At Fort Bend ISD, Safety is Personal
Workplace safety programs have the power to increase productivity and cut costs. But at Fort Bend ISD, leaders don’t embrace safe work practices just because the budget says they should.
Dr. Yolanda Young, who heads up the district’s human resources department, works safely because she would rather spend her free time on a Bermuda beach than in a crowded emergency room.
The value of rest and relaxation isn’t lost on Director of Operations David Moore. He works safely because he doesn’t want an injury messing with his golf swing.
And for Customer Service Center Manager Jimmy Garcia, an investment in safety is an investment in his only child. “She’s my world, and I need to be in her life as long as possible,” said Garcia.
Garcia, Moore, Young, and other Fort Bend ISD leaders recently shared their motivation for steering clear of workplace accidents during the district’s Excellence Award-winning “I Work Safely Because” campaign. The campaign leveraged newsletters, monthly safety emails, and old-school breakroom bulletin boards to help employees connect the dots between workplace accidents and quality of life.
Management Commitment Drives Change
Gary Gamble is a certified school risk manager with 35 years’ experience promoting workplace safety in the public and private sectors. When he joined Fort Bend ISD in 2017, he saw a district in desperate need of a culture change.
“The safety program had been mostly ignored the past 10 years,” said Gamble. “Some employees accepted the status quo and did the bare minimum. Others didn’t consider safety at all while doing their jobs. To change attitudes, we had to establish safety as a value that never gets compromised.”
Gamble knew the transformation would not happen overnight. He also knew the first step was to get the people at the top of the org chart on board.
“When superintendents, directors, managers, and supervisors buy in, employees are more likely to buy in, as well. I consider myself a safety salesman promoting my ideas to leadership,” said Gamble.
To close the deal, Gamble distributes monthly reports that show leaders the human and monetary costs of accidents. He’s also getting one-on-one face time with every principal this school year. The meetings give Gamble the opportunity to connect with leaders, tell them about safety initiatives on the horizon, and get their feedback.
More than Lip Service
Fort Bend ISD’s 470 school buses log upward of five million miles each year delivering students to the district’s 80 campuses and back home. The task of getting each bus road-ready falls on the transportation shop. Chuck Svoboda, shop manager, knows his responsibilities include more than ensuring preventive maintenance inspections are done on time.
“I work safely because I expect my employees to do the same; I have to lead by example,” said Svoboda. “More importantly, I need to go home safely to my family every day.”
Svoboda’s quote is a safety professional’s dream. It concisely explains the “boots on the ground” role leaders play in driving long-term change. Gamble is quick to add that Svoboda’s words, along with those of his peers, are more than lip service.
“I have seen improvement in departments completing safety initiatives on time. In addition, district directors, managers, and supervisors are teaching safety during their meetings,” said Gamble. “They are also inviting me to speak to their teams about accident trends and preventative measures. Those are key safety leadership markers that tell me we are making progress.”
Where is Your Happy Place?
Many Fort Bend ISD leaders cited family as motivation to work safely. Catering Coordinator Shelita Jones says daily text messages from her youngest son remind her what’s at stake if she suffers a serious on-the-job injury.
"I have six children and 18 grandchildren, but my baby boy hasn’t yet graced me with little ones,” said Jones. “Every day, he texts me and tells me to stay safe and healthy so I can be there for his children one day. I use every ounce of my strength to make sure that happens.”
Jones and her peers understand that one workplace accident could compromise the life experiences that take them to their happy places: the feel of bare feet on warm beach sand, the smell of freshly cut golf course grass at dawn, or the sound of a grandchild’s first toothless giggle. Simply put, at Fort Bend ISD, safety is personal, and a new culture is taking root.
David Wylie serves as content developer on the risk solutions team. He brings more than 20 years' experience writing educational content that helps employers protect against workplace accidents, property damage, cybercrime, and other losses.