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Formula for Success

TARGETED EFFORTS + EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT =
SAFETY EXCELLENCE FOR FAITH TECHNOLOGIES

BY SHERYL S. JACKSON

A successful construction company safety program goes beyond policies and procedures, training manuals, toolbox talks and incident monitoring. In fact, companies with strong safety records have a culture of safety versus a program for safety.

PHOTO COURTESY OF FAITH TECHNOLOGIES

That is the case with Faith Technologies, grand winner of the 2020 Willis Towers Watson Construction Safety Excellence Award presented by AGC of America at its annual convention in Las Vegas in March. Faith is an energy expert and electrical planning, engineering, design and installation firm based in Wisconsin, with 20 locations nationally.

Faith is not a newcomer to the CSEA award competition. “We won our category in 2015 and we won the grand award in 2010,” says Rocky Rowlett, vice president of safety for the company. “When we won in 2010 and 2015, we were good, but we are better now.”

The commitment to safety throughout the company and every project starts with company leadership, says Rowlett. “We never have a problem obtaining the resources we need to address safety, and all of our leaders include safety in their conversations with employees,” he says. “Every meeting and every conversation has a safety component.”

“Site leaders start every day by outlining the day’s activities with the team and identifying potential risks or safety issues, along with ways to mitigate the risk,” explains Rowlett. These conversations occur at the beginning of a workday and at lunch time. “At about 4 p.m. each day, we also distribute a safety bulletin throughout the company that briefly recognizes people for safety efforts, identifies near misses and highlights hot topics,” he says. These brief bulletins are in addition to the safety knowledge assessment questions that go to all employees to “test” their awareness of state-specific or general OSHA knowledge.

Through safety knowledge assessments, the inclusion of safety in daily planning and the discussions of safety by site leaders and employees on-site, company leaders and safety team members work together to engage employees in continuous discussions about safety practices throughout the company. “For us, safety is not a training program or a one-time discussion, it is part of our culture and part of how we do business every day,” says Rowlett. “There are more than 30 people in the safety department who are safety professionals from academia or the trades and who work with employees on-site every day, but our goal is to have an engaged workforce that represents a safety team of more than 3,000 employees.”

Continual improvement is key to Faith’s safety program, but Rowlett points out that “we don’t just hit homeruns — or look for one big program — instead we make sure all of the little things are in place to create a strong safety culture.”

Opportunities for improvement are identified by Rowlett’s team as well employees who talk directly with safety team members, committees that review incidents, policies and work practices on-site, and feedback from in-house apprenticeship program leaders.

“About six years ago, we noticed an increase in laceration injuries,” says Rowlett. “A review of the incidents led to changes in our knife policy, as well as changes in the type of gloves used. The small, focused changes that we made have all but eliminated lacerations.”

When the company began growing and adding more employees, a safety mentoring program that provides extra support for new employees was created to reinforce and ensure safe practices. Safety mentors check in with and observe new employees to specifically address safety practices — acknowledging employees when they follow safety guidelines and teaching the correct way when needed.

Targeted interventions are working for Faith. In 2010, the incident rate for the company was 3.0 with three million work hours, and the rate in 2019 was 0.42 with about eight million work hours, says Rowlett. “This safety record has enabled us to get into markets such as food/beverage, wind and solar energy, and big data or technology industries,” he explains. “These industries have high safety standards and expect their partners’ safety records to align with or exceed their own programs.”

Two major factors have contributed to Faith’s improved safety results, according to Rowlett:

1. A switch to a manufacturing/modular approach to assemblies that provides a safer, more controlled environment for employees who have the right tools and materials at the right height to work safely and more efficiently. “By moving labor hours into a controlled environment, we reduce labor hours in the field where there are more risks,” says Rowlett.

2. An attitude that “incident-free” is possible, which reinforces the message that construction work, especially electrical work, doesn’t have to be dangerous. “Our company’s safety record turned from good to great when every employee became engaged in safety and it became part of our overall culture,” says Rowlett.

While Faith has had success with CSEA applications, Rowlett points out that they don’t enter the contest every year. “The program helps you become better, but we wanted to take time between applications to evaluate our program, make changes to become better and have time to see results,” says Rowlett. “We use the award application as an internal benchmark to see what we’ve done, what we can do better and what we can document.” Feedback from judges in the initial stages of application review also provides different perspectives on the safety program and helps inform changes, he adds.

Once applications are submitted from chapters to the national organization and finalists are determined, a team from each finalist company presents its program to the national judges. “Our CEO, wellness program administrator and I were on the speaking team for the final competition,” says Rowlett. “We took a risk with our presentation by focusing on total worker health, which includes all of our wellness programs, rather than focusing on just the technical aspects of traditional safety practices.”

Rowlett points out that Faith has provided a wellness program for employees that includes mental health strategies to keep workers healthy and safe at both work and home. “Our wellness program, our move to manufacturing assemblies and our overall approach to project planning that addresses safety at each step combine to make a strong approach to safety,” he says.

Although the application process for CSEA requires more time, evaluation and planning than other safety awards, the benefits of the process are worth it, says Rowlett. “It is a good self-evaluation process that helps us determine what we are doing and how it is working,” he says. The greatest benefit, however, is not realized just by applicants, Rowlett points out. “The national presentations by the finalists are open to an audience. In fact, about 60 people attended the presentations over a four-day period,” he says. “It is an opportunity to hear what the best companies are doing and see what ideas can be applied to your company.”

SAFETY STRATEGIES
Winning the 2020 Willis Towers Watson Construction Safety Excellence grand award was not the goal of Faith Technologies’ safety efforts; it was the culmination of an ongoing effort to integrate “safety” into all aspects of the company’s approach to business.
According to Rocky Rowlett, vice president of safety for the company, there are four key strategies that form the foundation of the company’s culture of safety:
1. Safety programs are more than paper. Policies are procedures are important, but safety practices have to be modeled, taught and reinforced every day on the jobsite.
2. Training programs must be “hands-on” and include explanations of practices. It is not enough to only describe or demonstrate safe work practices in training sessions; people must be mentored on-site and taught while doing the work. The reason for each safety practice must also be explained so employees understand how they are protecting themselves.
3. Management must support the program through its own actions. When safety messages are incorporated in all communications from all levels of management, employees better understand that everyone is involved in safety.
4. Safety must be top-of-mind for all employees. Coaching and mentoring programs that teach and engage employees rater than punishing them for mistakes lead to a focus on safety from all employees.
“At Faith Technologies, we believe every employee is part of our safety program,” says Rowlett. “Their involvement is what will get us to zero incidents.”