Building a Safety Performance Culture, One Mile at a Time

Feb. 1, 2011
A program launched in 2006 to proactively improve a national materials and transportation construction company’s safety record continues to foster positive results – both in actual reductions in accidents and insurance costs, and in increases in employee participation and commitment to positive behaviors around the workplace.

Oldcastle Materials' APAC-Missouri company launched its ROADS (Rewarding Outstanding Achievements that Drive Success) program to improve a once-stagnant safety record and to change the once-reactive culture of the company to one of positive reinforcement with a reward-based process that encourages interactive learning and promotes discretionary effort. Because a handful of enlightened managers have been focusing on increasing the engagement levels of the entire work force, the culture is changing.

APAC employees who participate in the ROADS program can earn miles, which are redeemable for merchandise, four different ways:

  • By performing any number of set activities chosen by the safety committee. These include submitting a near-miss report, performing a job safety analysis or mentoring a new hire.

  • Being observed performing a task the safe way is another way to earn miles. Supervisors are armed with duplicate coupon books worth 100 miles and regularly provide this on-the-spot positive reinforcement.

  • Completing the various e-learning courses integrated on the ROADS Web site is another way to earn miles. The customized multimedia and narrated OSHA and MSHA content features quizzes and interactive exercises.

  • Finally, miles may be awarded on a global or departmental level to celebrate company-wide performance, housekeeping contests and so on.

Since the launch of ROADS at APAC's Missouri operations in 2006, the program has roughly doubled in size — from 500 employee participants to more than 1,700 — by adding APAC operations in Kansas City, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.


“Over the last couple of years, we've made several changes to the program,” said Christopher Schwedtmann, APAC's operations manager for EHS and HR services. “The ROADS program and its online platform, created and operated by KL&P Motivation, is now more visually appealing and more user-friendly.”

He said the reward gallery has grown during that time and that the company evaluates the program every quarter. Employees now can personalize the gallery with a reward that they really want to work for, said Schwedtmann. “If there is something that they really want, we can put it on the site,” he added. “That enhancement was based on employee feedback.”

In addition, Schwedtmann said that based on two employee surveys conducted since the ROADS launch, APAC has improved its online training modules by making them more interactive, and thus more interesting and engaging for participants.

“What has excited me the most is that the people of our organization have embraced this and have expanded ROADS beyond just a safety program,” Schwedtmann said. ”It's really seen as a performance management program. It falls into place with performance management technology — set pinpoints, give feedback and positively reinforce what's being done correctly.”

He said that more and more frequently, employees are being awarded miles for efforts that contribute to productivity and how they are doing their job for process improvement than for pure safety activities. “It's allowed us to begin to move from the separate safety and operational programs to one concept of safe production,” noted Schwedtmann. “Safety is beginning to be part of the job not just an add-on.”

Other APAC executives remarked that, as with many programs of this type, ROADS did not get off to a rapid start, nor have results been quick to tally. However, with time and refinements suggested and driven by APAC's own employees, the acceptance level and positive results have grown.

“I thought ROADS was great when it was first implemented, but I was worried if it would be sustainable,” said Kris McClanahan, vice president — aggregate operations. “With the proper management support, more employees will become involved. The program is kept current and it has not become stale. It is a great positive rewards program that drives good behaviors and employees can earn rewards on their own. It is nice to be able to reward someone in a positive manner for stopping the unsafe condition or behavior rather than policing the operations, waiting for offenders.”

Arlen Halvorson, president of APAC's Central Division, acknowledged that, “ROADS had a slow and rocky start in the first few months, but quickly gained popularity at the ease of use and value that it brought to our employees.”


“There has been a dramatic culture change wherever ROADS has been implemented,” Halvorson added. “Our employees feel they have an impact on both our safety program and also the overall direction of their operations.”

According to him, the ROADS program provides empowerment for both employees and supervisors. The primary purpose of the ROADS program was to improve safety results, but the company accomplished that through building a better safety and operational culture.

Halvorson noted that ROADS has become an important training ground for interpersonal communications within the company. “Giving praise is generally easy,” he said. “Giving praise often affords the opportunity to become leaders through positive reinforcement. Employees want to do the ‘right’ things. But when they don't, a communication line already exists that allows proper correction to be given that is more likely to be accepted and acted upon by the employee because he or she knows they will once again receive positive reinforcement when things are back on track.”


The program is unique in that it fully integrates an incentive engine, a database manager and learning management system for e-learning. The platform can record, report and then reward for employee discretionary effort, best practices and professional development.

“The old way of looking at incentives was thinking that they motivate someone,” said Jon Kaufman, vice president of KL&P. “We now recognize that the intrinsic motivations of autonomy, mastery and purpose are what really drive each of us.”


Schwedtmann, APAC Missouri and Kansas City's EHS head, said that it has taken 2 or 3 years to see measureable results in safety record improvements, noting that the easy measurements, such as recordable incident rates and citations issued during inspections from 2006 to 2009, dramatically dropped. In addition, he reported that insurance claim costs per manhour decreased 90 percent during that same period.

He noted that two of APAC's safety statistics — notably recordable injury rates and government citations — negatively can be impacted when companies are involved in mergers and acquisitions. “ROADS is something we can use to help our new people work together, and has been a way to help the people from the new businesses look at safety differently. There were over 650 employees new to APAC and ROADS in Missouri and the Kansas City area in 2010. That kind of rapid growth can really disrupt an operation and its culture. ROADS helps to curb that disruption and get quicker buy-in from the newly acquired employees,” said Schwedtmann.

The company has conducted small-group surveys on employee attitudes around safety, and found significantly better results from benchmark surveys done 8 years ago. “We've found that people are more open to talk about safety, and don't feel they'll get into trouble bringing up a safety concern,” he said.

The culture change around safety and overall company performance is improving, he noted, and continues to show further promise. “We're striving for a performance culture as opposed to a compliance culture. We're working toward world-class performance, asking ourselves what else can we do above and beyond the regulations and job specs to differentiate ourselves from our competitors? What can we do to encourage more discretionary effort from our employees?”

Schwedtmann uses the reports the system provides to get a handle on leading indicators, allowing management to intervene with under-performing and disengaged crews. In fact, current research points to engagement levels as the primary risk indicator for workplace errors and incidents.

The next big step for ROADS, said Schwedtmann, is to “expand the program to other operations within APAC and Oldcastle Materials while continuing to improve the ROADS programs in place. It goes to what we want to achieve as part of the company's overall core values — zero incidents, 100 percent compliance and an employee- driven safety performance culture.”

(For a look at how the ROADS program began, how it operates, and initial results, see “New Direction Drives Safety Success at APAC-Missouri,” EHS Today, January 2008.)

Sue Voyles is a writer, business magazine editor and college English instructor. She may be reached at [email protected] or 734-667-2005. Jon Kaufman is vice president and creative director of Kaufman, Levine & Partners, Inc. Kaufman heads KL&P Motivation, and has been designing and administrating incentive and training programs for safety and productivity improvement for over 25 years. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 800-359-7995 ext 228.

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