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How to Build a Safety Culture Through Safety Leadership


This blog post was updated on February 10, 2021.

An accident can change a life for forever. In fact, it can change many lives. The people involved and even the people they know can be shaken by the outcomes of a serious collision. That’s why it’s your responsibility, your employees’ responsibility, and your drivers’ responsibility to ensure that accidents are prevented.

Read below for some helpful insights into making your company a safe company.

Safety is Personal

Humans remember names and faces, not numbers or statistics. 

Jim Schultz and Brian Fielkow kicked off the release of their influential book, Leading People Safely: How to Win on the Business Battlefield, with a powerful Safety Symposium. The symposium was full of impactful examples of companies performing at a high level in safety and tragic personal stories to demonstrate the result of when other priorities trump values.

Heidi Jenkins’s story made us all shed a tear and I reflect on it to this day. A Waste Management driver with a history of incidents and accidents fell asleep at the wheel and killed her husband, Erich Jenkins. Erich was a former NFL running back and a successful health and fitness entrepreneur. The vanity plate on his wrecked car was “Lfechangr”, and Erich embodied this phrase with his passion for health and fitness and made it his mission to positively change one life each day.

Watch AvatarFleet Founder Mark Gardner's Safety Leadership Presentation

Safety is a Journey

To the credit of Heidi Jenkins and Jim Schultz, Senior Vice President at the time, Waste Management incorporated “Lfechangr” in their Mission to Zero safety campaign. Heidi is brave enough to go in front of audiences to tell her story. Humans knowingly take risks on the road because they lead to short term rewards. Heidi goes through the pain of reliving her tragedy in hopes she can alert drivers and company leaders to the potential consequences of not making safety an inflexible core value.

Like Mission to Zero, Jetco Delivery created an internal safety campaign, Driving 2 Perfection (D2P). D2P keeps safety personal by celebrating examples of living out the core company values. A great example was asking the children, nieces and nephews of Jetco drivers to draw what D2P means to them. The pictures were eventually turned into a calendar and proved the core value of safety was making it into every aspect of the driver’s lives.

The sharing of personal stories never stops because safety is an ongoing journey. Zero accidents remains the only acceptable goal. Accidents have names and faces and they affect the lives of those around them.

Lead By Example

An effective leader shows that safety is a non-negotiable value by never letting other priorities come before safety. The National Safety Council has reviewed more than 30 studies that conclude hands-free driving does not make driving while talking on the phone any safer. You’re still mentally distracted with hands-free technology and that is the crucial detail. President & CEO Deborah Hersman realized the NSC had this data yet did not have a complete cell phone ban themselves. Deborah led by example in fixing this situation with the full understanding she would be cutting productive hours of business calls and personal conversations with her mom.

Encourage your trucking company to practice close call self-reporting. This can be done by establishing a system of non-punitive reporting when drivers make mistakes. Celebrate drivers who own they made a mistake, got away with it and want to help others avoid the same problem; their openness could save a life.

Let the Team Own It

There is only so much you can do from the corner office. You create the processes and systems. However, you are out of touch if you don’t include your employees in the creation process. 

For example, Jetco has an employee handbook that the employees wrote themselves called The Jetco Way. There is never a conversation if a policy or procedure in the handbook is fair or not – the employees wrote it themselves and have the continuing understanding that The Jetco Way is a living, breathing document. While policies must always be followed, there is also the opportunity for the team to come together to discuss if a change or better way to proceed is in order. Dispatchers and drivers sit down on day one to create a one-page culture contract where they agree upon mutual expectations in this new relationship.

The Power of One

Drivers make hundreds of thousands of decisions, both safe and unsafe, every day on the road. Their daily behaviors determine if your company has an accident that day or not. Even more importantly, their actions can determine if someone lives or dies.

People don’t cry when they look at a chart of increasing accident rates. They cry when they hear a personal story about losing a loved one. You have personal stories at your company to share with drivers; share them. Keep your education and training focused on relatable behaviors and stories rather than on statistics or costs.

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