When Ray Heatherton has a safety issue at one of Gregory Supply's four locations in New York and Vermont, he doesn't think twice about picking up the phone and calling the state OSHA office for advice. That by itself is a testimony to how much things have changed at the company. Two years ago, OSHA would have been the last place Gregory Supply's president would have called for help. “I can honestly say I didn't want them to know my name,” he says.
That was before the company committed itself to changing its safety culture and enrolled in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program Challenge pilot program, which it decided to participate in because, at the time, the dealer was experiencing a lot of injuries and its OSHA incident rate was higher than the national average for the industry, Heatherton says. “We grew very concerned from a corporate standpoint about what was happening,” he says. “We decided we would turn the fire up on the safety burner.”
Gregory Supply has since completed Stage One documentation of the three-stage program, which they hope will lead to achieving VPP Star status by the end of 2006. That status will exempt the company from any unannounced OSHA inspections for three years, unless OSHA receives a report of a violation. Star status isn't automatic, Gregory Supply safety and training coordinator Paul Raino explains. It's only awarded after a week-long OSHA inspection to document the company's reported safety practices; only about 1,300 workplaces out of well more than a million in the country are designated as VPP Star sites.
During the search for companies to benchmark safety practices against, Raino talked to management at Curtis Lumber in Ballston Spa, N.Y., which has achieved VPP status at several of its yards and is the administrator of the VPP Challenge for the area. Curtis' excellent safety record prompted Heatherton to enroll Gregory Supply.
The company's efforts also have earned it recognition as an NLBMDA National Industry Leader in Safety Award winner for the Ray Brook, N.Y., location. The Ray Brook store, which has 27 employees, had a recordable incidence rate of 0 in 2004 and had no written findings during an OSHA inspection.
Ray Brook site manager Larry Bourey says that awareness and communication are two keys that have helped the store stay accident-free. Daily “surprise safety checks” (in a different area each day) identify problem areas in the yard such as 2x4s that people could trip over or discarded metal bands that could cause cuts. “[These are] everyday items we check,” says Ray Brook dispatcher Jay Brown. “We pay a lot more attention to small things.”
He and Bourey also look for employees working safely, whom they reward instantly with a scratch-off lottery ticket or paid time off. Plus, the employees may find themselves spotlighted in the “Caught Ya Doin' Somethin' Right” feature of Safety Stuff, the dealer's monthly safety newsletter. For example, the February 2005 issue reported, “Mike Wilcox of Ray Brook did the right thing when he checked into a motel because he was getting too tired to drive late at night. Way to go, man.”
Attendance at weekly safety meetings is mandatory for the entire staff, management included. The meetings, which last from 10 to 45 minutes, always have a preset topic to discuss, such as back strains or equipment maintenance. Plus, employees are encouraged to discuss any concerns they have. “It's a pretty open forum where everyone can voice their opinion,” Bourey says.
Bolstered by a company motto of “If it isn't safe, we won't do it,” staff members rarely wait for a meeting to report a safety issue to management. “When people have a problem, they usually bring [it] to me. It's taken care of right away, usually within the hour ...,” Brown says. “It's something we take a lot of pride in. Everybody in the yard and the store is really committed to it. It's an everyday conversation you hear. You wouldn't have heard that a few years ago.”