Safety is about more than compliance to these U.S. Companies
The move was part of its Worthington Industries’ Safe Works program, which began as a safety initiative in 2001 and became the company’s official safety management program in June 2006. Since the initial launch six years ago, Worthington Industries has reduced workers’ compensation claims by 66%, recordables by 65% and days away from work, transfers and restrictions by 64%, according to company-provided data. The program also enabled the self-insured company to reduce its reserves for workers’ compensation claims by several million dollars.
Prior to implementing Safe Works, most of Worthington Industries’ safety measures were strictly for compliance. But the company realized that in order to create a strong safety culture, a centralized safety program would be necessary, says Terry Leberfinger, director of human resource services and environmental, health and safety for Worthington.
“While we succeeded in being OSHA compliant, our numbers showed there was room for improvement,” Leberfinger explains. “OSHA compliance addresses workplace conditions, which accounted for about 10% of our injuries. We wanted to take safety one step further to address the other 90% of injuries, which involved reviewing decision-making and activities that put workers at risk.”
As an example, the company established employee-directed safety councils in which workers discuss safety issues at their facility and determine corrective actions. The safety team members also act as a liaison between their peers and operations managers. The safety council initiative is a corporate wide directive, but each team is encouraged to modify the program to fit their needs.
The company also has established a behavior-based reinforcement program developed by industrial psychologists that gets employees to focus on three safe behaviors at a time. As part of the program, plant workers voluntarily observe their peers to note safe actions, and plant managers then reward employees with small gifts, such as cookouts or gift certificates, for those behaviors, Leberfinger says. Once employees consistently practice the safe behaviors for 30 days, they select another safety target.
Failure to do so could be costly. Ergonomics-related injuries are the leading cause of serious non-fatal workplace injuries, according to the 2011 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index. Indeed, overexertion injuries — caused by excessive lifting, pushing, pulling, holding and carrying — grabbed the No. 1 spot (based on 2009 data, the latest year for which data were available) in dollar terms, costing businesses $12.75 billion in direct costs. Add repetitive-motion injuries to the calculation, and the cost increases by another $1.97 billion.
Jeff Sanford, managing consultant at Humantech, says ergonomics typically has not received enough consideration by businesses. “You need to manage ergonomics as a process,” just as you would any other system in the organization, he says.
The ergonomics consulting firm suggests that leadership for the ergonomics process should be assigned to engineering or operations, and the reason is simple: Engineering and operations most influence workstation design and equipment. “All sustainable and preferred improvements are engineering controls rather than work- practice controls or administrative controls,” points out James Mallon, Humantech vice president. He and Sanford shared their views during a 2011 online seminar.
One manufacturing company that has recognized the importance of ergonomics is Magna International . In 2007 the automotive supplier launched a robust ergonomics program in North America. The program includes five measurable categories: support infrastructure; analysis and prioritization; implementation and risk reduction; proactive ergonomics; and metrics and communication.
Each category then has five to six criteria elements that outline the specific requirements with which a participating facility must comply. For example, one criterion is that a facility must have an ergonomics committee, and the committee must be led by the engineering manager.
The ergonomics effort in 2011 grabbed the attention of safety officials in Michigan, where the program has been embraced by 14 Magna International plants. The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration presented Magna with its Ergonomic Innovation Award.
Says Marc Neeb, Magna International executive vice president of human resources: “The program has unquestionably been positive for our organization and specifically our employees through benefits such as reduced injuries and increased productivity and quality.”
It’s no secret the exodus of retirement-age workers and their considerable knowledge is placing a strain on manufacturing companies around the globe. Less discussed, but just as real, are the challenges being presented by aging workers still employed on the manufacturing floor — and the design changes workplaces should be considering to keep these valuable employees productive and in the game.
Lance S. Perry, a senior ergonomist and professional engineer with Zurich Services Corp
Indeed, the average age of a high-skilled U.S. manufacturing worker today is 56, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
“With this shift, we first must appreciate the difference between the younger and aging person, and then make sure we design accordingly so that these differences don’t become an obstacle,” says Perry.
Xerox, for example, has taken ergonomic measures to address its older population. In its 2012 environment, health and safety report, the company noted that musculoskeletal disorders continue to represent about half of its work-related injuries and illnesses, “which is why we have strong processes to reduce ergonomic stresses in the workplace.” Those strong processes include an ergonomic training program “designed to provide simple ergonomic strategies, as well as awareness of the normal aging process, to reduce personal risk to employees,” Xerox states.
“Many people view the aging workforce as a liability, and to some extent it might be, but it is also an opportunity.” Perry says. “This is where your experience lies, this is where your job knowledge lies, this is where, in some respects, loyalty lies.”
“It actually is in our benefit to make sure we find a way that a person can work longer and still stay productive and safe,” he adds.
I’ve worked for 39 years with Milliken & Company, and not long ago we faced a burning platform. Low-cost, off-shore competition posed a growing threat. All our domestic competitors decided to either go overseas or go out of business. While Milliken dedicated more to R&D than any company in the textile industry, to survive we had to address fundamental costs and quality structures to survive.
We were working hard on safety, but in a silo. We saw no connection between safety and operations. We were in survival mode.
In recent years, Milliken has more than doubled the S&P 500’s rate of earnings growth, despite lagging behind the index in topline growth. We have proven ideas for achieving this operational excellence that are relevant for any operation. But the success stems largely from the strong foundation in safety that has driven Milliken the last two decades.
Here are some examples:
- Milliken has run at world-class safety rates for over 25 years.
- In 2010, Milliken became the first company to be recognized twice as one of the safest companies in the U.S.
- Milliken runs its operations with zero safety managers on site. Safety is an associate-driven process.
- All eligible Milliken sites are VPP Star-certified, including its corporate headquarters.
We analyzed numbers to validate Paul O’Neill’s claim, and here’s what we found:
- If the typical Fortune 500 company improved its safety rate from the national average to the world-class level Milliken obtained, it could avoid workers’ compensation costs of over $50 million per year per company.
- To generate this type of return at current profit levels, the average Fortune 500 Company would require additional sales of over $800 million per year!