Value-Driven Safety: A Personal Commitment and Effective Program to Protect All Employees

Value-Driven Safety: A Personal Commitment and Effective Program to Protect All Employees

Safety programs are the foundation of a successful and safe work environment.

At Empire Southwest, the safety program reflects the values of the three-generation family-owned business, which was founded over 70 years ago. Empire is the Caterpillar dealer in Arizona and Southeastern California which sells, rents and services heavy equipment and power generation equipment to a diverse set of clients.

“When I was a little kid, my grandfather told me the secret to success was to ‘take care of the farm and the farm will take care of you.’” Jeff Whiteman, president and CEO of Empire Southwest said when asked about his approach to leadership, success and safety. It was his way of saying: Take care of your people and your people will take care of you.

That sound advice is the cornerstone of every decision made on behalf of the company, including the development and implementation of Empire Southwest’s safety program.

Safely Home. Every Day.

Living by and learning from the wisdom of Whiteman’s grandfather and founder of Empire is a key aspect of helping our people be more successful by empowering them with the confidence to work safely, especially when no one is nearby to help.

That’s why “Safely Home. Every Day.” is Empire’s tagline. It is, however, much more than words—it is a personal commitment to be safe everywhere and in any conditions.

Naturally, receiving company-wide support on safety initiatives can prove to be challenging, especially when others may believe that slowing down for safety cuts into production. Empire has made it very clear that safety is more important than production and profit.

The safety journey at Empire has been a long one. Leaders and safety influencers at the company knew that embedding a true safety culture was critically important, and finding all the answers proved difficult. Empire started by engaging some of their key clients, who had similar safety programs, to audit their facilities and operations to identify where there were risks and opportunities for improvement, both large and small. In turn, Empire conducted similar examinations for their clients’ businesses. It was a true partnership, understanding that the most effective way to improve safety is to learn from others.

This process led to Empire developing Fatal Risk Factors, or areas of hazard identification that required special identification. These factors included:

  • blocking and cribbing
  • crane and lifting activities
  • mobile equipment
  • stored energy
  • working at heights
  • working alone

Protecting Lone Workers

As Empire increased our focus on the six fatal risk factors, they realized they’d needed to treat working alone differently, as it is inherently dangerous. It became clear that a dependable system of communication for all lone workers, regardless of their situation, was needed. Finding the right solution quickly became more difficult than anticipated, but fortunately, Blackline Safety came into the picture.

Blackline’s G7X automatically alerts their monitoring team in the event of an incident, ensuring the fastest response times possible. They also enable lone workers and supervisors to communicate seamlessly via text and call, helping keep our teams connected even when they are apart.

These wearables reflect the mindset we’ve established that says nothing is more important than safety, and that supervisors and employees are equal partners in keeping everyone safe. As with any relationship, accurate and timely communication is critical—these devices allow us to communicate as often as the situation dictates.

Commitment to Continuous Improvement

Complacency is an easy trap to fall into, but it is one that can be deadly. Important questions to ask yourself are, “Are our safety plans and protocols understood by the entire organizations?” and “Are they followed throughout the organization every time or just sometimes?”

Over the years, Empire’s enhanced focus and investment in safety, especially related to lone workers, has proven to deliver tremendous results. Empire Southwest’s Recordable Injury Frequency (RIF) score has seen a 94 percent reduction over the last ten years. While we are pleased with our progress, we will not be satisfied until we have zero recordable injuries and stay there.

While safety improvements can often be met with resistance, Empire embraced and advanced their safety focus. Simply caring about people and wanting them to be safe turned into the safety culture Empire had journeyed to find in the first place. Workers began to not only understand, but to really believe that, safety came first.

As an organization with more than 70 years of history, Empire always reminded themselves of their roots, and that no matter how productive or profitable your workforce is, nothing matters if your people aren’t safe.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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