Safety Culture: Methods to Lower Your Experience Mod - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Safety Culture: Methods to Lower Your Experience Mod

When it comes to insurance, your experience modification (mod) is a factor you receive annually based on your historical claims for workers’ compensation and your payroll. Those two are compared with the national averages and you receive a number either below or above one.

An experience mod below one means you’re doing better than the industry average, while a mod above one means you’ve had more loss experience. Your experience mod not only impacts your workers’ compensation costs but can prevent you from bidding on construction projects as a general contractor can use experience mods to prequalify landscape contractors.

The good news is there are steps landscape companies can take to improve their experience mod.

In an episode of The Big Green Podcast, NALP CEO Britt Wood spoke with Drew Garcia, vice president of Rancho Mesa Insurance Services and Brian Moore, president of BellaVista Landscape Services, Inc., based in San Jose, California, about how landscape company owners can positively impact their experience mod.

BellaVista serves residential and commercial clients and uses several strategies to manage their experience mod, both before an accident and after one occurs. Moore says they don’t have a secret ingredient to safety. Keeping their mod low takes hard work and focusing on it every day to make an impact.  

“Our safety program is not done by accident,” Moore says. “It’s not done by passive action. It’s done by executing a very deliberate strategy that we have all developed and then met with our team so they understand why we want to do it and how that will impact the health and safety of our employees, and then we execute that.”

Pre-Accident Practices

In years past, Moore says they would have a short conversation with new hires, give them a uniform and then show them the crew they’d be riding with for the day.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” Moore says. “We instituted a new hire process many years back that requires a full eight-hour onboarding day for all new hires.”

During this onboarding day, BellaVista shares who they are as a company, why they’re here and what they’re trying to achieve on a day-to-day basis. They also explain who their clients are and what the new hire’s role is and how it impacts the business as a whole.

“We find that really important to set the expectations,” Moore says. “It’s really hard to know what’s expected of you if no one ever tells you.”

They also cover training harassment and chemical safety so each new hire has the same baseline knowledge. Moore credits Garcia for suggesting implementing a morning stretching routine.  

“We’ve changed it up again to a really short warmup that warms up your core muscles, gets the blood flowing, and it brings everybody to a circle in the morning,” Moore says. “We can have a quick safety chat; we can all see each other eye to eye.”

Moore says these warmups also provide him an opportunity to participate and show his team members they apply to everyone in the business. As he stretches with the team, he has the chance to learn more about their daily lives. He says it also helps them spot anyone who might be nursing an injury that wasn’t reported the day before.

“Unfortunately, in some situations, we find team members who aren’t fit to participate in our culture because they don’t have the same respect for focusing on safety and warming up the body,” Moore says. “Unfortunately, those are challenging decisions, but we want to make sure that everybody participates so that we can go to work safely.”

He says they have the mentality that their processes are never finished and are always working to improve their safety program. The company recently added a safety director of safety and training whose sole focus is to be there for BellaVista’s employees and develop more efficient safety and training programs.

Since bringing on their safety director, they’ve added CPR and first aid training as one of their baselines for every employee to know.

“I remember years ago, we did that for all of our supervisors,” Moore says. “We quickly realized our supervisors aren’t on all properties all the time. Then we rolled it to crew leaders. Well, what are you doing when the crew leader needs assistance? A crew member really needs to know the same level of safety training.”

Post-Accident Processes

While accidents are unfortunate, Moore acknowledges that injuries are inevitable based on the nature of their work. What truly matters is how they respond after one takes place.

The first step is to report when an accident occurs. Once they know, the employee is transported to a clinic for first aid or an evaluation.

“Although it may seem a little bit too much, we want to make sure that our employees are seen no matter what the injury is, a small laceration to a bee sting,” Moore says. “We have had bee stings years ago that employee went home and ended up at the ER in the middle of the night because of some sort of reaction.”

Moore says they can develop a plan with their clinics to treat the injury, know the timeline for recovery and what restrictions that employee needs as they recover. The director of safety and training communicates to the local office what those restrictions are and what modified duty the employee can take on while still working.

He says bringing their employees back to work immediately helps limit their indemnity.

“Even if they have to ride supervisor for the day, or they have to file papers or do whatever they can do,” Moore says. “They’re here; they’re earning their paycheck. We scheduled their follow-up appointments during work hours. I don’t expect them to have to treat their work-related injury on personal time, for starters, but then also, if it’s during work hours, we can make sure they get there and we can take them to the appointment.”

Missed appointments can lead to injuries not getting treated and exacerbate the problem. They check in on the employee regularly to see how they’re doing and let them know BellaVista is there to take care of them.

Moore says timely communication with the insurance provider is also important as they can’t help you manage a claim until they have all the necessary information.

“I think the piece a lot of business owners miss is creating that relationship with your insurance carrier so that you have a stronger outcome, stronger communication,” Garcia says. “He’s invested time and energy in creating those relationships with their carrier and he views that as long-term partnerships and I think you can see the benefit of ultimately what he gets in the end for his employees.”

Garcia adds that owners should keep their safety process simple so they can repeat them and continue to build off of them.

Listen to the full podcast here.

NALP’s safety programs are produced in partnership with Rancho Mesa.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.