Delivering Timely Safety Recognition

"Safety is just part of that culture of doing things right," says FedEx Express Senior Corporate Safety Advisor K. Don Tullos.

HERE's the deal: Deliver more than 3.1 million packages per day, log 2.5 million miles per day (the equivalent of 100 trips around the world), connect markets that comprise a large portion of the world's economic activity within just one to two business days, and by the way--Do it safely!

FedEx Express is delivering safety on time. Couriers have safety at the top of their priority list because the company has made it a priority. Leadership in the company has created an in-depth safety program where recognition plays a vital role. The overall safety program includes four phases: 1) Hire the right people. 2) Train them. 3) Create awareness and retention (through recognition). 4) Provide accountability. The FedEx Express safety award program, co-developed with the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company, serves as a constant reminder of the company's number one priority.

"The very nature of the delivery industry creates an active environment where accidents can happen. Therefore, the ability of our employees is paramount," reads the Safety Message on the award program's Web site. "Every day, over 2 million customers depend on us to deliver their packages and freight in a timely and careful manner. Maintaining this esteemed reputation is extremely important, but our number one priority at FedEx Express is, and always will be, safety." That's some feat, considering the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported 5,900 Americans died on the job in 2001 while another 5.2 million suffered work-related injuries or illness.

Senior Corporate Safety Advisor K. Don Tullos, C.D.S., understands this challenge and how to communicate its importance to couriers. Previously employed with a motor carrier company that used recognition effectively to reinforce the importance of safety, Tullos introduced the idea of a strategic safety awards program at FedEx Express eight years ago.

"The goal of our safety program is to reduce accidents and injuries to our employees and the general public," he said. "The goal of the award portion of the program is to thank them for doing that and to provide an incentive for continuing that behavior."

The staggering cost of workplace mishaps has been extensively documented. The 2001 Liberty Mutual study, for example, estimated that worker's compensation losses--increased insurance premiums, court costs, and lost production hours--cost U.S. businesses between $155 billion and $232 billion every year. In the same study, 61 percent of executives said they save $3 or more for every $1 their company invests in workplace safety.

Designing the Program
When creating the safety recognition program for FedEx, Tullos and his team had some specific requirements. "One thing we wanted was to deal with the award manufacturer, and we wanted to give the award as quickly as we could to the time the employee earned it," he explained.

In order to receive an award, couriers must remain accident-free for one year. When a courier completes 36 months of driving without involvement in a preventable accident, the qualification date becomes permanent. This allows the courier to advance to higher year levels and more valuable awards. During the past eight years, the award program has gone through some significant changes, transitioning from a printed award brochure to an exclusively online program. Recently, the company added a selection of awards to the valued FedEx gold lapel pin. "Adding a selection made the biggest difference in our program," Tullos said. "People like the idea that they can choose, and they like the online program. A large percentage of employees have Web access at home, and those who don?t can access the Web at work." FedEx also enjoys the flexibility the Web site offers. Even the awards have gone through a transition.

"We've made changes to incorporate more award choices for female drivers. From the beginning [of establishing the award program], we've involved employees in the process, from criteria to awards," said Tullos.

Employees Embrace the Program
Long-time safe driver Jeff Carter is excited about the new selections, although he is happy to keep his lapel pin, as well. "I'm proud to work for FedEx and wear any emblem they have," said Carter. "There's a real sense of pride to work here. I wear my pin during the winter on my FedEx jacket and I always get comments on it."

Courier Christy Wilson said the positive reinforcement the award program creates is a plus. "They stress safety all the time," Wilson said. "And with the award program, you get things you normally wouldn't buy yourself. I wouldn't normally buy a grandfather clock, but if I can get one, I'm definitely going to."

Tullos credits the program's success to the company's longtime employee-centric culture and attention to corporate strategy. "Our company philosophy is people--service--profit," he said. "People come first in that equation, and they produce the service which results in profit." Courier Jeff Carter agreed: "This company was built on the P.S.P. philosophy. You take care of the people that take care of you."

"We treat people like they want to be treated," Tullos said. "We've been chosen as one of Fortune's '100 Best Companies to Work for in America.' Safety is just part of that culture of doing things right. The people are FedEx--we don't have a product to sell, we sell a service. If we don't give the service customers require, then they will go elsewhere." And it's recognition that helps FedEx employees remember their number one priority.

Breaking the Bread Barrier
Most great companies are beginning to discover cash rewards simply don't motivate safety performance, said best-selling author and recognition consultant Chester Elton. "Cash given in safety programs is great at first. We all love more money. But cash quickly becomes part of an employee's expected compensation and fails to motivate the expected performance," said Elton, author of the book "Managing with Carrots."

"Cash tends to be fleeting, while a tangible award is something that reminds you of safety for years to come," he said.

Safe behavior is a habit that is formed over time, he said, which explains why it is appropriate to have an award that last a long time. "Every time you put on that jacket that shows you've been safe, it's a constant reminder. Every time you pull on that safety ring or put the safe-driver key ring in the ignition, it's a reminder. Every time a driver puts that safety lapel pin in his collar or hat, he remembers what it takes to be safe."

That?s why companies such as FedEx Express offer tangible awards, which appeal to a basic instinct to have that which we do not have but can visualize. In fact, research shows employees work harder when they can imagine themselves enjoying an end reward. And, as strange as it may sound to some, researchers have shown that cash is nowhere near as effective an end reward as a tangible reward.

According to Elton's book, these tangible safety awards are given by companies to reward employees or teams that:

1. Work a certain length of time without accident or incident

2. Accomplish specific safety training

3. Drive a certain number of hours without an accident or moving violation

4. Suggest a safety improvement

"Safety programs are important to an integrated recognition strategy that helps foster the commitment of your employees," said Elton. "Add on top of this a public recognition ceremony of a quality safety award, and you really will see a return on your investment."

This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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