Don’t underestimate the power of Mickey Mouse.
David Vignes would know.
Vignes — the executive vice president of enterprise optimization at KAR Auction Services — spent more than 15 years with The Walt Disney Co.
“You look at Mickey in the park and you see people jumping on him, because if you can get a nice, pleasant character, people will have an attraction to it,” he said during a June phone interview.
As for the cartoonish Safe T. Sam character that he created, Vignes was going for this reaction: People automatically think about safety.
In essence, the goal of the auction safety program around Safe T. Sam that Vignes spearheaded was similar: Make thinking about safety a second-nature reaction.
KAR developed its safety program in 2012 and rolled it out company-wide in 2013. When the process of putting it together began, the company decided to “start from scratch.”
“It was all about going back to the basics and really focusing on how do we change the culture of the employee to be sure that they think about safety the same way that they think about getting the car to the auction or taking care of their customers or being sure that when they’re in charge of cleaning a car, they clean the car,” Vignes said.
Auction employees who do their jobs well do so “because it’s part of their DNA,” he said.
“The goal with the Safe T. Sam program was (figuring out) ‘how do we do the same thing with safety?’” Vignes said. “We want our employees to think about safety without thinking about it. That if they see something wrong, they speak up.”
In other words, it comes naturally to keep your eyes open for something like a slippery floor and take action.
And that takes training, training and more training.
“I believe that when you talk about safety, it’s all about education and training. Train your people every day, every week, every month. And when they think they have been trained, you do it again,” Vignes said.
“And what we have done here is very simple … every month, every employee of this company — you go from the last employee we hired here yesterday to Jim (Hallett), our CEO — they have a Safe T. Sam training video every month,” he said. “Last year, the year before, this year, next year, five years and 10 years. And if you can do that and get your people to think about safety on a regular basis, slowly it will become part of their DNA, and that’s when you start to be successful.”
The videos are typically eight to 20 minutes, Vignes said, and the idea is that getting into a routine of watching the video each month will get people thinking about safety.
The company has been using Safe T. Sam program videos every month for more than three years, and in October, KAR licensed the videos' use by NAAA-member auctions.
NAAA then announced this spring that it was providing its member auctions with free courses on Auction Safety Certification and Lane Safety Training, incorporating the Safe T. Sam program.
The NAAA courses are based on a two-tiered system for both full-time and part-time employees at auctions.
The Auction Safety Certification course includes 12 videos. Staff members take a quiz at the end of each one. NAAA estimates that the entire course can be completed in an hour, but participants will have a month to complete it once they start.
Meanwhile, the 20-minute Lane Safety Training course is designed for temporary agency drivers.
There are 15 independent dealer associations that belong to NAAA, chief executive officer Frank Hackett said in a May phone interview. And they can offer the NAAA safety training to their groups and become safety certified.
“We’re also looking at using our AuctionACCESS kiosk, where a dealer, when they sign in, would see six safety points that we would hope that they would recognize and acknowledge that while they’re there, buying and selling, that they’re recognizing that safety is an important part of the day for them, as well,” he said.
Hackett said Manheim, ADESA, independent auctions and associate members were represented well at the safety summit, showing that it’s not just one company, “it’s an industrywide effort.”
“When you look at the takeaways, I think what you’d find is that people recognize that the association has put together a really good program that is going to make it easier for any auction in the association to certify their employees, simply and I think also, quickly,” Hackett said, “where you have a little longer than an hour, but you can certify employees on all the areas that you’d be concerned about if you owned an auction.”
Risks at the auction
Think about it. When you have pieces of machinery weighing thousands of pounds moving by a crowd of dealers and employees, “it’s a risky area,” Vignes said.
The auction arena or its entrance and exit can be particularly risky, he said. People are close together and dealers are trying to get the last bits of info on a car, whether it’s listening to a motor or scanning the VIN.
Traditionally, the school of thought is to keep six to eight feet between the cars, Vignes said. ADESA decided in 2014 that there should be at least 20 feet between cars at its sales.
Most of the serious accidents that have happened in the auction industry, Vignes said, have occurred when a dealer or employee gets pinned between two vehicles.
Of course, a serious accident is still possible when there is 20 feet of separation, but the chances are lower, Vignes said.
“From a severity standpoint … that’s probably the type of accident that you fear the most, a car running out of control and hitting a dealer or employee,” Vignes said. “From a numbers standpoint, when I look at the auction business, the No. 1 incident probably is slip and fall.”
Slips and falls and other relatively benign accidents like a cut hand or tweaked back are the more common incidents, Vignes said; fortunately, it’s not the serious accidents that auctions deal with on a day-to-day basis.
That’s not to say those don’t happen. They certainly can.
The key is vigilance, mindfulness.
And that comes with constant education and communication.
Those two elements are what Vignes sees as integral themes throughout the whole safety discussion.
“You need to communicate constantly on a regular basis,” he said. “And you need to educate — non-stop — your employees, all your dealers about the risk and the fact that they need to be careful.”
Editor's Note: For Part I of this feature, we spoke with the management of Manheim Darlington and Missouri Auto Auction to get the boots-on-the-ground, day-to-day perspective of ensuring safety at an auction.