Ten-time winner of the IEC National Grand Achievement SPARK Award for Safety Excellence know what it takes to be a leader. Jim Schoenfelder of 1st Electric, Inc. shares his perspective on their winning safety program.
Safety is a leadership priority, but it’s also embedded and led at every level of 1st Electric.
1st Electric has held itself to the highest standards of safety since its 2002 inception. This core value has been recognized in the company’s receipt of the SPARK Grand Achievement Award for Safety in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2020.
Describe your company culture as it relates to safety. If you believe you have a culture that emphasizes safety, tell us more about why that is.
Safety for us is more than a role at 1st Electric, it’s about making dedication to safety first and foremost. One of our values is “family first” meaning we take care of each other, sending our teams home at the end of every day, safe and sound.
Initially when new staff onboards, we emphasize our commitment to safety as more than just a daily practice. It’s a total mindset. We positively reinforce safety among our employees with cash awards, sure. But what we really did was change our culture to emphasize safety as a positive. It used to be a task and sometimes approached as a burden.
Today’s generation of workforce responds to the positive reinforcement of safety here. In order to continue to improve our safety numbers and get value out of what we’re investing in, we get buy-in and leadership from the field. This includes a shift from a disciplinary to a reward system, not a defensive position.
We are offensive, we are proactive about safety allowing us to provide more value, to build and create something priceless – a committed and dedicated business culture.
Safety is a leadership priority, but it’s also embedded and led at every level of 1st Electric including management, field leadership, field apprentices — every echelon of our organization is involved. This is a great way to approach safety and we have a lot more fun with it.
Rewards are great; our third-party safety auditor gives $50 1st Electric credit cards on the spot at our job sites. We believe that by taking care of our own people and emphasizing the whole job site, we can be the leaders in safety on every project we work on.
Making the change has been a process of really reaching out and talking to others in the industry to figure out how to improve our system. This includes IEC leaders, IEC Safety people and each other in the industry to get the results we are looking for.
What is most important in assuring a safety culture?
Reinforcement and ownership are big key factors. We take the “walking alongside our people” approach. This attitude starts with leadership but is embedded all through the organization. Safety is not an “us versus field management versus the field”. We believe in collaboration and displaying how that works to staff and teams every day. In doing so, we accelerate our progress to change minds and 1st Electric’s whole approach. New hires are taught this from the get-go, while older team members adjust and evolve. Safety is no longer a sidecar; it’s about who we are. It wasn’t driven by our customer base only, but also from within our organization.
How did winning the 2020 SPARK Safety Award impact your company and employees?
We display our SPARK Awards on the walls of our offices. They bring a great deal of pride to our people and show how highly we value safety. This was the case in our old office in Lakewood and our new headquarters in Highlands Ranch, especially in our onboarding room. It’s essential and an important example to have our safety performance and recognition visible to new hires, potential employees and borrowed workers. Done well, this builds a healthy organization where people feel they are valued and appreciated.
Anything else you’d like to add?
To contractors who are new entrants to the SPARK Safety Awards, I suggest answering this question: “What do you want your company to be? What are you trying to create? Why is safety so essential?”
Gaining knowledge, skills about technology and how to run our business is important. But it’s a benefit to work for a safe company just like healthcare and vacation. 1st Electric offers safety: it’s part of the training that goes into being an electrician. It helps attract the best employees in an extremely competitive hiring environment. And, if we are going to work at this…let’s win! Let’s be the best at it that we can possibly be.