Doug Fulton has always been a stickler for safety. No matter where he worked or what his job title was, he followed the rules and did his level best to stay safe. Which is why it was such a surprise to him when a weekly blood test at his previous job showed an unsafe level of toxins his blood. At the time, Doug was working as a hazardous materials technician, handling agricultural spill clean-up and running pesticide buyback programs for ag companies. The job mandated weekly blood tests to check for organophosphates, a chemical commonly found in herbicides and pesticides. Although he faithfully wore his hazardous materials suit and followed procedures in his everyday work, it wasn’t enough to prevent him from being exposed.
Those test results hit him hard. “That experience really opened my eyes to the importance of safety, because I was affected on such a personal level,” Doug says. “Even though I considered myself safety conscious, I was still exposed at an unsafe level. That experience taught me the importance of taking personal responsibility for my own safety.” Immediately after the test, he was reassigned to a desk job and left the company shortly after.
He brings that lesson (and so many more) to Team Perficut, where he is currently the Safety Director. But he didn’t start out in that role. Back in 2014, he joined the Safety Committee, and as Perficut grew, leadership figured out that they needed a full-time role dedicated to safety. Doug stepped in as director in 2019 and never looked back.
His role today is a little bit of everything, from creating policies and safety manuals to presenting on risk mitigation to converting all of the Safety Data Sheets from print to digital so crews can pull them up out in the field on phones and smart devices. It’s all important, but nothing more so than one-on-one interaction with employees.
“The most important part of my job is getting buy-in from absolutely everybody. You can engineer safety to the tee, but you can’t engineer the human factor,” he says. “I try to relate to the crews on a personal level, helping them see how safety affects them at work but also how it affects their life outside of work. You can’t enjoy your hobbies or play with your kids if you’re hurt.”
A big part of his work is encouraging vigilance. If a crew has been on the same job site for a few weeks, they might start to feel comfortable and let their guard down. But job sites change every day, as other trades and workers do their work alongside Team Perficut. Doug emphasizes the idea of approaching the job site with fresh eyes each and every time. Every job site has hazards and risks, and they change every day. “It’s not like you’re safe today so you’re good for the rest of the week. It’s a daily commitment,” he says.
Seasons of Safety
Though the weather and job sites change, the message stays the same. Safety is a year-round project proposition, but winter brings unique risks of new equipment and rapidly changing work conditions. Each winter, Doug preaches the gospel of preparation. He talks to crews about dressing for inclement weather and how to be safe in a cold, wet environment. He reminds them that winter weather is unforgiving, so they can’t take anything for granted.
He is also a stickler for annual training. Each year, the entire Perficut team goes through training on winter equipment. Doug uses a series of very detailed videos to walk small groups through the ins and outs of operating each piece of equipment, from the big loaders and salt trucks to snow blowers and a basic shovel. “Some crews are driving their same trucks but now they have a blade on the front and a salt unit on the back and the truck is now six feet longer and 3,000 pounds heavier, which means it drives, turns, and stops very differently,” he says.
Slip and falls are a huge safety issue in the winter, and Doug beats this drum for both Team Perficut and their clients’ safety. With more than a million slip-and-fall injuries reported each year, this issue affects everyone. “It all goes back to being aware of your surroundings,” he says. “And that’s true for me and you and our employees and our clients and their employees and even our families and friends. We all need to pay attention to what’s around us.”
Communication is Key
A big part of success in winter safety is communication. Doug is pretty proud of how Team Perficut handles snow communication with clients—a series of emails lets clients know what kind of weather is coming, when Perficut is on-site to handle it, and how the event went after the fact. They also share safety tips and areas of possible concern that the client needs to watch for at their site.
Safety is a year-round focus at Perficut, and Doug never stops talking about it. That’s actually one of his favorite things about the job. He likes to tell employees that his door is always open if they have questions or ideas. “I never know all the answers, and that’s okay,” he says. “I’m always open to learning more, and that’s how you do safety right.”