Employees of Valdes Engineering begin each workday with a safety ritual: holding the stairway handrails. It's mandatory for all associates entering and exiting the company's Chicago headquarters and at any Valdes work site. While it might seem like a trivial exercise, the handrail rule has set the tone for a thriving safety culture.
"If we can do the small things right – like hold the handrails or put in our earplugs – then we can do the big things right," says Kraig Whalen, CSP, director of safety.
Valdes, which provides engineering and project-management services to firms in the petrochemical and other industries, has been getting the big things right. At press time, the company had logged more than 1 million injury-free work hours, and was on track for its fourth consecutive year of achieving a perfect lost-time injury rate.
Whalen attributes the company's safety success to a number of elements, including its thorough training regimen (all Valdes field personnel have earned OSHA 10- or 30-hour cards), its job-safety assessment process and its peer-to-peer Safety Ovation awards program, which recognizes employees for interventions and other safe behaviors.
But he emphasizes that safety starts with upper management's unwavering support. From the day Whalen joined the company, management made it clear that safety never takes a backseat to work deadlines. All employees are empowered with stop-work authority – and they receive a Safety Ovation award when they use it.
"We give people the time to complete their tasks safely and correctly," Whalen says. "There are no time restraints."
The company has high expectations for its clients and subcontractors as well. Valdes reviews the safety performance of all future and existing clients, and has developed a rigorous screening process to ensure that potential subcontractors have safety records as good as or better than its own.
Valdes Engineering Co.
200 employees/10 sites/
3 EHS professionals