Chris Eirvin and Wade Hunt are movers and shakers. As I have visited with them and tracked their progress over the past few years, I have been incredibly impressed by their energy, their commitment to their employees, and their superlative commitment to safety.

Chris, the CEO and founder of Utilimap Corporation, told me recently, “We launched this company in 2001 with four employees and a drive to provide GIS and engineering services to the utility industry. Today we have 165 employees and we are still hiring.”

Wade is Chris’ “right-hand man” and he quickly chimed in, “We have always sought to provide a culture of safety first and foremost. Our employees are our number one asset. I know a lot of people say this, but we live it.”

"A good feel"

The corporate office is located in Fenton, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The minute you walk in, the place has a good feel to it. There’s an openness and camaraderie that sends a message of “this is a good place to work.”

Utilimap is rapidly expanding into other markets due to its commitment to the only three things that matter in any business - delighting clients, being productive and creating a superb culture. As Chris noted, “The simplest definition of the word culture is how things are done around here. In this business, safety must be the top core value in your culture - not a priority. I insist that safety be on the top of the heap, followed always by our second priority of quality. I have seen what accidents can do to an organization’s morale and I am ecstatic about what my managers and front-line folks have done. I’m proud to be associated with all of them!”

Reeling off accomplishments

In 2007, Utilimap (remember, a seven-year-old firm with 165 employees) accomplished the following:

  • Zero lost workdays
  • Established full-time Safety/HR position
  • Safety recognition program (rewards employees with no accidents/incidents)
  • Introduced new Utilimap Safety Manual
  • Installed GPS tracking on entire fleet
  • Implemented a defensive driving program

Some of their 2008 goals include:

  • Maintain goal of zero lost work accidents (they are on target to achieve this again this year).
  • Increase scope of defensive driving program. To accomplish this, Utilimap will have an in-house qualified defensive driving instructor. This instructor will be responsible for teaching defensive driving techniques to all drivers in the fleet. Along with adding an instructor, the company will also incorporate pre-employment and annual MVR checks on all drivers.
  • Form in-house safety committee.
  • Provide managers with accident investigation kit. This will include a digital camera, flashlight, tape measure, and accident/incident report documents.
  • Establish an Executive Review Board to investigate any accidents, injuries or unsafe acts.
  • Utilize GPS in fleet to monitor unsafe acts. Utilimap will monitor its vehicles at all times. We are able to track employees’ driving habits including excessive speeding and inappropriate vehicle usage.
  • Create more extensive safety training for new hires.

No "command and control" here

Chris, Wade and Matt Wiesehan, the Safety and HR director, enjoy discussing their safety strategies. They believe in “principles from the top down and decisions from the bottom up.” In other words, they don’t run a “command-and-control” organization. They consistently engage their employees to get “buy-in” and establish workable safety programs and recognition efforts. Here’s what they have done:

  • They have a yearly safety recognition celebration.
  • There is a one-day safety orientation for all new hires.
  • Five hundred dollar bonuses are given to employees who work safe for one year.
  • Coats and shirts are awarded to employees who work safe for a year.
  • Random meals are provided to create and sustain morale.
  • Unannounced safety audits are scheduled and executed twice a month. When someone is detected to be working unsafely, they are coached on the spot. They are disqualified from their $500 bonus, sent home for a day, retrained for a day and then allowed to come back to work. As Chris, Wade and Matt noted, “We are always hard on the issue and soft on the person. They know that we are going to have a robust conversation with them, but we don’t castigate or embarrass them.”


Confucius say...

As we finished our safety discussion and our second cup of coffee, I felt compelled to share one of my favorite quotations from Confucius. He said, “He who rides a tiger cannot dismount.” Indeed, these leaders are riding a tiger - a growing, dynamic, but, most importantly, safety-focused company. Their dedication to doing the right things, as well as doing things right, made me feel terrific. As I left the corporate office and stepped into the warm sunshine, my favorite safety slogan popped into my head: There can be no competing interests in regard to safety. At Utilimap, they live these words daily. Indeed, they know it can be done.