September 2019

Safety is a Year-Round Job

A look at the steps some leading resorts are taking to keep staff healthy and on the job.

Written by The Editors | 0 comment

Employee safety is important, but how do you get the message across? Every resort holds an annual orientation for both new and returning staff, and safety is always a part of the discussion. But developing a safety culture goes beyond that. It takes a year-round commitment that involves everyone in the organization, from top to bottom.

So how do successful companies meet the challenge? We asked three experts to describe their efforts: Amber Broadaway, VP at Sugarbush, winner of the 2018 Vermont Governors Award for Outstanding Workplace Safety; Cindy Dady, health and safety manager for NSAA Safety Award winner Mammoth Mountain; and Ken Colonna, VP of health and safety for Vail Resorts.

All agree that developing successful safety programs is a highly collaborative process that taps the expertise of two main groups: the resort’s health and safety team, and the resort’s department heads. Then, once programs are developed, it takes constant attention and reinforcement to make sure that staff understand that their safety is job #1.

Here’s how these three resorts meet the challenges.

How were your staff injury policies and preventative programs developed? Who is responsible for developing these?

COLONNA: As an integrated network of 20 resorts, we at Vail Resorts are able to harness the expertise of all of our employees to develop safety programs. Our best practice groups, which include members from our Health and Safety team, resort leadership, and department leadership from across our company, collaborate to develop and drive programs that are aimed at helping our guests and employees stay safe. Having our resort employees join forces to improve safety is extremely valuable—they’re the experts and they know best.

BROADAWAY: We operate a Safety, Environment & Wellness (SEW) Committee that comprises a mix of full-time, year-round front line staff, mid-level managers, and seasonal staff from various resort departments. This committee helps to shape policies, procedures, and initiatives. The committee meets monthly to discuss and address issues related to safety, environment, and wellness.

We also rely greatly on key partners, such as workers’ comp specialist MEMIC—namely, Peter Koch, its loss control specialist, and Janine Bard, its ski area claims manager; our workers’ comp insurance brokerage firm NFP and its loss control specialists; our programming with Dr. Delia Roberts and Fit for Snow out of Selkirk College, B.C.; and our support/interactions with VSAA’s Risk & Safety Managers Group. The support and collaboration across the Vermont risk and safety network is truly outstanding.

Once a draft version of a policy has been developed it goes to the Resort Executive Committee for review/comment before rolling out. Our rollout typically includes an email, posting on our internal website, communication/presentation at monthly managers meetings, and appropriate training as necessary.

To keep safety top of mind, the SEW committee sponsors and coordinates an annual full-day safety training in June, termed SEW Day. The committee also creates and develops winter seasonal challenges for all staff to participate in. These challenges have included personal safety plans, group shoveling, better choice meals, carpooling, 30-day fitness logs, monthly sleep trackers, trash talkers, and sun safety. Also, the committee makes SEWing the Difference Awards (on-the-spot recognition). Employees have been given water pouches, buffs, personal sunscreen pouches, $5 gift cards, and new this summer, sunglasses.

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When and how are these policies presented to staff?

BROADAWAY: Policies are presented to staff in “Weekly Checkpoints,” a newsletter that goes to all staff with email access and shared at weekly departmental staff meetings. All employees are asked to sign off, indicating that they have read the newsletter and understand the information provided.

This past season we developed a lost time injury review requirement at our monthly managers meeting. Department managers with staff that incurred an injury severe enough to be out of work were obligated to present their injury findings—their root cause analysis and correction measures. This review presents information to their peers, and allows all departments to ask questions, share lessons learned, and develop a better sense of what departments are doing or have done to prevent injuries. We found it to be a great opportunity to engage departments, challenge each other on approach and findings, and really show the larger team our resort’s commitment to a culture of safety.

COLONNA: Health and safety policies and programs are constantly being reviewed and reinforced with our employees. All new employees receive training on the policies and programs at new employee orientation, and then again each year when we welcome staff back for the season.

We also dedicate considerable time to focusing on safety throughout the year. For instance, in May I went to our annual safety conference, Elevate Safe, in Park City. This two-day conference, held in five different regions for all of our resorts, is focused on staff and guest injury prevention. It’s a collaborative conference, presented by our health and safety and mountain operations teams.

How are the policies and preventative programs woven into the culture?

COLONNA: Efforts to prevent staff injuries are embedded in the company culture. One of our core values as a company is “Be Safe.” Each employee plays a role in being committed to the safety and wellness of our employees and guests. To reinforce this value, we regularly communicate health and safety performance to employees by sharing our challenges and celebrating our successes. We perform employee surveys and conduct ongoing safety culture initiatives, including implementing risk assessments, performing job hazard analyses (JHAs), and sharing solutions across the Vail Resorts network.

BROADAWAY: We reinforce safety messaging through weekly newsletters, our employee handbook, weekly and monthly staff meetings, staff emails, specialized trainings, and supervisor safety trainings.
Safety is always on the agenda for owner Win Smith’s weekly executive meeting. He wants updates on all injuries, concerns, trends, SEW committee updates, positive/challenge updates, etc. He talks about the importance of safety at every meeting he attends, and discusses safety in his “Win’s Word” blog with our staff and guests. He supports a team of risk and safety staff—comprising one full time coordinator, one part time director, and a VP.

The management team receives monthly injury reports on numbers, costs, graphs, status, etc.

We maintain a corrective action program if employees are not abiding by our established safety policies. And all employees are evaluated for their personal commitment to safety in their annual/seasonal performance reviews.

DADY: At the start of each season, we have a safety orientation that is delivered to individual departments for all of their employees. This is an hour-long session where we cover many different topics. This past season I delivered more than 70 hours of these orientations.

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We have weekly safety topics sent out to all department heads that are relevant to what is happening with injuries and OSHA mandated topics. All departments conduct weekly safety meetings and daily pre-shift meetings.

We also have “Mammy Way” board messaging—Mammoth Way Safety Boards—posted prominently in every locker room. These boards outline safety objectives, goals, and poignant messaging. They are updated with stats at the beginning of each month.

We continue to use injury information to understand our injuries and collaborate on how to make changes in employee safety. We do so by having information available at all times to all employees.

Also, we get together as a company with all directors, managers, and supervisors at our “Steps To Safety” meeting the second week of each month. This is an hour-long meeting where we discuss the following:

  • Safety award for the month—a person or persons who have made a contribution to our safety experience for guests or employees.
  • Close calls and lessons learned —our near misses—what was it, how did we address it?
  • Vehicle damage—what happened to our equipment and why, how can we prevent other incidents?
  • Trends and statistics—looking at our employee incidents for the month. Asking the questions of why did the injury happen, and how can we prevent it in the future?
  • We look at predictive analysis for that month, and look at what the injuries were for the past two years. Are there trends, and how will we reduce or prevent similar incidents?
  • Then a director presents on a particular safety topic. For the month of May, for example, we discussed our construction standards, PPE, and our fire prevention plan.
  • All this attention pays off. For this past season we reduced workers’ comp indemnity payments by 69 percent, and reduced overall injuries by 17 percent.


See Something, Say Something, Do Something

Mammoth Mountain adopted a safety mantra of “See Something, Say Something, Do Something” before the 2017-18 season. The aim: to encourage employees to take ownership of safety, for themselves, fellow employees, and guests. When employees observe safety issues, they are empowered to say something and find a solution, rather than relying on someone else to take responsibility.

The key points:

  • Make It Personal. Every employee is responsible for his or her own safety. If you are unsure how to perform a task, don’t just wing it. Ask for more training.
  • Make It Safe. You have the authority to stop work. If you feel a situation is unsafe, stop the work and do a reset.
  • Make It Home. Friends, family, and pets are expecting you to come home after your shift. You have family counting on you to return from work safe each day.

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