“Safety is your bottom line,” says Dyle MacGregor, president of Keep It Green in Fair Lawn, N.J. “If you are not managing your safety and insurance costs, you may not be competitive.”
At Keep It Green, no employee is allowed to climb a ladder without a partner – jobs that require a ladder are always assigned at least a two-person crew. Every tailgate meeting has a safety angle. If the topic is pruning, the message might include a reminder to wear safety goggles or information about properly operating the equipment.
“Our whole time in business, we have only had one fellow with a hernia – we stay on top of safety relentlessly,” says MacGregor, who started the business in 1981, and, through the years, has grown his firm into a mostly residential lawn maintenance operation that does 100 percent commercial snow removal.
In 2012, Keep It Green won PLANET’s Gold Performance level safety recognition with awards for no injuries, no illness, no days away from work and no vehicle accidents. The shining record is thanks to the company’s constant education and vigilance about safety training that begins from the day a candidate is interviewed for a job at Keep it Green.
“Safety comes into the very first conversation with employees,” MacGregor says.
Safe from the start.
MacGregor recalls the recruiting process for an experienced foreman who was a real cultural fit for Keep It Green. “He had a lot of skills, and I wanted this guy,” MacGregor says.
How to create a culture of safety
Everyone in the company is issued a three-ring binder that contains the employee handbook and extra space for these safety bulletins and other safety handouts (that are pre-punched so they can easily tuck into the binders).
MacGregor collects safety tips and ideas from trade magazines – he may photocopy an article or worksheet with important reminders. Tips include:
It was spring, and MacGregor was ready to hire for the position. So, during an interview, he broached the subject of safety. The guy came from Colorado and was sharing the difference between working out west and in New Jersey. “We got along quite well,” MacGregor says, adding that he thought the candidate was a shoo-in.
But there was a sticking point. MacGregor asked the applicant to read the company’s safety manual. Part of Keep It Green’s policies includes mandatory eye and hearing protection, and work boots. “He told me, ‘I do not have a problem with the eye and ear protection, but I have to work in sneakers,’” MacGregor says. “And, we went around in circles and despite all of his talents – he had been in the industry for 14 years – we parted ways. We parted pals, but I had to say no because even though I thought he was talented, our safety culture starts at the top.”
If a foreman wears sneakers rather than work boots, how can MacGregor enforce the policy with crewmembers – or anyone, for that matter? The safety rules apply to everyone. And they are explicitly outlined in the company manual, discussed during the interview process and reviewed during ongoing training.
“We treat everyone the same,” MacGregor says.
During the interview process, MacGregor finds out whether candidates’ previous employers were safety focused. “We find out how receptive they are to safety training,” he says. “Once employees join the company, they have to read the employee handbook and the next day, they are asked if they have any questions. They sign off that they read and understand our safety policies, so if there are any issues down the road, we have documentation.”
MacGregor understands that wearing eye protection in the summer can be bothersome. “The eye glasses fog up sometimes when it’s hot, or they don’t like wearing hearing protection because it’s too warm in the summer,” he says. But there are no exceptions to the safety policies. “Once you let one person slide, then the next guy wants to stop wearing eye protection and so on,” he says.
Off the record.
Pressing pause mid-job for a teachable safety moment keeps crewmembers minds on best practices. MacGregor might lead a tailgate meeting at the launch of a big project, and then halfway through, reconvene with the crew to review what’s going right and what could be improved.
The “little things” are a big deal at Keep It Green. For example, after a pruning job, crews make sure there are no leftover branches or leaf debris in the beds. “We go the extra mile,” he says. “It’s not like we invented landscaping – we provide the same services that other companies do, but we try to do it better so it’s noticeable.”
This focus on quality has resulted in a high retention rate at Keep It Green, and keeping customers on even during the recession, which MacGregor says didn’t really begin to affect the business until 2010 when sales were a bit slower. “We just persevered,” he says of managing through tough times. “We did more marketing and we tried to say on top of our good business, our reliable clients, and we kept them in the loop as far as whether we were pleasing them.”
The squeaky-clean safety record is definitely appealing to clients, who recognize this as an effort to pay attention to every detail of the way work is performed. And a bonus for Keep It Green is the insurance benefits. MacGregor has escaped rate hikes because of the company’s lack of accidents, illness and injuries. “I am being rewarded by not being penalized,” MacGregor says.