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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingSeptember 19 - September 25, 2018

A Culture of Safety

SafetyFirst 7e8b3By Brian J Riker

Why is it that I see questionable —even outright deadly — behaviors daily?

During a recent trip to the grocery store I happened upon a local tower with more than 40 years in the business, someone I have known all my life. He was loading a vehicle on a blind curve with no lighting, no warning lights or even any personal protective equipment--all while standing over the fog line on the traffic side.

Worse, he had the customers standing right next to him in the roadway.

Safety has been spoken about ad nauseum but the message is not getting through. However, it isn't the message; but rather how the message is delivered that may be the problem.

A worker that has done something the same way without incident their entire career is reluctant to change. No one wants to be nagged about anything. Let's face it: most safety talks come off as nagging.

We need to retire the "safety police." We are resistant to the gotcha approach to safety compliance, and instead respond much better when we want to be safe thus creating a culture of safety rather than a fear of reprimand.

"When people want to do something, they'll do it whether somebody's watching or not," John Drebinger, author of "Would You Watch Out For My Safety?," once said. "If people are doing it because it's a regulation or a rule, they'll do it when they're being watched or they think someone will know. That whole mentality is about catching people, and it's not economically feasible to have enough people going around catching others doing unsafe things."

As business owners and managers we need to lead by example. Our team will imitate the behaviors they see demonstrated daily. If you lecture about safety in the morning, then question why they took so long to complete a task in the afternoon, they will have received a mixed message.

Working owners and managers it is imperative that you take the time to do it right every time. This includes proper equipment inspection at the start of a trip, following all company policies throughout the job and modeling the behaviors you want your team to display.

If you see good behavior it is just as important, if not more, to immediately recognize and comment on their actions. With unsafe behaviors it is also important to react immediately, keeping in mind that you react differently to perceived danger. Choose your words and body language carefully so as not to come off as irate, irrational or unjustified.

When you see a dangerous behavior don't just say, "I observed you not following proper procedure," or, "that is against the rules". Ask their opinion on why they are doing what they're doing, then explain why their actions are dangerous and offer a suggested corrective action.

It is key to make it an open conversation, otherwise you will not have engagement nor will you have solved any problems. You will do more harm than good by creating resentment of the "safety police".

None of this is meant to discourage the practice of daily pre-shift safety briefings or the required periodic safety training meetings. Instead, I am just offering a different approach to the daily task of safety compliance management. It is extremely important to openly discuss not only safe working policies, but why we have those policies. "Why" is the key component to an effective safety program.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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