How Ronald R. Ledin and Tom Sexton promote safety at Middough Inc. Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2010
You’d think safety precautions at Middough Inc., an architectural, engineering and management services firm, would be centered on hard hats, protective goggles and other construction site gear. But the hazard President and CEO Ronald R. Ledin personally polices is the ice machine.

He’s concerned about little things that might go ignored — like melting ice cubes creating slick spots conducive to slips.

“A lot of this is about awareness so that, over time, you begin to think that way,” Ledin says. “It is a 24/7 issue, and it does impact everybody. Much of our training is not just about things you need to do when you are on a construction site. … It’s really a lifestyle issue.”

Commitment to that lifestyle starts at the top. Leadership’s commitment manifests through a communicated safety policy and, more so, through tangible investments.

One of those investments is in a full-time position of the health and safety discipline manager, held by Tom Sexton. He’s in charge of making sure commitment doesn’t stop with management but extends to the 800 associates.

Safety orientation begins on an employee’s first day — then continues, whether through a computer-based driving course or weekly communications about safety topics for work and home.

Sexton rallies constant employee participation by weaving safety into every process.

“A priority is No. 1 today, but … when you put safety as a value, it stays right there with you,” he says. “You’ve really got to put that into your other systems. Everybody has a standalone safety program, but we work that safety program into our process.”

Each project begins with a safety component to plan precautions through every step. By kickoff time, employees have communicated with the client about their specific safety requirements and hazards unique to the worksite. Often, clients will even conduct their own safety orientations.

“The empowerment (employees) have there is through training — what their knowledge is for a situation,” Sexton says. “That might be specific training for the work they’re doing or specific training from where they’re doing the work.”

But you can’t train for every condition. They’re often unpredictable.

“One of the pitfalls we come into is when they’re sent out to do a project and the site conditions have changed,” Sexton says. “These guys go out and feel the responsibility to get the job done and they’re going to do it whether weather conditions have changed or there’s an upset condition at the client facility.”

So while specifics are important, the crucial aspect of safety training is general awareness and flexibility.

“The safety policy is you’re allowed to stop [working],” Sexton says. “Don’t put yourself in what you feel is a position of jeopardy.”

He encourages employees to call him, the project manager or the client if they don’t feel safe in unexpected conditions, to work out a compromise.

“Some of this is a matter of changing tasks or the order of tasks or the way we do tasks,” he says. “If we had planned to go out on a site at 7:00 in the morning … and if there was an ice storm the night before and the facility had a history of slips, trips and falls on icy surfaces, maybe what we’d do is change our tasks around. We’d … go out at 10:00 after the sun had come up or the salt trucks had come out.”

That awareness has kept Middough below the average Occupational Safety and Health Act Total Recordable Injury Rate since 1999. In 2009, it only logged one recordable OSHA injury, making the program more than worthwhile.

“When somebody comes to work, you owe them the ability to go home in the same shape they came to work — without stitches in their finger or a back injury or a lost limb,” Sexton says.

Make safety relevant

Middough Inc. President and CEO Ronald R. Ledin vividly remembers an employee getting his tie caught in a paper shredder. He was embarrassed, but he wore his spaghetti-strand tie for weeks.

“Those are the kind of stories that you think, ‘Well, that’s never going to happen to me,’” Ledin says.

To make safety real and relevant beyond the workplace, employees at Middough take turns presenting safety topics to kick off meetings.

“It’s not just management that’s preaching the gospel,” Ledin says. “They have to go online and research these topics. The best part is they are telling little anecdotal stories about experiences they’ve had personally. … It’s pretty laughable, but people remember that.”

Middough associates also receive weekly communications about other topics that surpass the office, like fireworks safety around July 4th.

“When you reach out to employees with that kind of language and activity, then they really understand that you are interested in their best interest as a lifestyle, not just, ‘Well, we don’t want you to get hurt on the job because it’s really going to cost us money or you’re a liability or a bad statistic,’ which is a much more limited motive,” Ledin says. When employees feel that you care about them, they’ll care about each other and the job they’re doing.

“If for no other reason, I would do it for the employee relations aspect,” Ledin says.

How to reach: Middough Inc., (216) 367-6000 or www.middough.com For more information about Middough’s safety program, e-mail safety@middough.com.