In 2013 leadership at Volker Stevin Canada, a company of about 1200 employees, engaged Caterpillar Safety Services to facilitate a journey that would deliver improved performance metrics through the development of a stronger safety culture.
A Safety Steering Team (SST) was formed to guide the journey and remove any obstacles to success. The SST is responsible for determining specific improvement projects and supporting Continuous Improvement (CI) Teams in creating new or improved processes to increase the presence of safety.
Volker Stevin’s first CI Team launched in March 2013 to develop consistency and quality standards for safety meetings. The group of 11 front-line employees, supervisors and managers includes representation from every Volker Stevin business unit. By improving the overall safety meeting experience, the team is driving excellence into a daily activity while positively impacting the organization’s entire safety culture.
The Safety Meeting CI Team was established as a response to inconsistencies in meetings revealed through the Safety Perception Survey, which was completed by all employees as the first step in their journey. Historically, different areas of the business conducted varied processes for safety meetings. Some areas held periodic general safety meetings; others utilized job-specific briefings immediately prior to the work at hand, while some did nothing at all.
Safety meetings are a frequent focal point at the beginning of a cultural transformation because it involves all employees in an agenda everyone can buy into - making routine activities more informative, interactive and effective in preventing injuries.
The CI Team set out to create and implement a standard meeting process that engages all employees to work toward zero incidents, while satisfying all contractual obligations and scope of work variations in all environments.
Building an Improved Process
In a Rapid Improvement Workshop, the CI Team began with a candid discussion about the current state of safety meetings, what could be improved and what positive elements could be replicated in the new format. Through a complaint-equals-goal exercise, the team was challenged to develop solutions to each current shortcoming. They focused on driving consistency by setting expectations for the frequency of safety meetings and establishing accountabilities for employees to actively participate. The new method increases engagement and understanding during the meetings by creating a more dynamic, conversational exchange of information.
In addition to employee involvement in safety meetings, leadership involvement was another area the CI Team noted could be improved. They established a plan for the leadership team to attend both general and job/site specific safety meetings on a more consistent basis. This participation would allow employees to visibly see and witness the support of their leadership team within individual work areas.
In four days, the CI Team created clearly defined activities for employees at every level of the organization, from hourly workers to top management. The team developed plans for training, measurement, recognition and communication. They also identified areas to pilot the new process and created an action item matrix to ensure accountability and velocity.
The new safety meeting process equips the individual leading the meeting with the necessary tools and knowledge to be able to conduct it in a high-quality way that is in accordance with company expectations and quality standards.
Dean Jetten, Contract Manager for the Highways division and a member of the SST, is enthusiastic about the improved system that will impact the entire organization. “We are on the right track now. The goal is that each employee arrives home safe, each and every day. We are starting to make a difference and it feels great,” Jetten said.
Piloting the Solution
To pilot the CI Team solution, each division selected one crew to participate in the new safety meeting process. Each pilot crew was surveyed prior to and immediately following the pilot test to gauge employee perception about safety meetings before and after participating in the new format. Across the board, reaction to the new system was positive. In particular, the variety of safety topics covered and increased dialog were noted as wins.
“Before, meetings felt more like a dictatorship and now there’s more active involvement from everyone,” said Assad Rafih, a Superintendent in the Underground Utilities division who participated in the pilot group. “Everyone provides their input on how things are being done and ways to be safety conscious.”
Front-line leaders in the pilot groups also reported that the process is keeping safety on everyone’s mind throughout the work day.
“This has given employees a feeling of responsibility,” said Jeff Hardy, a Foreman in the Roads division. “I’ve noticed that they’re pointing out near misses and correcting those problems on their own. Knowing that they can manage themselves alleviates a lot of stress for me.”
Through the surveys every employee in the pilot groups had an opportunity to share feedback. There was a 25 percent improvement in response to the item, “During our safety meeting, employees are recognized for working safely.” This statistic was significant because recognition is critical to positively changing any safety culture.
Due to the success of the pilot, the CI Team had very few changes to make to its original plan and was able to quickly move into the next phase, training for full implementation. In just six months, Volker Stevin’s first CI Team was ready to lead an organizational culture change.
Preparing for Full Implementation
The CI Team trained more than 130 front-line leaders on the new safety meeting process during three half-day sessions. The CI Team developed the workshop agenda, prepared participant workbooks and resource tools and each member played an active role in conducting the training.
To depict the motivation for improving the quality of safety meetings, and to add a bit of levity to the training process, the team created video examples of ‘bad’ safety meetings and ‘good’ safety meetings. The team ensured each front-line leader left equipped to conduct a good safety meeting by clearly defining expectations, offering proposed meeting topics, establishing rules for engagement and providing a consistent meeting agenda. The trainees were given trifold job aids to keep as reference tools.
“The CI Team’s strong expression of ownership of the new process and growing proficiency to communicate its goals to peers and leaders is tremendous,” said David Crouch, Caterpillar Senior Safety Consultant. Crouch attended the sessions for sideline coaching, but the training was delivered solely by the CI Team members.
“I’m so impressed with the work that this CI Team has accomplished,” said Isabela Gasparini, Director of Human Resources. “Part of what Caterpillar helped us determine is how we are each accountable for safety in our own job. Safety is non-negotiable for us. We want to employ you as leaders and teachers by providing you the necessary tools and processes to be successful.”
There was strong executive leader representation in each session, a demonstration of their commitment to the new process. “We now have a clear and concise process that helps us get to our end goal. Engagement is one of the biggest key factors,” said Fred Desjarlais, Vice President.
Rolling Out the Solution
Following the implementation training, the CI Team launched an organization-wide survey to replicate the quality check conducted during the pilot phase. They will use the initial feedback as a baseline and will conduct follow-up surveys at regular intervals in order to measure the effectiveness of the new process.
The CI Team reports monthly to the Safety Steering Team to share informal feedback from the ground, such as comments from Hardy that indicate greater trust between employees and management as a result of leader involvement in safety meetings.
“When the younger employees listen to leaders who have established themselves in the company, guys who were doing these jobs once upon a time, it gives them one more reason to support the safety program,” Hardy said. “That has increased involvement even more.”
As a more effective safety culture takes shape, Volker Stevin’s journey to safety excellence continues. A second CI Team focused on improving field-level hazard assessments launched in October 2014. CI Team 2 will follow the same development, pilot and implementation cycle, contributing to a stronger safety culture by positively impacting another regular leading indicator activity.