| Winter 2008

Award Winners Invest in Safety
You could see a 600 percent return if you do the same

By David Wylie

Dennis Steel photo
Dennis Steel was one of the 143 policyholders who earned Texas Mutual's top honor for workplace safety this fall.

Bob Dennis has experienced the consequences of workplace accidents. He’s in no hurry to relive them.

“I helped the EMS crew load one of our iron workers onto a stretcher and put him in an ambulance at one of our jobsites,” said Dennis. “It’s a sobering experience to see one of your young men in pain, especially when you know you could have prevented it. We will not accept injuries as a cost of doing business.”

That philosophy helped Dennis Steel of Leander turn its safety program around and win its first award from the Texas Mutual loss prevention department.

One hundred and forty-three policyholders won either a trophy or a plaque. Loss experience and premium size were factors in qualifying for an award.

Dennis is well aware of the potential payoffs of a workplace safety program. His company has earned about $78,000 in dividends from Texas Mutual based largely on its commitment to preventing accidents. Safety-conscious employers can also reduce their claim costs by 20 percent to 40 percent, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. For every dollar they invest in safety, they could get a $4 to $6 return.

But Dennis Steel is a family business. Bob is the business manager. His brother, David, is the president. His nephew, Michael, is the chief estimator and senior project manager, and his niece, Natasha, is the operations manager.

Bob, David, Michael and Natasha admit that awards and cash returns on investment are nice, but they embrace safety because they care about their employees.

“We consider our employees an extension of our family,” said Dennis. “No deadline is so important that we will jeopardize any of our family members’ safety.”

Dennis Steel’s field inventory includes cranes, saws and a 120-ton machine that cuts, shears and bends metal and iron. With that much heavy gear, it’s no surprise that the company expects its employees to stay alert.

“We’re dealing with heavy, unforgiving material in a dynamic environment,” said Dennis. “There’s a lot going on, so you have to have eyes in the back of your head.”

That is one reason that the Dennis Steel safety program includes pre-employment, post-accident and random drug testing.

“We want all of our employees to go home with everything they came in with,” added Dennis.

Refinery Terminal Fire Company photo
Refinery Terminal Fire Company

Refinery Terminal Fire Company (RTFC) also operates in a dynamic, high-risk environment. In fact, the company was created in response to what is largely considered America’s worst industrial accident.

In 1947, a French cargo ship carrying 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded while docked in Texas City. More than 500 people died, including 28 firefighters. The following year, RTFC was created in the Corpus Christi port area.

Its mission is to respond to fires, rescues, medical and hazardous materials emergencies in the oil, petrochemical, pipeline and port facilities across Texas.

This fall, RTFC’s commitment to doing a dangerous job safely resulted in its second Texas Mutual safety award.

“Safety is an essential part of everything we do,” said Damien Forneris, RTFC assistant fire chief/safety officer. “We start every day with a safety meeting where we review the hazards of the job. From there, we go through a safety checklist to make sure we have our personal protective equipment and our trucks are in good condition.”

Like Dennis Steel, RTFC has earned dividends—nearly $253,000 worth—based largely on its commitment to workplace safety. In those rare instances when employees are involved in accidents, RTFC requires them to notify a supervisor immediately, even if they were not injured. The staff reviews every incident report during its monthly safety meetings.

The goal is to uncover the root causes of incidents, identify ways to prevent similar incidents and, most importantly, engage employees in safety.

“We don’t run a top-down safety program,” said Forneris. “We have an employee safety committee that helps with all aspects of our program. We believe that if we ask employees to help develop, monitor and improve the program, they will be more committed to it.”

Michelle Lawrence agrees. Lawrence is vice president of K Marketing, a New Braunfels-based company that hauls propane across Texas and Louisiana.

K Marketing’s safety program includes everything you would expect from a two-time safety award winner: pre-hire background checks, new-hire safety orientation, follow-up training for all employees, hazard inspections and regularly scheduled safety meetings.

But Lawrence credits employee engagement with fueling the safety program’s long-term success.

“We recognize a driver of the week and a driver of the month,” said Lawrence. “And every employee is eligible for cash bonuses if they are accident-free. The recognition keeps our employees involved in the safety program.”

Lawrence points to the company’s bottom line as proof that its safety program is working. By reducing workplace accidents, K Marketing has lowered its premium by $20,000 during the past three years. It has also earned nearly $82,000 in dividends.

Texas Mutual is committed to helping all of its policyholders achieve similar results. If you want to launch a safety program or improve an existing program, read “Get Safety Tips from the Pros,” and visit the Safety & Return-to-Work section.

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