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Growing Safely at Sunbelt Rentals

Growing Safely at Sunbelt Rentals

Changing employee attitudes about safety helps keep Sunbelt on top

This heavy construction equipment rental company is no stranger to growing pains: Sunbelt Rentals went from operating two stores in 1996 to a total of 450 in 2008. Fortunately, safety grew along with the company.

To keep employees safe as they load, unload and transport 120-foot boom lifts, scissor lifts, forklifts and other heavy equipment, Sunbelt conducts a detailed, comprehensive checkout process for all equipment, as well as inspections for all delivery vehicles.

“Safety often seems to be a bolt-on to your regular business instead of integrated into business,” observes Jeff Stachowiak, Sunbelt's national safety director. “We're seeing a change in safety in that regard. It's not something else we have to do, it's part of what we do. We're seeing more positive feedback from the employees about that.”

To measure safe workplace behavior, management fill out Safety Observation Sheets (SOS) and Driver Observation Sheets (DOS) that focus not on specific employees, but instead on tasks being performed. SOS and DOS are tools to help management give feedback about safe or unsafe behaviors.

“The fact is, you will observe 10 times more safe behaviors than you will unsafe behaviors,” explains Stachowiak. “Try to find three or four things they're doing right before you tell them what they're doing wrong.”

Sunbelt promotes safety awareness by posting “Lessons Learned” fliers that anonymously describe incidents or near-misses; encouraging safety committees and work practice audits; and providing all new employees with 5 days of orientation. In addition, every injury, no matter how minor, must be reported to the company's profit center management as soon as possible.

These efforts have paid off, as evidenced by the numbers: The company recently recorded a lost-time rate of .78, compared to the industry average of 3.2. According to Stachowiak, companies large or small have a better shot of improving their safety programs if they have support from upper management.

“When it comes from the top, that's when things get done,” he says.

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