Why safety should be a fundamental part of your plant culture

When it comes to plant safety, should you be "your brother's keeper"?

By J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, senior technical editor

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In brief:

  • Safety should be part of corporate value systems, woven into the industrial culture so intimately there is rarely any discussion of whether to respond to a potential safety issue.
  • Generally, the hunt for silver bullets has been replaced by a dawning realization that safety should be a fundamental, values-based part of the organizational culture.
  • The responsibility for improvements is both organizational and personal, infused with a strong flavor of being a brother's keeper.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is a question that has echoed through millennia of worldwide religious and societal thought. Manufacturers give industrial safety the same consideration. Not only are we our industrial brothers’ keepers, but our sisters’, colleagues’, contractors’, and customers’ keepers, as well. Acceptable safety standards in well-run manufacturing businesses no longer come from stand-alone safety programs. They are part of corporate value systems, woven into the industrial culture so intimately there is rarely any discussion of whether to respond to a potential safety issue. The only question is how to find the most effective response quickly.

Figure 1. Number of reportable injuries has been on the decline for years, partly because the number of incidents themselves has diminished to the point of being difficult to trend within most companies.
Figure 1. Number of reportable injuries has been on the decline for years, partly because the number of incidents themselves has diminished to the point of being difficult to trend within most companies.

To support the new paradigm, the focus on Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reportable incidents seems to have diminished in successful programs, though annual declines continue. (Figure 1). This may be partly because the number of incidents themselves has diminished to the point of being difficult to trend within most companies. A more useful tool is turning out to be careful collection and review of near-miss incidents, from which we can learn valuable lessons for improvement.

Generally, the hunt for silver bullets has been replaced by a dawning realization that safety should be a fundamental, values-based part of the organizational culture.

“Our current success was developed approximately three years ago by our safety department, which analyzed existing safety standards and then refurbished our safety systems.” reports J.B. Brown, president of Bremen Castings (www.bremencastings.com) in Bremen, Indiana. “They rapidly aided the progression by researching past successful protocols and then further developing awareness and procedures.”

Figure 2. MOM Brands facilities drop the assumption that safety and productivity are at odds with each other and strive for both.
Figure 2. MOM Brands facilities drop the assumption that safety and productivity are at odds with each other and strive for both.

“Certainly, one of the most important keys to success is having support at all levels of the business,” says Scott Kluegel, corporate electrical engineering department manager for MOM Brands (www.mombrands.com), based in Minneapolis. “Regardless of whether it’s related to food or personnel, safety is our No. 1 priority. Our culture of safety starts with our CEO Chris Neugent and continues throughout the company. My advice is to secure buy-in from top executives to make safety a No. 1 priority throughout your company.”

Once an organization has buy-in, Kluegel offers these key pieces of advice for working through the safety improvement process:

  • Drop the assumption that safety and productivity are at odds with each other. You can have both (Figure 2).
  • Look for a reason to do an assessment. The benefits will outweigh the original driver.
  • Use best practices and form partnerships. Make sure you leverage outside experts and suppliers and what they’re doing with others.
  • Look for what you don’t want to see and ask yourself the tough questions. Have the courage to act on tough challenges.
  • When investing in automation control, keep long-range plans and needs in mind.
  • Don’t get comfortable with the status quo. Always look for ways to improve.
Figure 3. Statutory training and equipment checks are performed at MOM Brands facilities, usually exceeding the letter of the law, but safety leaders don’t use them to mark the limits of responsibility.
Figure 3. Statutory training and equipment checks are performed at MOM Brands facilities, usually exceeding the letter of the law, but safety leaders don’t use them to mark the limits of responsibility.

The responsibility for improvements is both organizational and personal, infused with a strong flavor of being a brother's keeper. Statutory training and equipment checks are performed, usually exceeding the letter of the law, but safety leaders don’t use them to mark the limits of responsibility (Figure 3). The overall safety objective is the prevention of all injuries by the elimination of environmental danger and individual bad habits. All of this is performed on a continuous improvement basis, so there is no practical limit to the thoroughness of the approach.

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