ValleyCrest's Win-Win Safety Culture

By Loren Faulkner | September 28, 2010

Some ValleyCrest workers drive off with a brand new Ford 150 Pickup Truck each year, provided by the company for excellent safety records. With these and other worker safety incentives, ValleyCrest figures it saves some $10 million per year in insurance claims.

Calabasas, CA, based ValleyCrest companies, with some 8,000 employees in 26 states, at 105 branches, has learned a thing or two about motivating their employees to work safely. It is considered the nation's largest provider of landscape development, construction, and maintenance.

"This program has been one of many efforts by ValleyCrest to encourage work place safety," said Mike Dingman, senior vice president and ValleyCrest safety expert.

"Our company has reduced its safety incident rate by 12 percent over last year. Actually, we have had a double digit percent decline each year for the past six years -- in excess of $ten million per year in each of those years. We’ve probably saved 15 times the investment we’ve made in safety."

According to Dingman all the leaders and management get deeply involved with safety, from the very top of the company, setting the example for all others.

"The number one reason for safety improvement comes from the leadership of the company walking the talk, staying involved and showing their true concern for our field personnel. Once this credibility is established all of the other motivational and promotional programs are icing on the cake."

Associated Construction Publications (ACP) asked Dingman about his company’s safety education:

Fatal accidents each year in the U.S. workplace are on the rise (recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 5,840 fatalities) after a steady decline in the past decade. Why do you suppose that is?

"My personal opinion: complacency and the enormous pressure to produce at a much higher ‘economic’ level at the expense of cutting costs and attention in other areas."

Does ValleyCrest have a safety motto or a sentence that sums up what its employees should aim at each day?

"There is really no single motto or mantra. The number one goal that is understood at the field level is that every employee must go home to his/her family at the end of the day in the same healthy condition they came to work that morning (with all ten fingers and toes).  Very simple."

What kinds of injuries do you typically see in your industry?

"Strains and sprains, cuts, scrapes, but with heavy equipment on the job, plus a fleet of some 4,000 vehicles on the road daily, auto/truck accidents can happen."

What are your thoughts about why construction accidents happen?

"Two reasons: unsafe conditions or unsafe actions. Unsafe conditions are much easier to identify and fix than unsafe actions which are typically a lack of training, complacency, general attitude or lack of motivation."

Within your own industry, describe a typical unsafe condition you have been able to correct:

"One example: we take OSHA trench sloping, benching, sloping a foot shallower than OSHA requires. If regs say five foot depths are safe, we might only go four feet, adding a safety margin.

"We do have many safety programs and specific sets of rules and regulations"

Explain ValleyCrest’s methods of motivating and training crews to think about safety and to work more safely…

"Our program differs besides only following rules and regs. True motivation starts at the very top management.

"For example, the Construction Division meets each Tuesday morning with each branch manager and supervisors. There are training sessions that each does. Each manager must review safety incidents-- what, why, how they occurred.

"Then there are weekly tailgate meetings with foremen and their crews. A safety topic is discussed, with demonstrations.

"The incentive program awards seven employees each year with a new red Ford-150 truck at its annual safety day celebration in July.  The winners are drawn at random, after having qualified with top safety records. We have a variety of incentives throughout the year."

Does safety improve significantly when employees see they have a legitimate chance of winning a truck or some other tangible prize?

"Improvement comes from the leadership; it’s important how you train leaders who then train others."