Do the Safety Dance

Creating a Culture of Security, Innovation, and Teamwork

In the oil and gas industry, every meeting or presentation started with a safety moment.  This was a slide that called out a company’s safety record, number of days without a lost-time accident, or simply a reference to something safety related.  When I worked at Energy Alloys, I feel like we took these seriously, but I could see how a company’s people could start consider it a “check the box” moment.  Like, “oh yeah, throw in a safety slide at the beginning and let’s send it.”  I understand how the idea of a safety moment could become like wallpaper, getting skimmed over and have little to no impact on actual safety results.  It didn’t happen with our team though because it was respected and taken very seriously throughout all levels of the company.  It reminds me of our approach to safety in Dubai and why the strategies and tactics we used led to an amazing learning experience that helped me grow as a leader.

Safety Ideas for Dollars (or Dirhams):

We had a solid safety record at our facility in the Oilfield Supply Centre (International for Center) and as we grew and developed our team, we wanted to keep focusing on making it even better.  When I took over as the GM from Sales Manager, I inherited a great operations team with an existing focus on safety.  One thing we implemented was a quarterly safety contest for the guys in the warehouse.  They were forklift drivers, machine operators, material handlers, and other front-line workers, so they had the best firsthand knowledge and insights when it came to spotting and reporting safety improvements.  We asked the operations team members to submit their ideas to make improvements that would make our facility and systems safer.  Our leadership team would vote and award a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place with a monetary bonus.  Sounds simple enough, so let the ideas rain, right?  Not so much….

Safety Ideas for Dollars (or Dirhams)

We had people from all over the world and our operations team was mostly from India with a handful from the Philippines and Pakistan…..and all with a Mexican Operations Manager and an American GM.  We had to work through cultural differences and build an environment of trust and safety.  Not the safety we’ve been talking about so far though, but the kind of safety where an employee feels like they can speak up and share ideas and opinions without being penalized or face retribution.  An environment where employees truly believe their management and leadership care about them and not just the bottom line.  We received a batch of initial ideas, so we went through the process and voted on the top 3.  After that, we talked about how to fix or address each idea, even the ones that didn’t win.  Some we put to the side, but the best ideas needed our attention and focus.

An environment where employees truly believe their management and leadership care about them and not just the bottom line.

Our Operations Manager, Carlos, starts the weekly safety meeting following the contest. “Thank you for submitting your safety ideas.  Before we congratulate our winners, I want to make it clear how much we appreciate all your input and effort with helping us make EA a safer place every day (pauses for translation).”

We awarded the top 3 winners and made it a big deal to show our appreciation as a leadership team.  But this was only the beginning of the journey to create a culture of safety and empower our employees.  We had ideas in hand, so we had to act on them.  If we simply said, “good job” and went about our business, the contests would start to become wallpaper and meaningless.

By the next quarterly contest, we were able to point to specific updates and improvements made thanks to the insights and ideas submitted by our frontline team members.  As a leadership team, there things we were focused on with this second contest:

  • Reiterating our appreciation for the submissions in the initial contest
  • Thanking the winners again to highlight the opportunity
  • Drawing attention to the new updates and improvements recently implemented that came from those ideas
  • Encouraging more participation in this next contest

Safety with Benefits

My team and I were doing these things because we wanted to promote the contest and the opportunity for them to make extra money, but it created other benefits I hadn’t considered at the time.  As the contests continued on and we awarded more winners and made more improvements, not only did our safety metrics improve, but so did our teamwork and morale.  We successfully created an environment where every person, from the veteran machine operator to the new forklift driver, could submit an idea and feel confident it would, at the very least, be read and listened to.  Many of them didn’t wait for the contest to raise their voice and call out something that was dangerous, because it became more about actually being safe than just winning a contest.

Safety with Benefits

Why Should You Advocate for Emotional and Mental Safety in Your Company Culture?

As I reflect on the fact that because our leadership team was able to earn the trust of our employees, we established an environment of safety.  As an employee, when you believe that the leadership team you work for sincerely takes your best interests seriously, it can fuel motivation and inspiration.  Our employees even started teaming up to create more elaborate and detailed suggestions, working together to tackle bigger potential improvements rather than simple fixes.

To create an environment and culture of safety for your team and workforce, you must first earn their trust.  It’s not enough to merely ask for their opinions and insights, because you’ll likely get just a portion of what they are capable of producing.  Be sincere, and when you have the opportunity to take action to address a reasonable request or great idea….don’t pass it up.  You don’t want to be seen as the leader who is going through the motions just to check the box.