E Light Electric is the number one electrical contractor in solar. Based out of Denver, Colorado, they’ve had over 5 million man hours without any lost time incidents. We’re proud to have E Light Electric as a part of our community. We sat down with Adam Richmond, Jason Wheeler and Ted “Smitty” Smith to find out more about how they manage safety in the field and establish a safety culture.
Adam Richmond – Site Safety Manager at E Light Electric
According to Adam Richmond, Site Safety Manager at E Light Electric, his previous employers didn’t place much significance on safety. By extension, neither did Adam. “You’re hearing that these are the rules, but then you see that your peers aren’t following them. Sometimes the guy you work for directly is not following them, and so you’re not understanding how important it is”. Of course, no company promotes poor safety practices. There are plenty of safety materials and trainings on proper procedures. Despite access to safety materials though, these learnings frequently do not translate into practical application on a job site.
Explaining the “why”
In Adam’s opinion, the biggest reason employees fail to follow proper safety procedures is pretty simple; it isn’t real for them. The “why” behind safety procedures is left out of the trainings or quickly glossed over. In order to get buy-in from employees, trainings need to emphasize that “it’s not just another rule or another piece of paper, but these things came about because there was an incident at the company or a fatality in the industry. That’s how it becomes real to them.” Then it also becomes ingrained in the job and the company.
Management needs to prioritize safety
Richmond cites management emphasis and on-the spot corrections as a crucial part to establishing that safety culture. “Where the buy-in started for me was working with guys where they placed value on [safety] and explained why and would show you and talk to you normally, not orientation-speak. A guy that you work with was explaining to you ‘no man, don’t put your hands right there.’” A whole workforce of peers taking the small amount of time and effort required to speak up creates the momentum required to attain over 5 million man hours without a lost time incident, as E Light Electric has. Holding colleagues accountable may ruffle some feathers but as Richmond says, “I’d rather somebody be mad for coaching but they go home at the end of the day. As the Site Safety Manager, I’m responsible.”
But a safety culture starts with the individual
Peer and manager coaching only goes so far though. Personal accountability is the foundation for consistent safety on a worksite. One of the best ways to keep personal safety front of mind is for employees to remember what they’re working for or more specifically, who. Many team members are the main or sole breadwinners for their families, so an injury could entirely transform their lives and the lives of their family members. Adam has seen first hand the impact that an injury can have on a team member. It not only impacts them in obvious and direct ways, being unable to come into work, but also psychologically. It impacts their identity to an extent. The rest of the team takes a hit to morale as well, and that hit ripples throughout the entire company.
Jason Wheeler – VP of Operations
For Jason Wheeler, VP of Operations at E Light Electric, the care he has for his family is extended to his work family at the company. “I’ll do anything for my wife and two kids to give them the opportunity to succeed. I look at a lot of these guys as my kids. I want them to succeed and know that they can grow and be more than they are today.”
An emphasis on training as a way of life
Taking care of employees includes not just safety but professional development as well. In fact, Jason sees the professional development as a differentiator in the industry and as a way to attract new talent. “Back in 2008 when we had the big downturn, especially in construction, over half of the tradesmen got out of the trade or retired. So we have a shortage of manpower of skilled trade.”
Now E Light Electric is hiring people who want to make career changes, but also young talent straight out of school and the company is placing an emphasis on education so they can uphold their own reputation as the standard in solar panel installation. “Our guys want to be the best and we want to be good partners on these projects. If we’re not successful, our customers aren’t successful. It’s really a culture that you have to build within everybody to let them know that safety is ultimately their responsibility. We can’t do it but we can give them the tools they need.”
Another crucial part of a safety culture is establishing open lines of communication. E Light works to give employees the go ahead to express concern. Jason says, “It starts with the training, they need to be aware of what’s going on around them but also raise their hand and say when they don’t feel comfortable doing something.”
Ted Smith – Director of Education and Loss Prevention
Ted Smith, Director of Education and Loss Prevention at E Light Electric, devotes time each week in the office to monitoring the safety stats. Field workers generate these stats using tools like iAuditor. For him, monitoring these stats not only enhanced the communication between field and office and amongst field teams, but also allows the company to identify areas where safety procedures are working really well and where they could be improved.
Getting a workforce up to speed quickly
As the Director of Education, Ted establishes the safety training that each apprentice or new E Light Electric employee undergoes. He uses iAuditor here as well, to cover safety hazards and detailed installation instructions. The workforce for each solar panel installation site is comprised of 75-80% local personnel. Most of these employees have never worked on a solar panel before. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees with less experience are more likely to be injured. That’s why E Light Electric places so much emphasis on their training program. They train both in the classroom and in the field.
E Light Electric uses technology to keep employees in the field apprised of new procedures or as standards of reference. This also allows them to collect data and visualize across the entire organization how those procedures are performing. In training, safety procedures and quality assurance, E Light Electric strives to work constant improvement into the fabric of their culture. To learn more about how E Light Electric uses iAuditor to establish a safety culture in their organization, check out the video here.
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