ASC: Safety at Frito-Lay Inc.: More Addictive than Potato Chips

A corporate philosophy of prevention, rather than post-accident intervention, manifests itself in the company's focus on ergonomics and driver safety.

Frito-Lay Inc., based in Plano, Texas, began its safety journey 10 to 12 years ago. In 1996, Jim Rich, the senior vice president of operations, initiated a productivity process called "Starfleet." The goal of the process was to drive productivity, reduce costs, share best practices and create a more competitive organization.

"Part of the goal of improving operations was to improve the quality of work life for our associates and that means safety," says Tom Jacob, director of operations safety for the company. "Our major concern was that we do the right thing."

Today, Frito-Lay Inc. has more than 45,000 employees at 33 manufacturing facilities in the United States. Twenty-four of those facilities participate in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), with two more expected to be added to the list by the end of the year.

Focus on Ergonomics

A bag of potato chips doesn't weigh much, but imagine employees hand-packing millions of bags of chips and other snacks into cartons every hour of every day at locations across the country. Repetition, not weight, is the primary concern.

As part of its production and safety efforts, good workplace design has become almost second nature at Frito-Lay, Jacob says. "We were looking for ways to reduce ergonomic injuries, so we identified the risks to eliminate those injuries."

The corporate office worked with individual locations in a consulting role to help them set up their own ergonomics teams at each location. The leadership team at each location establishes an ergonomic steering committee that is made up of management representatives, line associates and safety professionals. The goal, says Jacob, is to get a cross-section of employees to work together to develop initiatives and decide for the year what are that location's priorities going to be and what challenges exist, and to examine historical data from the OSHA logs and workers' compensation plan to spot trends.

The result has been redesigned equipment or job tasks where necessary; the hiring of in-plant physical therapists who act as coaches or mentors and who conduct on-floor observations at many facilities; pre-shift stretching warm-ups; and targeted ergonomics teams for different areas of a facility, such as packaging or the warehouse.

An important aspect of the ergonomics program is new employee ramp-ins. Workers are on the packaging line for 8 or more hours a day. It takes time, says Jacob, to get up to speed. "We have a couple of weeks for them to climatize to the environment and make sure that they are getting adjusted to the speeds, to the repetition and things like that."

Another component of the ergonomics program is called "People Improving Ergonomics," or PIE. That is a technician-based team that goes out and evaluates other technicians doing the job. Line associates are videotaped doing their job tasks, and if the team finds that line associates are varying from the standards for the job, they pull the associates in and show them the videotape. They are given one-on-one feedback and are counseled about the correct way to do the job.

A source of pride at Frito-Lay is the level of employee engagement, and the ergonomics program is a good example of that engagement, says Jacob. "The ergonomic teams which include line associates are engaged in the process of making the workplace safer."

On the Road Again

Once the Doritos leave the Frito-Lay factory, they don't magically appear on the shelves of your local grocery store. Those shelves are stocked by Frito-Lay employees, who work out of 350 distribution centers across the country.

Not only do they stock the shelves, but they load the trucks at the distribution centers and drive the trucks to the stores.

The distribution centers, like the manufacturing facilities, have ergonomic teams that follow up on complaints of injuries or discomfort, assess work stations and provide ergonomic training. But for many distribution employees, much of the day is spent outside the facility.

"They make eight to 15 stops a day," says Pam Hermann, national sales safety manager, of the drivers. "We can control the work environment in the trucks and at the distribution center, but we can't control the roads or the environment in the stores."

Employees at the distribution centers are trained to react to various scenarios: Spilled milk in store aisles, wobbly shelving, potholes in the road, icy or wet conditions, etc. "We work with the owners of the stores to reduce hazards. We provide drivers with tools - like step stools and hand carts - so they don't have to lift product over their heads or carry heavy boxes. If they need help, a manager will come in and help them stock," says Hermann.

Since the distribution employees work, for the most part, independently, it is important that they understand the "how and why" of safe behavior. "Their safety is their responsibility," says Hermann. "They are responsible for being aware of their surroundings heavy traffic, road construction, wet pavement. It involves a lot of training and coaching about safety."

Frito-Lay works hard to keep employees engaged in the safety process, to make safety fun, says Hermann. Big safety successes are celebrated with lunches and picnics and parties. Distribution employees participate in Safety Awareness Days, which include barbecues in combination with safety activities such as truck safety checks and seatbelt checks.

Successes often are rewarded with food. It's amazing, says Hermann, how much goodwill is created by an ice cream cone.

Jacob agrees with a laugh: "We're big on food at Frito-Lay. "

And big on safety.

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