Industrial Safety

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

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  • Generally, the hunt for silver bullets has been replaced by a dawning realization that safety should be a fundamental, values-based part of the organizational culture.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Generally, the hunt for silver bullets has been replaced by a dawning realization that safety should be a fundamental, values-based part of the organizational culture.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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Figure 4. Rushing, complacency, fatigue, and frustration are behaviors that contribute to unsafe personal conduct.
Figure 4. Rushing, complacency, fatigue, and frustration are behaviors that contribute to unsafe personal conduct.

“MOM Brands focuses less on a plant safety record and more on our process for hazard identification, risk assessment, and prioritization,” says Kluegel. “We stress the use of safe working behaviors to help reduce safety incidents and create a safer working environment. As an organization, MOM Brands has made significant inroads to establish a safety culture beyond compliance. We’ve developed processes for assessing risk to personnel prior to equipment installation. We also use risk assessment processes to drive the development of our engineering design standards. Engaging our employees in the process and focusing on safe behaviors has resulted in a safer overall working environment.”

“One of our jobs for this year is to get full standards compliance, both ISO and OHSAS,” says Alex Masotti , director, environmental, health & safety, discrete automation & motion division, North America, at Baldor (www.baldor.com), an ABB company. “We have also finished loading all 2012 and 2013 incident reporting into our database. We have analyzed the data and found that, for inside manufacturing, electrical problems, machine guarding, material handling and falls create the most incidents, including near-misses. The worst problem by far, though, is outside the plant where vehicles cause the most incidents. These causes give us a place to build a program of continuous safety environment improvement. At the same time we have isolated the causes of about 95% of the behaviors that contribute to unsafe personal conduct. These are rushing, complacency, fatigue and frustration (Figure 4).

Figure 5. Audit teams serve as a channel to help share successful improvements that have been developed at Baldor.
Figure 5. Audit teams serve as a channel to help share successful improvements that have been developed at Baldor.

This gives us the basis for Safe Start training that will help workers address their personal contributions to incidents. All this adds up to a realization for workers that ‘Baldor cares about me and my family.’” Baldor will be supplementing in-house observations with audit teams recruited from other ABB facilities to cast fresh eyes on performance in Baldor’s facilities. These audit teams will also serve as a channel to help share successful improvements that have been developed at Baldor and elsewhere (Figure 5).

“Our proudest achievement,” reports Brown, “is the million man-hours without a lost-time accident. To achieve this milestone it took a team of hard-driven, caring, and safety-conscious employees.”

In June 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor recognized four Hypertherm facilities as OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star worksites. These four facilities join two other Hypertherm worksites, located in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Lebanon, New Hampshire, which received OSHA VPP Star recognition two years ago. “The cornerstone of our program is Hypertherm’s culture, which promotes associate involvement and teamwork at all levels of our organization,” says Hypertherm founder and CEO Dick Couch. “All team members work together to design workplace enhancements that will improve the overall well-being of all Hypertherm associates with an ultimate goal of zero workplace accidents.”

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3 keys to safety

J.B. Brown, president of Bremen Castings, has a prescription for success that is similar to those of other successful firms. “I actually have three key pieces of advice; training, persistence and follow-up,” he says, providing a more specific look at each.

1. Training, training and more training. Safety training is the key for our employees to recognize existing safety hazards or hazards as they develop and how to report them. We have weekly safety training, monthly safety training and return-to-work-after-the-holiday training — this is outside of what OSHA requires — that starts at the beginning of each shift in each department to remind our employees safety is a priority. We also discuss safety incidents that have occurred in the past week and the corrective action the investigation team determined from the investigation. The monthly safety training and the return-to-work-after-the-holiday training would include items such as emergency evacuation procedures, fire extinguishers, blood-borne pathogens, or seasonal reminders such as heat relief and cold-weather emergencies.

2. We know that complacency in the foundry is extremely dangerous and to keep that in the foreground of thoughts and actions we have to be persistent in everything we do from top management to all employees. One way of doing this is with our incident/near-miss investigations. We investigate every incident, no matter how small.

3. Just like any world-class quality program, our audits and follow-up in safety are absolutely imperative. We use our safety audit system to ensure we are monitoring our procedures and determining root causes and then follow up on our corrective actions for effectiveness, as well as analyzing the data for continuous improvements. Bremen Castings does not choose to follow the status quo; we go beyond the industry safety standards to predict and prevent accidents that will protect all of our stakeholders; and I suggest to other companies to look past preventive measures alone and include predictive programs that can reduce predictable incidents and injuries.

The impetus for all of the above is seen by leaders as having to come from inside the organization, as does any fundamental value system.

“At Siemens, we believe we have a responsibility, as a company and as individuals, to ensure that everyone has a safe working environment at all times,” says Damon Crowther, EHS manager of Siemens Charlotte Energy Hub. (www.siemens.com) in North Carolina. “In Charlotte, safety is always a top priority. One example of our success in this area is what we call our plant housekeeping, where we have virtually eliminated slips, trips, and falls as they relate to housekeeping. This is a direct result of our employees taking personal responsibility for not only their safety but the safety of others. If they see a potential hazard, they are expected to speak up and take action to prevent potential accidents. Safety is truly a mindset here — not only at work, but all day, every day.”

Siemens uses peer-to-peer observations with positive coaching and interaction when an at-risk behavior is observed, explains Crowther. “Additionally, we maintain a focus on the holistic employee and performance under the management system of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 through ‘Human Performance,’” he says. “Next, we drive the concepts that everyone is responsible for their safety and product quality and responsible for the safety of those they work with and that they need to take or initiate actions to address any identified nonconformance. Finally, EHS at our campus supports and understands the business environment and works to support our business objectives while at the same time helping to ensure all safety requirements are met.”

Dan DesRochers, vice president, operations, at Federal Signal (www.federalsignal.com), in University Park, Illinois, which produces safety and emergency equipment, credits a similar approach for its 50% reduction in incidents over the past two years. “Have an active safety committee that engages the entire workforce,” he suggests. “Starting with kaizen events, including 5S drills, use local experts to get control of the areas. Fix problems today to show that safety is the No. 1 priority. Seek and share internal advice on best practices. We have an ergonomic specialist on staff, as repetitive motion injuries are a constant challenge in our kind of assembly. Celebrate and reward improvements. Promote friendly competition between plants and other groups. When incidents do occur, look for pairs of causes. Most incidents result from a combination of work-area problems and worker behaviors. We need to solve both.”

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J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at smcgroarty@putman.net or check out his .

Safety programs at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM, www.toyotaforklift.com) in Columbus, Indiana, are an integral part of the Toyota Production System, explains Thomas A. Lego, customer center manager. “Making things is about making people, according to the system,” he says. “Production processes are developed, standardized, and taught to the workforce. Once the standard processes are mastered, all workers are expected to develop improvements to the process. These improvements include safety, as well as productivity upgrades (Figure 6).”

Figure 6. Production processes at Toyota are developed, standardized, and taught to the workforce, where they’re mastered and improved.
Figure 6. Production processes at Toyota are developed, standardized, and taught to the workforce, where they’re mastered and improved.

 Representatives of each TIEM production area begin the shift at the Safety Dojo, where they review issues and incidents from elsewhere in the plant and update action lists of improvement opportunities from their own groups (Figure 7). As they develop and install improvements, they also extract “treasures.” These are ideas and methods that can be shared to help other Toyota facilities improve their safety. As with several other companies, Toyota uses a system of auditors from other plants to focus fresh eyes on TIEM operations and share treasures from other operating units.

Figure 7. In the Toyota Safety Dojo, workers review issues and incidents from elsewhere in the plant and update action lists of improvement opportunities from their own groups.
Figure 7. In the Toyota Safety Dojo, workers review issues and incidents from elsewhere in the plant and update action lists of improvement opportunities from their own groups.

Safety 2013 has a distinctive look in many factories. Fully engaged groups of workers from all walks of corporate life are taking the time to constantly challenge and improve safety performance. They build on all employees’ intimate knowledge of operations and constantly ask how it can be done better and more safely. The objective isn’t to fulfill a legal or corporate guideline. Instead the focus is a company-wide effort to identify the hazards and practices that contribute to accidents and replace them with facilities and cultures that promote the well-being of all stakeholders.