THE BUSINESS OF SAFETY
AN INTERVIEW WITH A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER
AN INTERESTING PERSPECTIVE REGARDING
INVESTMENT IN OCCUPATIONALSAFETY AND HEALTH

The ASSE Council on Practices and Standards (CoPS) is committed to developing and publishing materials demonstrating that investment in safety, health and environment (SH&E) is an important business strategy for any organization and will positively impact the bottom line. ASSE has thirteen (13) Practice Specialties consisting of Academics, Construction, Consultants, Engineering, Environmental, Health Care, Industrial Hygiene, International, Management, Public Sector, Risk Management and Insurance, Mining, and Transportation. The ASSE members included in these practice specialties are leaders in their field with the knowledge and expertise needed to move safety and health forward on a global level.

This interview is sponsored by the Council on Practices and Standards Business of Safety Committee Business of Safety Committee (BOSC). The BoSC is tasked to be a data gathering, document preparation, and source of professional information regarding ASSE's efforts to show that investment in Safety, Health, and the Environment (SH&E) is a sound business strategy and can positively impact an organization's bottomline.

This interview is with Ken Melton who is the Proprietor of Delta Bowl, a 36 lane bowling center with 35 - 38 employees located in Antioch, California, northeast of San Francisco. As a proprietor, Ken is an active member of the Northern California Bowling Proprietors Association. Occupational safety for a bowling center includes use of chemicals, lockout / blockout and machine safeguarding. In the past 15 years, several mechanics have been killed by electrocution and crushing while working on energized pinsetters. None of these have occurred at Delta Bowl.

Ken has owned three businesses, including Delta Bowl. Also present and participating in this interview is Randy Aiello, Mechanic Supervisor. Randy also acts as the Safety Manager for the company. Ken and Randy were interviewed by James Boretti, CSP, a Professional Member of the ASSE and a key member of the BoSC.

BoSC: Can you give us a history of your company and yourself?

Melton: I bought Delta Bowl from Brunswick Corporation on December 18, 1999. The other businesses I owned include a coffee shop and a Dominoes Pizza franchise. It was while I owned the Dominoes Pizza franchise that I was exposed to safety. Safety at Dominoes concentrated on driver safety. The Regional Manager for my franchise was ahead of his time, and we implemented a defensive driving safety program that all delivery drivers had to go through before they could take to the road at my franchise. I sold the franchise well before the safe driving concerns drew public attention to Dominoes. (Note: Some pictures of Delta Below)

BoSC: For our readers, could you explain your philosophy regarding SH&E investment and how it fit into the strategic goals and objectives of Company?

Melton: Simply, I view it as the right thing to do for my business. I really don't look at the money spent on it. Basically, I want the job done right, and I view safety as part of doing the job right. What I have seen safety do for my business is elevate performance standards in operations. Awareness for doing a good job has increased, and I can visually see it in the way people perform.

Aiello: I agree that it is the right thing to do for the business. I know several other business owners that look at safety as a liability cost, a way of protecting the company from liability. While safety may have that affect, what I've seen is an improvement in working standards across the board. Employees seem to have a greater awareness and caring, and I see people cleaning their areas and making it look good for the customers.

BoSC: Have you calculated the cost of your SH & E investment, and the return you have received on that investment?

Melton: Well, it's too early to tell. We've just instituted our safety program earlier this year. What I do know is Delta Bowl generates roughly $40,000 - $50,000 per lane annually. It has taken about $8,000 - $10,000 to get the safety program started, and I anticipate the program to cost about $5,000 to run annually. Most of the cost is in the time spent for training employees, and some is in purchasing equipment. There is a continuing cost to doing things right. And, the cost for running the program decreases after it is started. The budget for safety is less than ½ of 1% of gross revenues; that's about $150 per lane per year! That's nothing.

Aiello: I also think it's too early to tell what the return is. But I'll add another return I've seen; in general, employees tend to argue when change is introduced into the workplace. I find that when change is introduced into the workplace because of a safety reason, employees almost never argue. Instead, they like finding out how they can work in a new way. And I think that is why we've seen the improvement in working standards across the board.

BoSC: Delta Bowl is certainly a nice sized company, but does not have the resources of a Fortune 500 Company. How does a company such as Delta Bowl address SH&E issues to ensure that investment in SH&E has a positive impact on your bottomline? Do you see yourself as a small business or more a mid-range type of company?

Melton: You're right; we don't have the resources of a Fortune 500 company. But, what we do have is a medium-sized company attitude; staff takes on managing their areas, concern for how it operates, rather than having me as the owner managing it. We are a small company by size of employees, and typically owners of small businesses manage every part of their business. To address safety, we hire and rely upon an outside safety expert. This gives us the expertise resource we need. We have our safety process set up so I as the owner monitor Randy as the safety person who monitors the implementation of the safety program, and we have an outside expert to help with keeping things current.

Aiello: In terms of positive impact, I see it in the depth of (staff) effort that has increased.

BoSC: What has driven you to be a champion of SH & E issues?

Melton: Again, I feel it is the right thing to do for my business, and I picked up answers to how I can get safety as part of the process in seminars provided to business owners. The issue isn't a fear of fines and lawsuits. I learned early on from my uncle that you cannot run a successful business from fear, a fear of fines and lawsuits; you just can't run a business that way. Safety can be used as a work performance standard, and that's why I "champion" SH & E issues with my business colleagues.

Aiello: I have to admit that I was skeptical of safety as something helpful at first, but I now realize, having been through the process, that it (safety) is a good business issue and that it's good for business. It can build confidence.

BoSC: In regard to Delta Bowl's investment in SH&E, do you view SH&E performance to be more of a management responsibility, employee function, or more of a cross team initiative?

Melton: For our company, it is definitely a cross team initiative. Safety isn't something that can be mandated by management; employees have to support it.

BoSC: Are there any specific actions you take in your position where you found it necessary to intervene on behalf of a safe and healthy workplace at Delta Bowl from which our members could learn something?

Melton: I teach people to fix things immediately, and to do that you have to point it out immediately. You have to know how to identify things, and then model behavior to promptly fix it. And, one thing we do is talk about safety issues during our down time; we don't wait for the next safety meeting. This programs our first thought to be on safety. Also, we hired a safety professional that can offer us a 3rd set of eyes so things don't get stale.

Aiello: As Ken said, safety stays fresh by looking at it and working with it daily.

BoSC: Our members report that at times safety professionals do not seem to receive the highest attention of senior management. What are your suggestions and recommendations for communication strategies that safety professionals can use to interact better with senior management of large organizations?

Melton: First off, senior management has to be committed to safety. Safety professionals need to convince them to do it. While I'm not sure on specific strategies, I can tell you that at our organization it was Randy who felt the standards we were keeping in safety were not up to the standards of the previous owners, Brunswick. Although I did care about what he was saying, I didn't have an answer and direction I could take. It wasn't until I attended a seminar where safety was discussed that I found my answer and direction. Additionally, I think your association (ASSE) could sponsor seminars in various locations to provide an answer and direction much like I got. Seminars should target business owner and provide safety as solutions to problems, not "you gotta do this."

BoSC: There is some thought among SH&E professionals that they have less of an opportunity than other professionals to advance into the top echelons of major organizations. Do you see this as a real issue or perhaps simply a perception that needs to be corrected?

Melton: I think this is a real issue for SH & E professionals. And I think it's because it (SH & E) is so specialized and professionals are viewed as "just a safety guy." As an example, I as a manager can hire an expert to answer specific questions, such as safety. But I wouldn't hire a safety professional to run my business because they don't know how the money works. The safety professional is viewed as an expert. SH & E professionals need to know how to make the company money. I think SH & E professionals need continuing education in finance and business topics, and need to know how the money works before they can advance to the top echelons of major organizations.

BoSC: Can you give our members your philosophy or any guidance as to how SH&E professionals can advance into senior management? In what areas do you think we, as a profession, need to improve if we are to move into senior level management positions?

Melton: I think SH & E professionals have to understand how the money works. Continuing education or having an education in the following topics would help: 1) Finance and understanding budgets, 2) Business Law and Marketing, and 3) Management & Operations.

BoSC: Any ideas about how SH&E professionals can make the argument to senior management that investment in SH&E makes good business sense?

Melton: Yes, a payback calculation; show the potential and actual payback, even using things safety professional know: lost work time, workers' compensation mod rates, etc.

Aiello: Can also show payback in terms of average claims costs and their reduction.

BoSC: How do you see OSHA compliance? Our view has been that OSHA compliance is the bare minimum, but you may have a different perspective from managing your own operations?

Melton: I never even considered OSHA an issue. Instead, I use it (OSHA regulations) as a reference.

Aiello: I didn't even know of OSHA, I only knew of it.

BoSC: What motivates SH & E in your organization?

Melton: I think my motivation stems from my belief that it is the right way to run the business. It helps establish high standards in business practices, and it improves the overall operation.

Aiello: I think safety is a good start. I actually see people's attitude / behavior change in all aspects of the business. People are motivated because they can trouble shoot and problem solve rather than being yelled at or "harped" on. I think involvement and participation is what motivates safety in our organization. I see people contributing, like "let's do it this way instead."

BoSC: What do you think motivates SH & E in the workplace? (i.e., insurance costs, security / terrorism concerns, desire to have a safer workplace, OSHA compliance, improved organization culture, better business results such as profitability and efficiency)

Melton: For most business colleagues I've known or been involved with, I think its compliance. I think that's what motivates most people; that, and protection from being sued.

BoSC: If you could send a message to our members regarding the future of SH&E and the workplace, what would it be?

Melton: I think you need some kind of marketing program; both in your association (ASSE) and as individual members. The association (ASSE) could provide marketing seminars to individual members, and help build useful tools for member to use. The association (ASSE) should charge members for this service; no association can collect enough dues to cover such things. They (ASSE) might consider offering seminars to business owners on "what you can do" and supporting the individual with what they offer to companies and how they serve them. Also, they (ASSE) should consider professional development / continuing education for members in business topics as we've discussed.

BoSC: Any final thoughts or suggestions you would like to share with our members?

Melton: No other thoughts at this time. Thank you for asking me to participate. I hope your members find my thoughts insightful.