On July 20th 2021, West Tree Services facilitated a safety stand down for Gunnison Tree Services employees in Flovilla Georgia at the Indian Springs State Park. A safety stand down is an opportunity to bring focus at all levels to promoting and improving safe operations. Throughout the course of the day, over 350 GTS employees gathered to listen to leaders from West speak about their “Safety Culture Awakening.”
West CEO Ford Overton started the presentation by describing an accident they had in 2019 that dramatically changed the way West views safety. “If you’re not safe servicing the utility industry, you’re not serving the utility industry,” he said. West President, Matthew West, then described the steps that they took to empower their employees and improve human performance.
One of the biggest takeaways from the changes that West implemented is that every employee has the authority to stop work and every employee has the obligation to speak up when something is not safe. While often the focus is on the safety of the equipment, the element of human error was the component that was previously missing from their safety program. As they delved deeper, it became clear in the process that more training and a culture of empowering employees to participate in safety is necessary to correct for the deficiency.
Through the experience of our partners in West Tree Service, GTS is able implement the changes West made to preempt a similar potentially dangerous situation. As part of the safety stand down, every employee is interviewed with questions such as “Do you feel that Gunnison Tree Service has a positive safety culture?”. These interviews allow the team to gather valuable information about the current safety culture at GTS and identify any areas for continued improvement in the safety program through suggestions and feedback.
The information and feedback from the stand down will be used by supervisors and managers to identify organizational weaknesses that can lead to errors. The IT department at West created a system for tracking the safety audits internally, enabling GTS to use this system to conduct the interviews as well as multiple weekly safety observations and audits. This process will result in fewer accidents, and identifies weaknesses in the current safety culture. In addition, GTS will track and trend incidents from the past to ensure we do not repeat them. As well, GTS will use positive reinforcement to promote safety performance.
Most companies provide adequate safety training for their employees, however the human behavior element of safety is also critically important. GTS is excited to focus on our culture of behavioral safety through empowering our team members. During the presentation, Senior GTS VP Robert Parmer said, “We have to do better. We’re going to start by holding ourselves to those expectations.”
In June of 2021, Warren Equity Partners announced the creation of Gunnison Company after the acquisition of West, Woodson and Pittman -- these companies combined with GTS are a leader in the vegetation management business, providing services to the entire Southeastern United States.