Feature Article - May/June 2012

Safety Under Fire

Threatened Programs Continue to Engage Employees in Safe Practices

By Daniel P. Smith

As the vice president of safety at Republic Services, one of the nation's largest waste collection corporations, Jim Olson knows safety can be a challenge. Republic's workforce drives oversized trucks, navigates both traffic and the elements, and handles bulky items.

Olson knows all too well that safety is an imperative function of business.

As a result, Olson's thrilled to direct the Phoenix-based company's Dedicated to Service (DTS) program. The comprehensive safety incentive campaign houses both training and staff development components and has stimulated Republic's corporate vitality.

"The DTS program reinforces everything we do as a company and has helped push our success," Olson said.

After years of a mish-mashed array of various safety programs, Republic Services adopted a unified safety incentive program not long after its 2008 merger with Allied Waste. The singular approach allowed Republic to centralize its efforts and more comprehensively adopt best practices.

Employees earn points over the months and quarter for following safety rules and having a record clean of incidents. The DTS program integrates Republic's customer service and attendance programs as well.

Six years after its installation, the DTS program remains a home-run hit for Republic. In addition to inspiring solidarity among workers, the program has achieved an unrelenting push toward safety.

"Our workers know safety. We're consistently catching people doing the right thing, which is the approach we take versus levying negatives," Olson said. "DTS has been a perfect blend with our other programs."

As an unanticipated bonus, family members often rally around the worker, as the worker's reward could be a gift for the entire home. As a result, on-the-job safety carries added weight.

"We see our employees getting positive peer pressure and encouragement from the family to earn those points," Olson said, noting an uptick in redemption from the program's reward partner, Massachusetts-based All Star Incentive Marketing, as the holiday season nears.

Karen Renk, executive director of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), said a plethora of anecdotal and empirical evidence details the benefits of formal safety programs, including lower expenses and more productive output. She added that pairing safety guidelines with incentives heightens employees' safety consciousness.

That has certainly been Republic's experience.

"You can say, 'We care about your safety and the general public' over and over, but that message rings hollow without a recognition program to back it up and without the company making a big deal of workers' positive safety performance," Olson said.

In spite of the positive vibe surrounding safety programs at Republic and thousands of other American companies, the future of such corporate initiatives sits in a precarious position.