Company Applies Behavior Science to Create Successful Safety Program

From pipe cleaning to asbestos abatement, Michigan’s Taplin Holdings is involved in a variety of service offerings that require the company to be especially vigilant about proper safety

Company Applies Behavior Science to Create Successful Safety Program

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The numerous operations under the banner of Taplin Holdings take safety seriously. It is easy to see why. The Kalamazoo, Michigan-based company’s employees are routinely working around 15- to 20-ton trucks with extremely high-pressure vacuum and high-volume waterjetting systems. They poke around in holes in the ground, remediate hazardous spills or haul flammable liquids. There’s plenty of potential danger.

In response, owner Steve Taplin and his colleagues developed what they call their ELKS safety program. ELKS stands for “elimination of loss through knowledge and stewardship.” Essentially, the program teaches every employee to first learn how to work safely and then to conscientiously look out for other employees during the course of the workday.

The program began 15 years ago when a client offered Taplin a sizeable contract if his company would subscribe to a “behavior-based” safety program. Such an approach is defined as applying the science of behavior change to safety problems. Taplin took parts of other well-run safety programs and rolled it into the program for his company. He says it’s been a success. 

“The government looks at your safety record and insurance companies assess your premium according to that safety record, but internally we measure our safety by how many times throughout the month employees stop work,” Taplin says.

Another metric — how many “peer observations” occur in a month. Such incidents are when, say, one truck driver observes another driver’s unsafe driving and provides constructive feedback. The program hinges on employees interrupting work to draw attention to an unsafe condition or thinking through hypotheticals about what would happen if they had done this instead of that.

“The other key point about our safety program is that it is not run by some safety guy,” Taplin says. “It is run by the people in the field. People volunteering. We have a very strong safety record, and we protect it with every ounce of our being.

“We teach our people not to take things for granted. We work with dangerous equipment, so you don’t take anything for granted. On many general construction sites, I see workers become very complacent. I recently drove by a construction site and there was not a single person wearing a hard hat. If my guys did that, that would not be a good thing.”

Read more about Taplin Holdings in this full profile featured in the April 2019 issue of Dig Different magazine.


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