Culture Shift

Special events such as Gannett Fleming’s Safety Breaks engage employees in the safety program.

Could the next accident be the one that means we lose the service of a valuable employee, millions of dollars in revenue, a major client, or results in higher insurance premiums, days of lost work, or huge workers comp claims? With these questions in mind, Gannett Fleming launched a robust employee workplace safety communication program that educates employees about how to identify and avoid hazards.

Although the federal government requires employers to provide a place of employment that is free from hazards that can result in death or serious physical harm, accidents occur frequently in our high-risk industry. In an effort to protect the company’s most valuable assets — its employees — firm leaders strive to demonstrate the importance of safety and engage employees in the firm’s safety program. For Gannett Fleming, a nearly 100-year-old, 2,000-employee global infrastructure company with more than 60 offices, a significant change to the firm’s communication approach related to safety has led to dramatic improvements to the firm’s safety culture during the last five years, while keeping the number of accidents to a statistic that is well below the industry average.

“Employee safety communication is not just about communicating rules and policies — it also is about creating a culture of safety to prevent incidents from occurring,” said Paula Loht, CIH, CSP, Gannett Fleming’s corporate safety manager, who is based in the firm’s headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa. “For Gannett Fleming, this evolution has led to the development of a brand for our safety program. It embodies our firm’s core beliefs and also speaks to our employees, clients, teaming partners, and friends of the firm.”

Two-way communication

Making the shift to proactive communications has been essential in engaging employees in the firm’s safety efforts. For instance, to develop a series of practice-specific hazard assessments, safety personnel interviewed technical practice leaders to identify typical work tasks for each of the firm’s 30 practices, along with the hazards associated with those tasks. As practice-specific training was developed, input from the technical professionals performing those tasks also helped formalize and confirm the details of each program.

President and COO Bob Scaer, P.E., and Corporate Safety Manager Paula Loht, CIH, CSP, show Gannett Fleming’s Perfect Record Award from the National Safety Council.

Bi-monthly conference calls with more than 60 regional office safety coordinators serve as a forum for getting the word out to staff in all offices and as a medium for the group to get input on any challenges they are experiencing.

“The calls are 15 minutes max, but having this forum has initiated a real change in our communications with these personnel,” Loht said. “They serve as our voice on a local level. Having them on board with the corporate safety program is critical.”

Safety coordinators also come into play during the firm’s annual safety break with all employees. To complement the National Safety Council’s Safety Month, Gannett Fleming celebrates Safety Month each June. Key to this initiative is an annual Safety Break Day that serves as a platform to educate employees about proactive controls and work practices that can reduce exposure to preventable injuries and deaths. Knowing that ho-hum presentations and tedious demonstrations won’t necessarily generate attendance or employee engagement, safety coordinators brainstorm ways to creatively convey the message with support from the corporate safety group.

Posters echo the firm’s “Safety is in our Hands” mantra and showcase employees who have made choices to minimize their risk.

“Whether showcasing personal protective equipment (PPE) in a fashion show or demonstrating the dangers of texting while driving in a hands-on video game, the Safety Breaks engage employees on levels well beyond what might occur if we relied solely on traditional communications,” Loht said.

Safety is in our hands

The firm created the “Safety is in our Hands” campaign to encapsulate its ideology about safety and promote it to staff. The employee awareness campaign is designed to promote the hazard assessment process and highlight employees who have made choices to minimize their risk.

“Whether the required PPE is not on hand, more training is needed, the safety data sheets are unavailable, or for any other reason, we’ve clearly communicated that we expect employees to discontinue the task and reach out to request the necessary resources to perform work safely,” Loht said. “Sometimes this is an easy fix, like running back to the office for the appropriate PPE, but other times it requires input from our technical safety experts. My staff is available 24/7 to provide the necessary resources.”

When it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE), the fashion shows in New York and Milan have nothing on Gannett Fleming. To encourage employees to think safety, Gannett Fleming held a fashion show featuring employees dressed in PPE commonly used in the firm’s lines of work.

“Whether a suit-and-tie executive, a job site manager, a project manager’s assistant, or anywhere in between, employees may be exposed to hazards every day,” Loht said. “It is the employer’s responsibility to train the employees, and it is an employee’s responsibility to work safely. That means taking time to identify what those hazards are for any given task, planning a safe course of action, and then using lessons learned to continually improve our operations.”

In 2013, the firm also rolled out an “Employee Safety Empowerment” protocol to formally document the firm’s support should a staff member have any doubt if the task can be performed safely.

Flexible delivery channels

“Continually communicating and promoting safety has been at the heart of a significant transition for Gannett Fleming’s safety program,” Loht said. “In addition, the feedback we receive from employees helps us to improve our policies and procedures and expand our safety practices as regulations change or we enter new lines of business.”

Multiple internal communications channels help get the word out about all safety initiatives. Attention-grabbing posters pepper the firm’s offices to highlight staffers who have made choices to minimize their risk. In other instances, communications come in the way of intranet news messages or posts to an electronic message board. On some occasions, custom videos are posted to provide field employees easy access to the message from a mobile device. Executive messages also align with the overall plan to bolster safety communications in the way of monthly leadership letters and blog posts.

Listen up!

Even with many communications developed for employees, it is important to not lose sight of the impact of one-on-one communication and just listening to staff.

“It’s through personal conversations and interpersonal trust that I’m able to gain their respect and bring our safety brand to life,” Loht said.

Through all of these means, employee engagement is high, and employees recognize that safety is worth the extra effort.

Amy Collins, CPSM, is deputy manager – Corporate Communications & Marketing with Gannett Fleming. She can be contacted at

Posted in Uncategorized | September 30th, 2014 by

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