Every morning, Kriss Larsen walks the aisles of Spenard Builders Supply in Kodiak, Alaska. As the branch manager, she's on the lookout for employees she can reward for doing things safely. It might be someone suggesting to a co-worker to use a ladder instead of overreaching, or employees shoveling snow from the steps after a storm without being asked. She hands out “Safety Cents,” tokens that employees can collect and redeem for awards from a company catalog, including MP3 players, George Foreman grills, and parkas.
The Safety Cents incentive program was created by LoAnn Larson, vice president of human resources at Spenard, which has 14 stores statewide, plus truss plants and millwork locations, and is a division of Redmond, Wash.–based Lanoga Corp. The program not only rewards employees for individual behaviors, but also focuses on teams “because we want a lot of peer counseling and people taking care of each other,” Larson says. Teams are rewarded with tokens when they have no accidents or recordable injuries, a standard that was chosen because “it's so measurable.” she says. Plus, individuals can earn tokens from their managers at any time.
In addition to the incentive to employees, the tokens give managers a tool to recognize good practices instead of just disciplining for safety infractions. To ensure that employees don't hide incidents, company policy requires that all accidents, injuries, and near misses be reported.
Once a month, Larsen takes another walk, this time looking for potential problems, such as damaged equipment or electrical wires that have pulled loose. She makes sure the fire extinguishers are current, the exit lights are working, and products are stored away from fire sprinklers. Then she joins all 23 of the other staff members in the store for a lunch meeting to discuss safety topics and any near misses, to address any issues seen during the walk-through, and to award more safety tokens to teams that achieved safety goals that month.
One of the yard's biggest goals is to keep its record going. The Kodiak location has been accident-free since Aug. 1, 2002, a record that has been recognized by the company and now by NLBMDA with a National Industry Leader in Safety Award. “They enjoy watching out for each other and keeping that record going,” Larsen says.
It's an attitude that comes straight from Spenard corporate. The company's basic philosophy, Larson says, is “Nothing we do is worth causing an injury to anyone,” and safety is part of senior management's annual operating plan as a key success factor. Specific objectives are set each year for a recordable incidence rate (RIR), number of lost days, and total dollar value of workmen's compensation claims. Safety is such an integral part of the company's culture that it is the top item discussed in annual performance review meetings. Plus, the company's bonus structure factors in safety results at all employee levels.
Larsen says that of all the safety initiatives in place at the branch and within the company, their mentoring program for new employees has contributed most to their success. “We put them with a veteran for at least two months,” she explains. “They are learning the safe way of doing things. If they're doing something wrong, it's corrected right away.”
Larson agrees that Kodiak's new-employee orientation is a critical element of its stellar safety record. “New hires are very prone to accidents,” she says. “The mentors take the time to orient them to their particular spot in the organization. It lasts until the mentor feels the person is ready to be on their own. That's tough for a store with only 24 people.”
Plus, the staff responds to Larsen's commitment to giving them a safe place to work. “They know it isn't because she wants a zero RIR,” Larson says. “It's because she cares about them.”