How text messaging can serve as a safety tool

By |  July 24, 2017

Work orientations. Tailgate talks. Periodic seminars.

These are standard forums for leaders at aggregate operations to deliver safety messages to employees.

But what about smartphones? Seemingly everyone now carries a smartphone, which is capable of sending and receiving text messages. Can smartphones play a role in making employees safer on the job?

The answer is an unequivocal yes according to Ryan Essex, the vice president of asphalt, aggregates and production at The Miller Group, a Canadian-based company with business interests in aggregate, road construction and related areas.

Since 2016, The Miller Group has been connecting with employees across the company with daily texts that touch on a variety of subjects. Many of the messages the company shares are safety oriented, offering takeaways that employees can absorb before starting their shifts.

“In the aggregate sector, they like to get the message at about 5 in the morning,” Essex says. “If they’re having a tailgate talk at 6 a.m., the message inevitably gets talked about. It stimulates thought to the reader, but it also stimulates candid conversation in the field.”

Developing the platform

The Miller Group didn’t go down this alternate road of promoting safety alone, though. The Miller Group found a partner in Gordon McGuinty, the president of Safety Messaging Prioritized, whose company offers a specific platform to educate employees about safety.

McGuinty has worked in the aggregate and construction industries his whole career, he says, and he owned aggregate operations in Ontario, Canada, and Quebec, Canada, at one time. But McGuinty ventured into safety technology in 2015 after acquiring 4RP Safety from Denis Alarie, the former president of Leo Alarie & Sons Construction, who owned the safety technology platform.

After McGuinty acquired 4RP Safety, the platform was modernized.

“Denis made a platform with about 30 different categories containing about 1,000 different safety messages,” McGuinty says. “But he was doing it all by fax.”

McGuinty spent much of 2015 researching how to transition the platform to smartphones. He rewrote some of the platform’s original safety messages, shortening them and conforming them into easy-to-read text messages.

During his research, McGuinty realized safety messages would best be received as part of a broader platform.

“Safety messages get you in the door, but it’s the other messages we integrate in such as health and wellness, leadership, civility and humor that get people to read,” McGuinty says.

The beauty of the platform is that a company’s employees all receive the same concise message simultaneously, he adds.

“Let’s say you have 10 people on a work crew or 10 people in an office,” McGuinty says. “They’re different ages with different levels of experience. They will all read and get something out of that message differently than another person. It levels the communication.”

Putting it to use


For Essex, the platform presented The Miller Group another mode through which it could communicate with employees. The Miller Group identified several groups within its company, including its aggregate group, to test the platform.

The company’s aggregate group was a good match for it in part because a number of employees are regularly on the move, Essex says. So the messages remote employees receive serve as another touchpoint to the core company.

“We have a lot of mobile crews all over Canada,” Essex says. “They now have a daily connection – a daily touch, if you will – from their management team. We feel like that’s really important.”

In addition, safety messages offer another indicator that the company cares about the well-being of its employees.

“It’s nice to wake up and see a message about being safe today,” Essex says. “Then when they go to a worksite they can share it with their crew members.”

Before launching the platform at The Miller Group, company representatives developed a plan with Safety Messaging to roll it out. The Miller Group has a number of core safety principles expressed in company documents, so those messages were extracted and adapted for use in the platform.

“Those are messages we train from every year,” Essex says. “We pulled out one- and two-liners from the documents. I like to call them ‘the highlights’ to remind people of the important pieces.”

The Miller Group also integrated a number of Safety Messaging-provided messages into its platform, and the company has been building and adapting its platform ever since.

“About 50 percent of the text messages that go out are operationally oriented,” says McGuinty, who adds that messages include two distinct takeaways in one transmission. “The other 50 percent is ergonomics with some humor mixed in. We like to have a little bit of humor mixed in on Fridays, if a company signs off on that.”

Once a broad-based platform is in place, companies can add messages or make adjustments as time goes on. When The Miller Group’s construction crews transitioned into winter mode, for example, the focus of the company’s messaging shifted from roadwork to winter conditions, shorter daylight and other timely takeaways.

The platform is also useful in that it gives a company like The Miller Group a place to disseminate information quickly should an incident occur.

“If something happens yesterday, we can get that information to Gordon and his team to develop a message that can quickly be shared,” Essex says.

Employee engagement

According to Essex, employees of The Miller Group have reacted positively to the platform. In fact, employees now contribute to the messages the company shares. Employees can offer feedback and submit their own messages that The Miller Group can consider for future use.

“It’s been a bit of an evolution,” Essex says. “Say they’re noticing brokers driving a little bit faster than they should be. This is an opportunity for us to point that out and give [brokers] a reminder at the scale house.”

A Safety Messaging survey of The Miller Group’s employees shows they are highly engaged with the texts. According to the survey, 100 percent of employees who receive messages read them every day. Fifty-six percent discuss messages with colleagues, and 48 percent re-read messages.

In addition, 24 percent of employees discuss the messages with family and friends.

The employees of Nelson Aggregates, another Canadian-based aggregate producer, are engaged with Safety Messaging similarly. Based on Safety Messaging survey data, engagement among Nelson Aggregates employees is high (92 percent). A high percentage of employees discuss the messages with colleagues (68 percent) and family and friends (64 percent), as well.

Employees at both The Miller Group (72 percent) and Nelson Aggregates (80 percent) say the messaging platform has increased their awareness of safety issues.
“It’s hard to know if you’ve prevented an accident, but I do feel we’ve had really good safety results,” Essex says. “Our teams are more engaged.”

Highlights from The Miller Group’s core safety documents – the ones built into the company’s Safety Messaging platform – are even available for other Safety Messaging users.

“Once we got going, we talked to Gordon about who else could use this,” Essex says. “We reached out to a couple of other aggregate producers because companies are very much aligned when it comes to safety. We want our employees to go home safe. We don’t win when a worker in our industry is critically or fatally injured. It makes our industry less attractive, but if we can increase the overall level of safety then we see that as a positive.”

Text messaging’s reach

Did you know two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone? How about the fact that nearly one in 10 Americans rely on a smartphone as their sole access point to the internet?

This is the world we live in according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report.

Considering that smartphone use is likely to continue upward in the coming years, it’s logical for some companies – aggregate operations included – to turn to smartphone technology as a means to reach employees.

And text messaging is an obvious technology to reach those employees.

As part of a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 97 percent of smartphone owners texted at least once over the course of the study.

Text messaging was the most widely used basic feature or app, and it was the feature most frequently used, Pew Research Center reports.

Not surprisingly, younger people are more likely to text. The same Pew Research Center study found that 100 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds text and that 98 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds do. Even 92 percent of people 50 and up were active texters during the study.

The same subjects in the study also frequently use the internet, voice and video calls, and email on their smartphones, but not quite at the rate at which they use text messaging.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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