September 9, 2021

A true safety culture gives everyone a voice


All employees should be ‘empowered to bring problems to the forefront and offer solutions’

We’ve seen them all over the place, companies slapping a nice-sounding safety message on their trailers. When a company claims safety to be its top priority, we trust their word to be golden. But are these carriers actually adhering to their mission statements? Only they can answer that question.

Robert Kaferle, Reliance Partners’ director of safety, explains the simple secret to legitimize any safety program, from companies small to large.

“A successful company will empower their people to call out with critical comments and bring solutions to the table,” Kaferle said. “The way to instill this is from the top down, developing a program where everybody’s opinions are met and valued, everybody is empowered to bring problems to the forefront and offer solutions.”

This means everyone — all members of your organization — can voice their concerns on any issue without fear of reprimand.

From a driver refusing to haul a dangerous load to a driver manager explaining to a customer that its driver cannot deliver any faster to a maintenance professional refusing to let a truck operate using poor components, while safety is preached from the top down, its practice starts from the bottom up. Kaferle said that good decision-making should be rewarded at all levels of the organization.

While prioritizing safety over profit is a noble pursuit, good intentions don’t necessarily produce good results. No company should treat safety as a competition, merely pointing fingers at perceived problems and keeping tally. If a company is to truly buy into a “safety culture,” then it must be ingrained into every employee that they represent one team and one team only.

“Frontline employees shouldn’t be competing against each other department to department,” Kaferle said. “If there is a roadblock, then they should be able to communicate that either with their manager or the manager of another department, of which managers should welcome. The one thing that each manager has in common is that leadership vision from the top, and every decision made should be working towards meeting that vision.”

Like any company project, Kaferle said that starting an effective safety program starts with a vision of the end result. What are you wanting to achieve? With the goals in mind, then you can work backward to create a solution.

Kaferele said that restructuring one’s safety program can be quite a paradigm shift for some areas of management. Team members who treat their daily tasks at hand — as well as safety for that matter — as just boxes to check in order to go home every day might find it hard to take criticism.

He explained, “The biggest headache that comes with instituting a program like this occurs on the management level where they’re used to just telling people what to do and having them do it, especially with those not used to being given suggestions or are struggling with their directions not being followed.”

Kaferle challenges management teams to look for ways to be a part of the greater solution, as the only way a culture of safety can be upheld is through the encouragement of leaders at all levels of the company.

Kaferle recently helped a 390-power-unit carrier overcome its safety issues. He said that its culture entailed a management imbalance in which drivers were allowed to operate by their own rules and frontline employees felt discouraged to voice their opinions without getting in trouble. It wasn’t hard to find the problem: The company lacked a vice president of safety. This crucial position was vacant to counteract any ill-advised decisions, as operations leadership was unopposed.

“The motor carrier took my recommendations and is now working towards restructuring their safety operations and empowering their people to follow this plan,” Kaferle said. “It’s being put into place and it appears to be in a good spot to start working very quickly.”

Company size is irrelevant when it comes to successfully instilling a safety culture, according to Kaferle. Regardless of the number of drivers, assets or scope of the office environment, every company has its own culture. It’s best to think of safety not through the lens of a rulebook, but Kaferle instead urges carriers to consider it an organizational thought process.

Your company culture starts with you.