Safety on a budget: Safety execs share success in recession

ORLANDO, Fla. – Safety does not have to be a huge expense, in fact, the best safety initiatives are free.

This was the message that executives from three huge and successful organizations communicated to many of the attendees at the National Safety Council’s annual conference and exhibition.

By encouraging workers to help other workers and holding people accountable, organizations can ride through this recession – and the inevitable budget cuts – without compromising the safety of employees, said Peter Knollmeyer, executive vice-president and chief operating officer at Fluor Hanford Corporation.

Knollmeyer was one of the speakers at an executive forum that discussed the role of environment, health and safety in an economic downturn. He was joined by Mike Murray, president and CEO of First Group America, Inc., and Colonel James Grace, director of safety with the United States Marine Corps. Greg Hale, chief safety officer at Walt Disney Park and Resorts, moderated the discussion.

“Strong safety is not a cost, it’s an investment,” said Knollmeyer, adding that every dollar his company spent on safety not only saved workers from injury, but also allowed them to save on potential injury costs.

Knollmeyer also shared with participants some of the simple initiatives his company has undertaken to promote workplace safety without incurring huge costs. For instance, the company has engaged its employees in a mentoring program, where senior “safety monitors” come in and talk to the junior employees about workplace hazards and working safely.

Fluor reached to out to schools in the community and got the schoolchildren to do art for a calendar the company was developing, with a theme around safety, Knollmeyer said. Those calendars were handed out to employees and to the community. “It was a daily reminder of why you want to work safely.”

Mike Murray, president and CEO of First Group America, Inc., echoed Knollemeyer’s comments stressing that safety is not optional. “The value of lives does not change during a recession. It doesn’t matter if it’s a recession or not if you’re going to the funeral of a co-worker.” Murray was also among the speakers at the executive forum.

First Group operates a fleet of school and commercial buses across North America. It deploys about 70,000 buses everyday, and employs about 100,000 bus drivers.

So how does the company manage the safety of an employee base scattered across 1,500 locations? Murray says it’s about accountability.

“We proposed to manage our safety the same we always do, which is to hold people accountable. Line managers own safety not our safety department. They are responsible for delivering the safety message to all employees,” Murray explained.

Leadership engagement is also vital to the success of the company’s safety performance, he added.

In the military, where many of its personnel face many safety hazards on the job, it is important to continuously invest in health and safety, according to James Grace, director of safety with the United States Marine Corps.

“Leadership is absolutely important,” he said. “If your leaders are not involved in safety, your people will not be involved in safety.”

He added that despite a declining budget, the Marine Corps just invested in 183 new safety positions to help achieve its goals.

“The leadership wants to instill that culture of operational excellence. We want to view mission accomplished synonymously with the preservation of the lives of our marines and our assets,” Grace said.