How to Build & Maintain a Safety Culture as a General Foreman

May 5, 2016
By John Pentecost, General Foreman, Wright Tree Service

Building and maintaining a safety culture can be challenging, especially in an industry that requires efficiency in order to be successful. As general foremen, we’ve heard it many times after an incident occurs: “I was in a hurry to get the work done” or “I was just trying to get more done.” A big misconception is that safety slows down our production. This mindset and attitude is an issue that every general foreman has to deal with on a daily basis.

Wright Tree Service has made it a mission to equip employees with the knowledge and skill set to allow employees to work safely – with several programs in place to help cultivate a positive safety culture. I would like to discuss these programs, how safety and efficiency lead to a productive workforce, and the importance of creating a mission statement for safety within your yard/show up.

Safety is Wright Tree Service’s highest value, and we understand that our industry can be very dangerous. Sadly, there are people in our line of work who do not make it home. Wright Tree Service has several programs in place to help employees understand the importance of safety and put an extra focus on what it means to work safe each and every day.

Focus and Build Momentum

Two programs we’ve used for several years to keep an extra focus on safety throughout the year are our Spring Safety Challenge and Turkey Safety Challenge. These programs are designed as three-week challenges to help encourage and raise awareness of the importance of safety, and the goal is to build momentum during those three weeks that will continue through far beyond the challenge timeframe. As a general foreman, these challenges help me refocus on the things that are important and ensure that I’m doing everything I can to promote a positive safety culture on the jobsite.

Take the Pledge

Another way our company works to promote a culture of safety is a program called the Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper Safety Award Program. The program was developed to further promote our highest safety value among our employees. Each employee has made the pledge to be their brother’s and sister’s keepers, which means that they will strive to keep themselves and their fellow employees safe each and every day.

You see our Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper mindset playing out every day. Employees speak up when they see someone doing something they think might be unsafe. They are encouraged not to shrug it off but to address it head-on. The program truly helps employees understand the negative impacts of allowing unsafe work practices. Being unsafe at work not only affects the work environment, but also the home environment. Being a rewards-based program, Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper provides our employees with the greatest reward of all, which is going home safe to our families.

Constant and Open Communication

Another safety initiative that is practiced at Wright Tree Service is our weekly safety call that the entire management team participates in. Our Division Manager Kirk Schuster and Project Manager Joe Weldon have implemented this initiative in our division, and as a result, we’ve succeeded in reducing our incident rate from last year.

Productivity and Efficiency

Getting things done quickly and getting things done right are often two different things. This is a key factor in identifying a strong safety culture. I continually review with my crews that safety and efficiency lead to productivity. I encourage my foremen to utilize crew strength. Rushing through a task does not always mean the job gets done quicker, especially if an incident occurs. The challenge that a general foreman faces is how to get employees to understand this concept. In our division and throughout our company, we strive to hold our foremen accountable when crew members are not being efficient with their time. We spend time training our crews on efficient work practices and how that integrates into working safe. A key piece of this puzzle is having strong leadership and assistance from a disciplined general foreman. I do everything I can to uphold this responsibility as a general foreman.

Mission: Possible

A great idea to really hone in creating a positive safety culture is by creating a mission statement or some sort of mantra that is specific to your yard/show up. Many companies have a mission statement or a phrase that helps them focus in on what is important. It gives meaning to what that company does and what that company believes in.

The mission statement in my yard is “No tree is worth someone getting hurt.”

I tell my employees this weekly. Yes, the work must get done, but at the end of the day, my yard’s success is measured on how many people go home with no injuries.

Building a safety-based culture has it challenges, and there will be those employees who will push back or think that they are above safe work practices. Yet despite these difficulties, it is our responsibility as general foremen to steer our yards toward one common goal: being safe. Nothing makes me happier at the end of the day than knowing that I’m sending all of my employees home to their families.