protocol, things like use of ladders and fall protection. But at Journey, safety culture goes beyond the basics.

“It’s all about relationships and caring about people,” said Joel Van Ekeren, safety director.

“You have to get the job done, but people are put first here.”

Van Ekeren is a retired firefighter and training officer. He’s used to helping workers take the right steps to stay safe at work and said being effective requires the right approach.

“I don’t want workers on the job having the mentality that they must be safe or they’re going to get in trouble,” he said. “I want them to go to work every day wanting to be safe because they care about themselves and the people they work with. And it’s the right thing to do.”

Van Ekeren’s leadership builds on an ongoing commitment within Journey to blend rules-based safety with values-based safety to create relational-based safety. The goal is preventing problems before they occur by looking out for each other and calling attention to risks so they can be corrected.

“For a long time, we were just making sure everyone was following the rules, and what we found out was people would still get injured,” project manager Joe Niewohner said.

“It’s really about creating a culture where people are respectful of each other and holding each other accountable for a safe work environment and empowering employees to address unsafe actions.”

So what does that look like day-to-day?

It’s a collective effort.

“This is really about going out and having conversations about safety on-site,” Niewohner said. “It’s everybody in the company, from our CEO to our laborers. We’re encouraged to talk about safety and observe each other and how we work.”

Team leaders talk regularly with field safety champions to keep track of all conversations about safety or safety-related concerns. They also share “near misses,” which are viewed as learning opportunities.

“And then we take that feedback and analyze it to find out what we need to do to be safer,” Van Ekeren said. “It shows us where our biggest hazards are and what we need to do to make it an even safer workplace.”

From there, it’s about eliminating barriers to safety. Sometimes, it’s as easy as crews needing more gloves to keep from cutting their hands, Niewohner said.

“And any of our employees can stop work at any time if they don’t feel safe, and we’ll make it right,” he said. “We look at it that everybody has responsibility for safety.”

Weekly “toolbox talks” reinforce the effort, with focuses on relevant tasks and how to stay safe. In the winter, for instance, they might focus on cold weather and being smart about taking breaks.

Journey’s subcontractors are part of the effort, too.

“We work with subcontractors as much if not more than our employees and want them to be part of our team and buy into this safety culture,” Van Ekeren said. “Three or four years down the road, my vision is that we don’t even need field champions because everyone will just be doing it and it will be a natural thing to look out for each other.”

Van Ekeren and his safety team also make frequent visits to jobsites.

“And instead of being a policeman on-site, it’s about putting your arm around the guy and saying, ‘Hey, I see you’re not wearing safety glasses, would you mind putting some on?’ Instead of just writing them up,” Niewohner said. “To me, that’s been a huge change in the culture and how we approach things. It’s focusing on the people. And the rest is taking care of itself.”

It also has shown itself in real-world scenarios. Employees have used fall protection training to avoid accidents on the job site. They’ve known how to handle situations when co-workers have needed help to avoid injuries.

“Without a doubt, it’s improved morale,” Van Ekeren said. “You see people more engaged. They don’t run and hide when the safety guy shows up.”

The company also has seen “a significant improvement in the last four to five years in our incidents and our types of incidents,” Niewohner said.

“It’s paid off. And you can tell with our team. They care about what they’re doing.”

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Company culture leads to safer construction sites

Safety at Journey Group starts with a very personal goal: Send everyone home safe every day.

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