Creating a safety culture is essential for every business. It keeps employees safer, lowers claims costs, and helps employers keep their loss history in check. However, a safety culture isn’t built overnight. It requires leadership and planning. Ambassador Mid-West Floor, a Missouri business and MEM policyholder, knows what it means to commit to change.
In 2012, the business faced a tough situation. They had recently joined MEM as a policyholder, and safety was a struggle. Injuries were happening too often. With an increased experience modification factor (e-mod), their work comp premium was on the rise. They were ready to make changes, and tapped in to support from MEM.
Ambassador Mid-West Floor: Serving Missouri and Illinois
Ambassador Mid-West Floor sells and installs flooring in both the St. Louis, MO and Illinois areas. They’ve been serving a variety of customers since 1985: builders, homeowners, commercial and retail businesses. Installing floors for builders make up the largest part of their work. The company employs 140-150 team members. One hundred are dedicated completing field installation work; the rest serve as delivery and warehouse staff, or work in the office.
At the forefront of safety are Mike Lee, Vice President of Sales and Operations, and Scott Delaney, Production Manager. Both men began by installing flooring and worked their way up in the company. Lee has been with the company for 26 years, and Delaney for 13. They still lend a hand to their crews on job sites.
A risky history
Delaney serves as head of safety for the company. Project managers assist him by making site visits and doing inspections at least once a week. However, this safety network wasn’t always in place. Flooring employees encounter several risks on the job, including:
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Back and knee strains from lifting and carrying
- Cuts and injuries from razor knives and power tools needed to install carpets and panels
- Unsafe conditions from other trades also present on the job site
“Before me, it was kind of the wild, wild west with injuries one right after another,” he explained. Employees had been presented with safety talks. “The main reason wasn’t because they weren’t trying to be safe, but because of how busy we were and there was nobody really there to police it.” As a result, the company was seeing 15-23 injuries every year.
Building a safety culture: Laying the ground work
A major change was needed to get safety—and costs—back under control. Delaney led the charge. “The thing that Scott did that changed the safety culture was giving our staff a warning period for one month, preparing our guys for the change that was about to come,” Lee shared. “He not only talked about safety, but he enforced it by showing the crews safer ways to get the jobs done and fix any issues.”
Making safety a requirement
Safety efforts needed to be present in every part of the business. The company completely changed the way they worked, starting with the following:
- Weekly safety inspections. Project Managers were trained to do site visits and at least one safety inspection per week. They check the site, safety gear, and tools to reduce the chance of injuries.
- Safety & Risk Services (SRS) site visits. A consultant from MEM’s SRS team visits the company two to four times annually. The consultant will also make additional visits upon request.
- Company-wide safety talks. Employees are regularly presented with safety information on different topics.
- Safety changes. To reduce risks from lifting, the business reduced the size and length of carpet cushions and cuts. They are now easier for employees to handle. Crews also call Delaney if unsafe conditions are present at a job site. The crew won’t work until a safe work environment is in place.
POET: A missing piece of the safety puzzle
New hires can be a major risk to any business. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finds that 40 percent of injured workers have been on the job one year or less. Post-offer employment testing (POET) helps determine if an employee is physically capable of doing a job.
Ambassador Mid-West Floor has been using the program for nearly seven years. It allows them to vet potential employees and their flexibility. If an employee has been away from the job for more than 30 days, then they must re-test. The program also assists with employees who are returning after being injured on the job. A doctor may clear them, but it’s important to test their ability to lift and carry.
Creating a culture of safety
Making the transition to a culture of safety wasn’t easy. At first, some staff members didn’t take the new safety efforts seriously. “After that month time frame was up, on the first day he had ten write ups for safety violations,” Lee added. “Scott followed through with his word and the guys saw we were taking this seriously. We saw a decrease in injuries and claims.”
Employees needed leadership to help them be consistent and safe. “Once we started the shift of the safety mindset, it let everybody know that we are watching and we want you to do everything as safe as possible,” Delaney said.
Benefits beyond the job site
Working safer as a business can impact others beyond the industry. MEM made a safety recommendation after the company experienced a significant on-the-job incident. An employee was throwing trash into a dumpster through a sliding glass door, located on the second floor of a building. However, without any safety precautions, a bad throw led him to fall through the opening and into the dumpster himself.
Railings were installed in front of and around the door to prevent it from happening again. But Ambassador Mid-West Floor didn’t stop there. They met with several of their largest builders and together, they made plans to implement safety railings on job sites. As a result, they only need to be installed one time, saving time and money. Training was also provided on how to install and remove the railings safely if an unsafe situation occurs.
Ambassador Mid-West Floor: An example of successful safety culture
Creating a safety culture has made the difference for Ambassador Mid-West Floor in so many ways. Employees are staying healthier now, and as a result, are staying with the company longer. An improved e-mod allows them to bid on bigger and better jobs, leading to increased revenue. Their reputation as a business has also soared. Builders want to work with them.
Safety starts at the top, with leaders setting the standard. “When our employees see why we’re doing it, it makes all the difference in the world. We’re doing it for their own safety. If you can’t go home at the end of the day with both of your eyes, all your fingers and toes, nobody’s going to win,” Delaney finished. “They finally realize it’s not there to punish them, it’s there to help them.”