Unbreakable Tenets: Communication, Training, Partnerships Develop Enduring Safety Culture

Following established guideposts helps support a strong safety culture. Grain Journal asked five safety professionals for their perspectives on the unbreakable tenets that set the tone for safe operations at their facilities.

Brad Bousquet | Safety Director | Central Valley Ag |York, NE

“We work really hard to create awareness about the hazards in our industry. We share news articles companywide whenever there’s a grain bin engulfment or an auger accident or something of that nature to keep people up to date on safety issues that are happening. Those are the big ones that we want to make sure people know about.

“As far as safety principles, we understand that there are several elements of safety. The most important element for us is employee knowledge, so training is key.

“After that, our facility safety is another top priority. That’s where we do the engineering to make sure we have a safe workplace.

“We focus on all of our procedures and policies to make sure they are documented and enforced. Then we emphasize a safety culture and ensure we have employee buy-in.

“Those four elements really have to come together to achieve safety for our operations.”

Jacob Forsman | Safety Office | Northwest Grain Growers Inc. | Walla Walla, WA

“One of things we work on, and it’s one of the biggest ones for a lot of companies, is a top-down commitment to safety from the board, the CEO, and the entire team at Northwest Grain Growers. So our board and our management are very committed to safety, constantly improving, and looking at new technologies or better ways to operate safely.

“Another one is our continued effort on building a better safety culture, and we’re always working and improving, trying to gauge the safety culture to make sure it’s working. And if not, what can we do to improve? We have very high expectations of supervisors to continue safety training in the field each day.

“Leading by example is key. We have a lot of summer workers during our harvest period and then normal, everyday workers during non-harvest seasons, so we lean on the supervisors a lot to keep safety relevant in the workers’ minds each day.

“Also, I make sure there’s constant communication between myself and our employees. I see our employees, not every day, but on a regular basis. Out in the field when I’m going to elevators, I see what’s going on and how they’re doing. I learn a lot from visiting the elevators. It gives me an opportunity to always keep the safety conversation open, ongoing, and relevant.

“We also focus heavily on our near-miss reporting. If a near miss does happen, we investigate it thoroughly to determine what happened and why.

“We learn from it and train on it if necessary, whether it’s from a near miss due to training errors or equipment failure. We look at all those factors in our near-miss reporting. One thing that we’ve been trying to instill in our safety culture is that if a near miss happens, even if it’s a small near miss, let a supervisor know, so everyone can learn from it and improve.

“We also work in partnership with other companies around the area. We bring different presenters to our facility to help provide new perspectives and approaches that keep safety lessons fresh and interesting.

“We work with outside companies to visit and walk around our facilities. They’ll look to see if there are things we’ve missed, like guarding issues or general safety.”

Dave Huette | Safety Director | Tremont Co-op Grain Co. | Tremont, IL

“A big part of our business is hiring part-time people in the fall for the harvest season. Our workforce doubles this time of year, with a number of people who have no experience working at a grain elevator.

“In the past, we had an outside source come in and conduct a safety meeting covering general grain safety rules. After a seasonal employee was hurt, we realized that we needed specific safety procedures that applied specifically to the job that they would be doing.

“Each employee has classroom time where all areas of their job are covered in detail with their supervisors present. Before they can start working, they sign a sheet that lists all areas covered and states that they understand the company polices and rules.

“When each employee starts work, they are mentored by their supervisor, who covers everything that was taught in the classroom. This is our hands-on training, to see if they are following our company policies and rules for the job they are asked to do.

“We do the same training companywide at all our locations so that our customers see a consistent approach to safety at all of our elevators.

“All employees are encouraged to make safety a priority and report any unsafe conditions to their supervisor.”

Stuart Beckman | Regional Safety Manager | Gavilon Grain LLC | Fargo, ND

“We recently conducted a safety kickoff for all of Gavilon’s grain/fertilizer locations. The purpose was to make sure employees understand and commit to our values around safety, conduct safety training, and then provide some team building for the crew with lunch and more discussion.

“We discussed our focus on identifying and eliminating hazards around incidents that could have the potential to be a serious injury or fatality. Some of these risks include objects falling from heights, equipment failure, electrical work, and actual falls greater than 4 feet.

“We have a safety and operations plan during our morning tailgate at our facilities. We start with a safety contact, and supervisors give direction to employees on daily tasks and expectations.

“We don’t take shortcuts. We take the time to perform operations safely, and if employees are uncertain about how to perform a task or they feel they cannot complete tasks safely, we’ve empowered them to stop work and get others involved until a safe solution can be found.

“Most of us in the operations and safety departments, as well as many of our superintendents, have read Todd Conklin’s book on human and organizational performance titled, The 5 Principles of Human Performance.

“As leaders, we must understand that:

  • Error is normal. Even the best employees make mistakes. Employees help us solve the problems we face each day.
  • Blame fixes nothing. It may make us feel better when we can blame someone for a mistake, but it does not solve the problem.
  • Learning and improving are vital to the organization. We’re spending more time determining the root cause of incidents, assigning corrective actions, and coming up with long-term solutions that we share throughout our organization to prevent reoccurrence. We’re also focusing on eliminating the hazard or using engineering controls to keep employees safe.
  • Context influences behavior, and systems drive outcomes. Safety culture, work processes, and good planning create environments that influence positive behaviors by our employees.

“As leaders, how we respond to failure matters. We can blame and punish, or we can learn and improve. Blame and punishment lead to low employee morale, high turnover, and the potential for a toxic work environment. Employees understand how we react to everyday situations and will either open up and communicate based on our approach or will be defensive and close down when questioned. It’s our choice as leaders to react with a cool head, learn, and improve.”

Andrew West, CSP | Regional Safety Specialist | CHS, Inc. | Inver Grove Heights, MN

“One of my unbreakable safety tenets involves the intersection of safety and integrity as core values and why both are so critically important in decision making when things are difficult, inconvenient, or when no one’s watching.

“Organizational values should shape the way we work – they need to guide our decision-making processes, and they must provide a framework for improving the workplace culture. For values to be more than just words or lofty goals, they must be understood, supported, and acted upon by all members of an organization, from C-suite executives to the part-time seasonal worker.

“There are two values absolutely critical to maintaining an economically sustainable operation:

1. Integrity – or the deep-rooted approach of consistently doing things right, because it’s the right thing to do.

2. Safety – or a means of safeguarding our co-workers, the environment, and the communities in which we operate.

“Integrity and safety are concepts that are inextricably linked – a true culture of safety can only develop when the organization and its employees show an unwavering and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles. When a priority violates a value or unbreakable tenet, it indicates a lack of integrity.

“From an operations perspective, it’s absolutely critical to our own safety, as well as the safety of our employees and our companies, to make the right choices, consistently, every time. When we make those hard decisions, we define our unshakeable values and differentiate them from what are merely shifting priorities. This is especially important for tasks that have a severe injury or fatality potential, including permit-required confined space entry, lockout/tagout, electrical work, hot work, fall protection, etc.

“A company has an ethical and legal obligation to provide their employees with a safe and healthy work environment. For that to become a reality, the organization and every employee must be proactively engaged in developing and advancing the values of integrity and safety with every decision they make.

From the September/October 2020 Grain Journal

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