Tucker Paving—Using safety and return to work to save—and earn—money

Safety has been a driving force for family-owned Tucker Paving, a Central Florida construction company that specializes in concrete, paving and site work.

In 2008, when most of the construction industry saw only a sagging economy, owner Larry "Chip" Tucker, Jr. saw a new opportunity. He noticed potential clients looking at contractor safety records as a major factor in their bid selection process. Chip, already safety conscious, notes that, "Strengthening our solid safety record would make us a strong candidate for national contracts. This is a high-risk industry that reported 774 fatalities nationwide in 2010—and safety is the one absolute way to increase bottom-line results. I decided that we could be even better at safety than we were." He called on Terry Tucker to unify safety programs throughout the business, fine-tune them and showcase the results. Terry signed on as a full-time safety director, enlisted the company's longtime workers' comp insurance agent, Duke Mills of WorkComp Solutions, and Summit, their comp company of 25 years. It is a winning partnership, designed to make safety a daily priority.

Creating a culture of safety
Terry instituted a zero-incident goal that includes mandatory hard hats, safety glasses and steel-toed work boots on every jobsite. "We've always required the equipment," he explains, "but adding the goal ensures that every employee understands how safety affects the entire company. We're saying, 'care enough to be accountable,' and it makes a difference. I see our guys on jobsites, and if they forget a piece of their safety equipment, they borrow a replacement." Weekly safety meetings are in both English and Spanish, safety training is offered for every employee position, and pre-task safety worksheets are used regularly.

Keeping employees with return to work
"We have folks who have been with us for 25 or even 30 years, and we also use temporary workers. And every person out here understands that safety takes teamwork, and that it's part of being in business for us." Terry is quick to explain that a key component of the company culture is that should there ever be an accident, Tucker will be there for its employees. Terry uses their return-to-work program as an employee benefit, and while he aims for zero injuries, he understands that his folks like the security of knowing they'll have a paycheck—and a job—should an accident happen.

Opening the lines of communication
Chip Tucker explains, "We work hard to get our folks back on the job as quickly as possible because they don't get better by sitting home. We find something productive for them to do, whether it's answer the phone or shred paper. We pay their wages because it's the right thing to do, and because it helps keep our experience modification factor low. But I also want them to get well as fast as the doctor says they can. A couple of years back, we had a series of small accidents; sprained ankles, that kind of thing. At that time, it seemed like they weren't coming back to work, and it was frustrating. Terry and I would hear one thing from the guy who was hurt and another thing from the doctors' offices. Our Summit adjustor was in the middle trying to get it all straightened out. To get everyone on the same page, I called Duke, who called Summit, and we all decided to try the let's-get-together-and-talk approach."

Chip and Terry set up weekly meetings with each injured employee. They met around his office conference table, along with Duke and Tucker's HR director, Patrick Braisted, and they had their Summit adjustor on the line. The goal was simple, "If anyone was having a problem, Terry and I wanted to know. If our employees weren't going to scheduled appointments or physical therapy, we wanted to know why and what we could do to help. Summit worked with us; Duke pulled everything together. They called each doctor and explained that we would meet whatever job restriction was appropriate. I think the docs were surprised, but it worked. I think our guys appreciated being wanted back at work—although I don't think they particularly loved answering the phones! Most of all, I wanted them to know that we will do everything in our power to get them back on the job because we do care and they are part of our business success."

Employees want—and need— to work
Clettus Greene, an injured employee, agrees. "I fell and tore some ligaments in my knee, so I came in and did desk work. Then I had a reaction to the pain medication that caused real complications. Because I was coming in each week and everyone was there, I was able to get help. Duke got the ball rolling, and Summit worked with the doctor until we found a medication that worked for me. But I never had to miss a paycheck or worry that my job wouldn't be there. You just want to be part of a company that looks out for you like that. "Patrick coordinates the light duty for Tucker Paving and believes that the program makes a difference. "Our folks want to work and be productive," he says. "Sitting at home doesn't make anyone feel any better. We have had tremendous success with getting people in for weekly meetings to talk about how things are going, how they are feeling and what we can do to help."

Results to be proud of
Tucker Paving recently celebrated day 250 of their year-without-a-lost-time-injury goal. That's big news for any large business, particularly in the high-risk world of construction. Chip Tucker is proud of his company's safety success and stellar mod, which is now front and center of every job quote they offer. "It takes all of us working at it together, being willing to try new things and reinforce success. Duke, Terry, Patrick, our employees and Summit—we are all partnering to take safety to the next level here, and it's working."