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Safety and a job well done are one and the same at Bassett Mechanical. And while we’d love to say we crafted that pithy phrase ourselves, we actually cribbed it from Bassett’s extensive content on its excellent website.
“Safety is not only a core value for our company,” says Kim Bassett, president and CEO, of the full-service mechanical contractor based in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, that employs nearly 500 people and which celebrated 85 years in business this year, “safety is an integral part of everything we do each day whether it’s in our 268,000-square-foot fabrication facility or on our jobsites across the country. We make sure that everybody has the tools, resources and training that they need to do their job effectively and safely because I want to see everybody at the end of the day, go home the way they arrived in the morning."
The company’s comprehensive and collaborative behavior-based safety program, which began in 2016, is one reason we chose Bassett Mechanical as our magazine’s Contractor of the Year. As of this past February, the mechanical contractor had reached 1.5 million hours without experiencing an OSHA lost time injury. Its EMR currently stands at 0.85 compared with an industry average of 1.0.
“Safety is all about people and we have great associates at Bassett Mechanical who produce in a way that not only keeps themselves safe, but keeps those around them and our customers safe as well,” says Cory Goldschmidt, director of safety. “Combined with Bassett Mechanical’s engaged, safety-minded leadership team, we have created an environment that puts our associates in a position for success and helps them feel safe.
Bassett provides complete design, engineering, fabrication, installation, and preventative maintenance service solutions for all its customer’s industrial refrigeration, HVAC, plumbing, metal fabricating and service needs. (For much more on the company’s comprehensive capabilities, customer-centric philosophy and long history be sure to check out our sidebars).
For Bassett herself, a strong adherence to safety takes on a personal dimension since she is the latest generation to take charge of the family business her great-uncle founded in 1936.
“I grew up with many of our associates who are still with us today,” Bassett explains. “I attended company picnics, spent Saturdays in the office with my dad, and worked with our associates during holiday breaks and summer vacations throughout high school and college. I knew everyone’s spouse, children and families.”
When she returned to the company in 1996, many of the same people were still there, just a little older, but still like a family to her.
“When I started my career here, I worked in various roles over many years to learn about our business, the inherent risks and saw the business through the lens of our associates,” Bassett adds. “From working in the manufacturing facility to working alongside our field foremen, sales leaders and executives, I experienced firsthand the intricacies and uniqueness of our business, as well as the hurdles that must be overcome every day, from safety planning to successful execution. Having observed a few near misses while in the field and shop, it opened my eyes and motivated me even more than ever to ensure every one of our associates kept safety top of mind 24/7.” So what is BBS?
First of all, while we hadn’t heard the phrase before, behavior-based safety is a component of a larger science-based field of organizational behavior management that applies the science of behavioral change to actual workplace situations.
By and large, a BBS program is a process that creates a safety partnership between management and the workforce by continually focusing everyone’s attention and actions on their own personal actions as well as the actions of others.
In a traditional safety program, a mechanical contractor probably keeps a steady eye on incidents as they happen, and tries its best to prohibit them from happening again.
But when it comes to the safety of Bassett associates, this typical approach wasn’t good enough. The ultimate goal of a BBS program is to identify and correct risks and potential hazards before they occur.
Another important distinction of Bassett Mechanical’s BBS program is that it empowers its associates to not only actively identify safety risks, but also halt all work when necessary until they feel a task can be performed safely.
Along the way, all the data points gathered through the mutual process identifies possible improvements for tools, work environments, training, processes and procedures.
Finally, to be successful a BBS program must include the buy in of every single associate, from the CEO on down. Comprehensive support is needed to achieve a successful outcome.
“We empower our associates to make the best choices for themselves and each other,” Bassett adds. “Safety here goes beyond daily planning, toolbox talks and frequent training.”
To that end, Bassett Mechanical operates on the following four basic safety principles:
“At Bassett Mechanical, behavior-based safety focuses on what people do, analyzes why they do it and applies an intervention strategy to improve the process,” Goldschmidt explains.
No blame game
To accomplish all this, Bassett’s BBS program takes a “no blame” approach and instead relies on direct observation to first set the whole process in place.
“Only through these peer-to-peer observations and interactions can a BBS program engage associates directly with safety and provide leading indicator safety data points that can help identify risks before safety incidents happen,” Goldschmidt adds.
Let’s take a look at the company’s first experience with its own customized BBS program:
Back in 2016, Bassett initially trained 16 observers to conduct safety observations throughout the shop and out in the field. Each observer on the team conducted a minimum of four safety observations each month.
These observations are designed to be short and included the following:
From there, the observer completed a form stating all of the safe activities performed, any at-risk items they observed and notes from the conversation with the employee being observed.
In keeping with the “no blame” approach, only the name of the observer is listed on the observation form, along with the division of the observed associate. In other words, the name of the individual person being observed is never mentioned or documented.
Afterwards on a monthly basis, a BBS Steering Committee reviewed all observations, discussed any at-risk items identified, tracked any trends in the at-risks category and took the appropriate action to correct the risks. The committee also measured the effectiveness of any action taken to correct at-risks and made adjustments to the program as needed.
Here are Bassett Mechanical’s first stats from the original program:
“When an organization knows the behaviors of their teams,” Goldschmidt explains, “they can address risks through appropriate means. That often includes training or additional resources, equipment, PPE, etc. It’s also an opportunity to point out and reinforce positive behaviors, decisions and the importance of always taking the necessary safety precautions.”
Since its start, Bassett Mechanical’s BBS program has gone on to include a smart phone app to record observations by way of digital means. While many of the observers in the shop or field are department heads or foremen, Bassett and other company executives also make it a routine to regularly visit shop and field crews to discuss risks, ensure accessibility to needed personal protective equipment and training and to share the safety message.
“As products and technology improve,” Goldschmidt says, “we are always adjusting to provide our associates with the best safety equipment.”
Several recent changes include providing leading edge retractable lanyards for fall protection; standardizing a minimum cut-level 4 glove for all manufacturing facility and field operations; and providing “lean-to” stepladders for specific applications.
“Plus, we are always working on improving the types of traction aids for our associates who are working outside and on snow-covered rooftops during the winter months,” Goldschmidt adds.
Here are the most up-to-date stats from the last fiscal year:
The 2021 fiscal year also produced 432 of what company calls “Safety Improvement Opportunities.”
“SIO’s are cards that get filled out by associates for safety improvements and include near miss reporting; hazard recognition and correction; and safety improvement suggestions,” Goldschmidt explains.
Each SIO is logged and reviewed by a management team and each SIO that is not resolved or completed is assigned an action item and responsible party to ensure corrective actions and feedback loops are complete.
“SIO’s empower our associates to communicate what they are experiencing from a safety standpoint, directly with management, and management listens,” Goldschmidt adds.
New hires begin with safety education that not only includes best practices, but also drums up why safety is the company’s No. 1 value.
“Bassett Mechanical concentrates heavily on training,” Goldschmidt says. “When we onboard service technicians, we conduct approximately seven hours of safety training spread throughout the first week of employment. On average, the Safety Department conducts approximately eight hours of training per week.”
And since injuries to the musculoskeletal system are an all-too common occurrence in contracting work, everyone throughout the company starts each workday with a daily stretching routine.
Bassett herself is an active member of the Steering Committee, which has since established safety participation goals on annual reviews, created proactive metrics, and always encourages safety ideas submitted by company associates.
The company regularly shares safety stats and observations throughout the company, and Bassett herself also sends out a personalized monthly safety message to all associates.
Like any other mechanical contractor, Bassett Mechanical also has to keep tabs on the mandatory OSHA incident rate, OSHA recordable incidents and lost-time injuries.
If an incident happens, the BBS program’s investigative process walks the individual through what took place in order to determine just how the incident could be prevented in the future. This firsthand experience is then shared with others (without identifying the associate by name) across the organization to increase awareness and minimize the risk among others who may be exposed to a similar potential hazard.
“Our goal is to provide a safe and productive work environment,” Goldschmidt says. “When things do not go as planned, Bassett Mechanical has partnered to offer a 24/7 telephonic triage service. This service gives our associates direct access to medical professionals in assessing injuries and treatment options. This service helps our associates make the best and most informed decisions regarding their health.”
But keeping track of the number of safety observations, including what is done correctly, is the key to providing the Steering Committee with the data it needs to evaluate follow-up actions and take necessary communications to minimize the risks and help set the stage for quarterly and monthly company-wide safety goals.
It’s important to note, too, that Bassett’s BBS program extends beyond time spent at jobsites and under the Kaukauna roof.
For example, the company recently implemented a service on its company smart phones that will not allow texting while behind the wheel of a company vehicle. Depending on the time of year, the company newsletter might also include safety tips for weekend hunting and fishing trips. The company also encourages other healthy behavior through wellness challenges, reimbursements for health club memberships and help with smoking cessation programs.
While Bassett’s BBS program may effectively stand alone, it’s important that we note it’s actually an essential aspect of a company-wide Lean approach to continuous quality improvement, which was first put into place in 2006.
Generally speaking, Lean is a management system that aims to promote a high level of productivity throughout the workplace. Some companies, however, may incorporate an approach tagged “5S plus Safety,” and put more emphasize on the first five components:
Often lost in the shuffle is the sixth S for Safety. Or, at the very least, many Lean proponents don’t necessarily consider a sixth S its own separate step since it’s already baked into the classic 5S methodology.
However, making Safety its own distinct step in the Lean process provides extra focus on safety issues, especially for industries that involve high-risk work such as construction and contracting. In these workplaces, it makes much better sense to take the extra step and choose a so-called “6S Approach.” This helps establish Safety as a crucial focal point of the organization, all of which sets the stage for specific safety goals to be taken into account to measure improvement efforts.
At this point, we’re very sure readers will know that Safety is not only a part of the whole Bassett Mechanical approach to the Lean philosophy, but that it sits at the very top as the first step.
“When I became president and CEO,” Bassett adds, “we incorporated Lean safety as the platform from which we would run and manage our business. Not only did this methodology support an efficient and value-added business model, it concentrated on safety and respect for people as keys to success.”
PHC News certainly isn’t the only one to recognize Bassett Mechanical on its safety bonafides. The company’s safety achievements have also been recognized by a variety of organizations, such as the Mechanical Contractors Association of America; Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association; Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin; National Safety Council; and Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
Most recently, Bassett Mechanical received the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin 2020 Safety Excellence Award for the sixth consecutive year. That same year the National Safety Council’s Health + Safety magazine included Bassett in a feature on “2020 CEO’s Who ‘Get It.’ ”
Also noteworthy was the 2019 Wisconsin Safety Council’s Corporate Safety Award and the induction of Kim Bassett into the Wisconsin Safety Hall of Fame. Only 13 companies were honored with the council’s award that year, and Bassett Mechanical was just one of three winners in the midsize construction category. Meanwhile, the council’s hall of fame, established in 2001, seeks to highlight the safety record of a single CEO or executive in Wisconsin.
“The strongest message we can send as a company is that each life is valued and important,” Bassett says, “and, therefore, we will not compromise when it comes to safety. Risking one’s safety is nonnegotiable, even for the betterment of performance, outcomes or timelines. Safety will always be at the forefront of the solutions we provide.”
To be sure, Bassett Mechanical would be a top choice for our Contractor of the Year honor for reasons over and above its safety program.
What does Bassett Mechanical do? That’s one of those questions that’s truly best answered by figuring out what Bassett Mechanical doesn’t do. (SPOILER ALERT: Not much.)
Bassett Mechanical provides solutions in industrial refrigeration, HVAC, plumbing, controls, metal fabrication and service.
The customer-centric and employee-driven mechanical contractor headquartered in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, where it operates a 268,000-square manufacturing facility with comprehensive fabrication services providing custom-built industrial refrigeration, HVAC, plumbing and metal fabricating solutions to customers throughout the United States and the world.
“We had become landlocked at our original building in Appleton,” says Kim Bassett, president and CEO, “when my father had a vision for a new facility.”
Bassett Mechanical moved into what was a bankrupt farm implement manufacturer building in 1997.
“The building offered a lot of room for us to grow, Kim adds. “Back then, we only occupied a small portion of it.”
Massive manufacturing facility
Today, there’s no empty space inside the massive facility. A crew of 60 welders who have more than 200 welding certifications, all backed by a team of more than 20 project managers and more than 20 in-house designers and engineers, can craft specialized components, including ASME pressure vessels, hygienic duct and skid packages all made from a variety of materials, including structural steel, super duplex stainless and stainless steel, carbon steel, titanium, nickel, copper, as well as other alloys.
In-house capabilities include a state-of-the-art HGG pipe, cutting machine, a plasma tables, two laser tables, roll-forming capabilities, blast and paint booths, more than 100 welding stations, more than 70 overhead cranes, an isolated stainless clean room, plus the ability to handle projects in excess of 100 tons and in excess of 150 feet – tall or long.
“We have the honor of serving customers across the state of Wisconsin with our proactive, preventative maintenance services,” Bassett says. “We provide our industrial refrigeration and HVAC offerings across the United States through our design and engineering, fabrication, installation and service capabilities. Our custom metal fabrications are actually shipped worldwide. We can build anything – from something that fits in the palm of your hand to something you can drive a semi through.”
A concentration of prefabrication is a must and Bassett Mechanical’s solutions are unique and highly customized. Prefabrication at the manufacturing facility streamlines field installation time, allows for fabricating in a controlled environment and accelerates project completion, leading to shorter downtime and higher quality of installation
Behind the scenes
However, as impressive as it is to walk through the huge manufacturing facility, there’s plenty of Bassett Mechanical expertise that happens behind the scenes, too
In addition to full BIM and CAD capabilities, just last year, the company invested in their Virtual Design and Construction solutions by adding design resources and personnel, additional design software and hardware, along with making process improvements to how design information is transferred effectively to field crews and the fabrication facility. The company also expanded its VDC capabilities by adding mobile workstations, optimizing its design/fabrication database, and expanding its prefabrication capabilities.
The mechanical contractor also operates out of three other Wisconsin locations in Milwaukee; Madison and Wausau, which are set up to handle service solution. To help support this work, Bassett Mechanical created its own internally designed Bassett Training Academy, a three-year educational program for new and existing associates seeking training in industrial ammonia refrigeration. The academy ensures its technicians are certified per the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association and the trade group’s advanced Certified Industrial Refrigeration Operator standards.
Two other hallmarks set Bassett Mechanical apart for its competitors:
Lean: While we mention Lean management principles in our main feature, the entire company implemented Lean in a wide variety of processes and disciplines beginning in 2006, from the business office areas of estimating, dispatch and finance, to the manufacturing floor. On many occasions, suggestions from the manufacturing facility associates have resulted in improved designs and reduced costs for customers. Collaboration between associates and customers has resulted in better products in terms of overall use and long-term reliability.
ISO Certification: In 2002, Bassett Mechanical was the first Wisconsin mechanical contractor to be ISO 9001:2000 certified for the shop and the field, and remains one of only a handful of mechanical contractors in the United States to have earned and maintained this certification.
‘We Answer to You’
Under Bill Bassett’s 35-year tenure in charge of Bassett Mechanical, the company grew from 32 employees to more than 300 (current tally is nearly 500) with sales increasing a staggering 2,000 percent.
“My dad is an engineer by education,” Kim Bassett, president and CEO, says, “but he is also very entrepreneurial, and had a real vision for all that Bassett Mechanical would become over these years.”
Bill established the company as a market leader in designing, building and servicing refrigeration, air conditioning, heating, process piping and plumbing systems for commercial, industrial and marine applications.
“You are the face of Bassett Mechanical to our customers, not me,” he was known to tell company associates. “What you do for our customers each day is what’s most important.”
As a result, Bill modeled respect for people by treating them fairly, honestly, ethically and with dignity.
Bill eventually codified his high-quality customer service views into the “We Answer to You” philosophy. Here’s the company’s promise:
“There’s a lot to live up to in these words,” Kim explains. “Of course, it directs us in how we work to become true partners with our customers. We're alongside them to make sure that their systems are efficient and effective and stay running. We're proud to come in and take care of their systems that keep their operations running.” we're coming in and taking care of their systems that keep their operations running.”
As Bill’s principles attest, the “WATY” philosophy goes much further than just customer service.
“Certainly, it tells us how we answer to our associates by making Bassett Mechanical a great and safe place to work,” Kim adds. “It also tells us how we give back to the community many of us have grown up in. And it also extends to making sure we have a strong and trusting relationship with our vendors so that when a customer has an emergency, we can get what we need to solve that customer’s problem.”
Since Bill originally established these principles, the company has broadened its appeal under its “Creating Customers for Life” banner.
“We want to build lasting relationships,” Kim explains. “We want to make sure we can tell customers about all our capabilities in order to be their solutions provider from wherever they might be now to wherever they want to go from here. We, in fact, have one customer in the marine industry that has been our customer since 1936 when Bassett Mechanical was founded.”
In this day and age where the labor shortage is an all-too common lament, we found it refreshing when Kim also pointed out how “WATY” helps attract the next generation.
“What's exciting to me is these younger generations really want value being part of a purpose-driven organization,” she adds.
‘From One Man and a Truck’
It’s no surprise that Bassett Mechanical, a multigenerational family-owned company celebrating its 85thanniversary in 2021, has a rich history.
It all started with “one man and a truck,” an oft-repeated phrase anyone new to the company will likely hear.
That one man would be E.W. “Al” Bassett, who started Bassett Refrigeration Co. in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1936. As the company name might suggest, Al started out as a rather modest service provider focusing on residential refrigerators and light commercial refrigeration systems.
Shipbuilding during WWII, however, was big business, and by 1942, Al wasn’t just one man and a truck any longer.
In the shipyards at neighboring Sturgeon Bay and Manitowoc, a Bassett crew of 40 was soon installing refrigeration systems aboard submarines and warships, spurring a long-term relationship with the marine industry that continues to this day.
After the war years, Al diversified the business. By 1956, for example, Bassett Mechanical introduced industrial refrigeration design-build and engineering services, which also remain a backbone of the business all these many decades later. And by the late-1960s, the company continued to add engineering resources to enhance the services offered to its ever-growing base of customers.
When Al considered retirement, he talked with his younger brother, Charles “Charlie” Bassett, about keeping the business in the family. Charlie joined his brother in the business in 1945 and managed the service department.
At this point, Charlie’s son, Bill Bassett, had graduated Michigan Technological University with a degree in chemical engineering and was working hundreds of miles away in New York and West Virginia. By then, Bill had worked eight years as a design engineer and group leader at Union Carbide. However, after the brothers struck a deal, Bill moved back to Wisconsin to work with his father, officially joining the business in 1974.
With Bill at the helm as president, Charlie also ran the manufacturing facility with the support of his wife, Germaine “Shorty” Bassett. Charlie and Germaine were married for nearly 60 years, and Germaine had a successful career of her own for almost 40 years with a local bank, eventually retiring as vice president of the mortgage department.
“ .. she also did much to support the company and her husband from behind the scenes,” says the Bassett website. “Her quiet patience and unwavering support gave confidence and strength to the family and our company leaders throughout the years.”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Bassett Mechanical achieved steady growth with additional HVAC engineering and serving the industrial ventilation market. The company’s service division became a LINC Service contractor and opened offices in Madison and Milwaukee.
While industrial refrigeration remains a major mainstay, the company changed its name to Bassett Mechanical as its services become more varied.
By the mid-1990s, the company had outgrown its original Appleton location. In 1996, the company acquired a 268,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, its headquarters and fabrication space ever since. The new facility allowed for more growth for pressure vessel fabrication and power piping.
In all, Bill served as Bassett’s president and CEO for 33 years, and remains as the company’s chairman of the board.
In 2007, Bill passed on family leadership to his daughter, Kim Bassett.
Before she joined the business, Kim was working as a speech pathologist after earning a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the profession.
“I grew up in the business, working summers and holidays,” Kim says. “And my parents always said to pursue your passion. While joining the business certainly was an option, there was never an expectation that either my sister or I would have to join the business.”
A few years later, however, that pursuit changed with her becoming a part of the full-service mechanical contractor.
“I approached my dad and said, what do you think about me joining the business,” Kim adds. “And he said, that would be fine, but you’re going to have to go back to school first since you have a medical background and now you need a business background.
Kim joined Bassett Mechanical in 1996 after earning a master’s degree in management with an emphasis on construction from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. What followed was more than a decade of learning the business through a series of positions, including starting out as a sales representative.
“I always chuckle that sales was my first position,” Kim remembers. “I had never even sold a Girl Scout cookie before. Yet sales did fit my personality very well, and it was a great way to get exposed to our associates inside the company and learn about our customers throughout the markets we serve.”
After a few years of sales, Kim also gained experience as an estimator, project manager and service sales manager. And she also worked as a helper in the pipefitting and sheet metal departments in the field and the manufacturing facility.
“I joke that there are some days when I wouldn’t mind throwing on my steel-toed boots and go help again,” Kim adds.
After more than 10 years of rolling up her sleeves and working alongside the various departments, Kim spent an additional year shadowing Bill as executive vice president. Kim became president and chief operating officer of Bassett Mechanical in January 2007. And in December 2009, she was named president and CEO.
In recent years, under Kim’s leadership, the company has expanded its capabilities beyond the frozen and refrigerated food processing and healthcare industries, and continued to develop its service operations in Madison and Milwaukee and a recently opened office in Wausau.
Kim has been featured in local and national publications as an exemplary leader. In November 2009, for example, she received the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Athena Award. The Athena honors women business leaders for their exceptional contributions to their companies, their industries, their communities, and the chamber, as well as to the advancement of women in business.
She is also a charter member of the Wisconsin Family Business Forum and helped to establish their “next generation” peer groups. Other professional associations include the Union Bargaining Committee for the Mechanical Contractors Association and Sheet Metal Contractors Association. She has also served as a board member for both organizations.
Over the years, Kim has been – and continues to be – an active board member and volunteer for several area organizations and charities, including Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin, the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Harbor House Domestic Abuse Shelter.
Kim’s dedication to the safety of Bassett Mechanical’s customers, associates, and community has been recognized by her recent induction into the Wisconsin Safety Council Safety Hall of Fame and acknowledgement in the National Safety Council’s Health + Safety magazine’s 2020 “CEO’s Who ‘Get it.'”