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Mastering Safety From The Top Down

        Prepared by Trent J. Keenan, PLS & Kristina Poulter                               An abstract of The Geoholics Podcast –
                                                                                                Episode 109 & 112

                                                         A strong and safe company culture isn’t created in a vacuum. It comes first
                                                         and foremost from a company’s leadership.

                                                         Culture is woven from the daily choices made by employees at every level,
                                                         but the stage is set by those at the top.

                                                         From employee onboarding to safety toolbox talks to the difficult decision
                                                         of knowing which employees need to be let go, perfect culture and zero-
                                                         incident safety are a target that you’ll never hit. It’s something that you’re
                                                         always striving for.

                                                         Helping to shape company culture can be an art form.

                                                         Kent Groh and The Geoholics podcast team recently interviewed two
                                                         titans of culture: Mike Bontrager, VP General Manager for Alston
        Construction’s Arizona office, and Brian Owens, VP of Safety & Team Development for the Buesing Corporation.

        Mike described his days as a turnaround specialist helping struggling offices make incredible comebacks, while Brian shared why safety
        culture should be approached as an inverted pyramid.

        Together, their advice provides a strong foundational approach for companies both large and small.

                                             What a “broken” company culture looks like

                                                           Mike was working at The Weitz Company as President of the Southwest
                                                           division when the great recession of 2008 hit hard.

                                                           As things slowed down, Mike’s superiors complimented him on the job
                                                           he’d done building the Southwest office, and asked if he’d be interested
                                                           in turning around a company in another division that was struggling.

                                                           The company in question was headquartered in Honolulu. Mike soon
                                                           found himself in a tropical paradise—but facing a tough challenge.

                                                           Yes, the company was doing poorly. But the main issue was a cultural
                                                           one. And it stemmed from the person who was running the company. It
                                                           took about 18 months to train the owner to run a large operation versus
                                                           a small operation, and took a lot of behind-the-scenes effort. After that
                                                           success, Mike found himself with a new career title: the turnaround guy.
        The most toxic culture he encountered was an office in Arizona.

        Mike had never seen a culture this broken, ever.

        “People lied to each other. People gossiped about each other. People stole from the company,” Mike said.

        In one case, three employees were responsible for ordering snacks for the office kitchen. The would purposefully over-order each week
        so that they could load the extra supplies into their cars and take it home every Friday.

        In another instance, a superintendent would buy Home Depot gift cards with the pretense of handing them out as a safety reward on his
        job site. It turns out he was keeping them for himself—to the tune of over $10,000.

        These examples sound extreme, but it’s a clear picture of what can happen when key values like honesty and integrity aren’t allowed to
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                                                                                        The Nevada Traverse Vol.49, No.1, 2022 5
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