Holding regular meetings to remind employees about the importance of workplace safety makes sense for a variety of reasons, says custom harvester Dick Kraus, Elkhart Lake, WI.
“If one of your employees has a major accident, it can cost you in a lot of different ways,” says Kraus, who with his brother, Bill, manages Kraus Custom Forage Harvesting. “You have to pay the direct costs that go along with the accident, your insurance bills go up and you become less productive while you're dealing with it. On another level, we simply don't want to see somebody get seriously hurt because of something we did or didn't do.”
The Krauses hold safety meetings once a month on Friday afternoons during the height of the harvest season. “Fridays are paydays, so the guys are coming into the shop anyway to get their checks,” says Kraus. “It's the most convenient time to have a meeting.”
At the meetings, which typically last an hour, a variety of safety topics are covered.
“At the start of the year, we go over a lot of the basics with our new hires,” says Kraus. “We go over our company policies and talk about the things everybody needs to be aware of when they're in the field and on the road. If we have a new piece of equipment, we go over the things related to safety. Bill also makes copies of brochures and manuals to hand out to the people who will be working with the new equipment.”
A formal agenda is developed for each meeting and minutes are taken. Two-way communication is encouraged.
“It's not just us standing in front of the group talking,” Kraus says. “That would get pretty boring for the guys. We want them to ask questions and bring up things they're noticing on the job. A lot of times, they see things going on that Bill and I don't see. We've had some good discussions.”
An annual bonus, based in part on the safety record of the individual employee and the company overall, is also part of the Kraus brothers' program.
“We tie it to length of service and also to work attendance during the season. It's a way to reinforce the idea with everyone that safety is important around here. On another level, it gives employees an incentive to stay with us through the entire season.”
Linking a bonus to safety is worthwhile, says Larry Minner, of Custom Harvest Insurance, Ltd., Hutchinson, KS.
“Instead of telling someone they'll get disciplined or fired for having an accident, you offer them a reward for doing a good job,” he says. “Using a carrot rather than a club is usually a better way to get the kind of outcome you want.”
Minner says insurers use questions about holding safety meetings as a way to evaluate potential customers. “If you're not holding meetings, most companies won't even consider writing a policy for you,” he says. “From their viewpoint, it reflects on the quality of an account.”
Many insurance companies offer significant discounts to custom operators who routinely discuss safety with employees, says Dave Anderson, ag specialist with Vincent, Urban, Walk-er and Associates, an insurance agency in Green Bay, WI.
“If I can tell an insurance company I'm writing a policy for someone who holds employee safety meetings once a month, I'm usually able to get that customer at least a 10% savings on general liability insurance and workmen's comp right off the top,” says Anderson. “Anyway you look at it, that's huge.”
All that's needed for documentation purposes, according to Ander-son, is a written log showing when the meeting was held and a list of names of those in attendance.
“You really don't have to take detailed notes and you can keep the log in a three-ring binder,” he says. “There's really not a lot of additional paperwork involved considering what you stand to gain in return.”