Safety Sits in the Driver's Seat at DaimlerChrysler

Since 1999, DaimlerChrysler has been able to reduce its injuries and lost-time work cases by over 80 percent, with corresponding improvements in quality and productivity. Lost workdays have been cut from a rate of about 4 in 1999 to under 1 so far in 2003. The incident rate has been cut from about 16 to around 5.

By William Atkinson

In tribute to its performance, the company won a number of safety awards last year, including several from the National Safety Council: Significant Improvement Award (33 locations, seven divisions, and 1 corporate), Green Cross of Excellence (22 locations and five divisions), and the Perfect Award (four locations, for no lost time injury cases).

These and other awards are a tribute to the company''s culture, which states that health and safety are core values and beliefs in the organization. "We recognize our social responsibilities and believe that effective health and safety processes can become a competitive advantage, since they impact other business metrics and also enable the company to become an employer the people want to work for," explains Jim Thomas, director of health, safety and medical operations.

Eight Key Components. The commitment is only the beginning, though. DaimlerChrysler is currently on a long-term culture change initiative related to health and safety, a journey that Thomas anticipates will take seven to 10 years. To help it achieve its long-term goals, the company manages its initiatives within eight key components:

  • 1. A caring and committed leadership.
  • 2. Operational ownership for the safety process.
  • 3. Enterprise-wide accountability for health and safety performance, hazard recognition, and compliance.
  • 4. Utilization of lean manufacturing principles.
  • 5. Process standardization.
  • 6. Audit processes conducted by joint management/union teams.
  • 7. A communication process which immediately broadcasts serious injuries and near-misses to all locations and then requires them to validate their own processes for similar situations.
  • 8. Root cause analysis.

Health and safety are not stand-alone programs in these initiatives. Rather, they are integrated into the overall fabric of the company, along with quality, cost and productivity. One program in particular that highlights this cross-functional approach is B.E.S.T. (Bringing Excellence to Safety Teams), which was implemented in 1999.

To launch B.E.S.T., a study team benchmarked several other companies and found some common threads in their safety initiatives. "We reviewed these and initially focused on four for our own use," reports Thomas.

1. Weekly safety incident review meetings. Management and union leadership at each plant discuss all incidents that occurred during the prior week, including injuries and near-misses, and then identify root causes.

2. Monthly review meetings. The same leadership meets, but the emphasis is more strategic in nature. "They review all of their safety priorities for the plant," states Thomas. "They also look at the resource requirements and see how they align with competing resource requirements for quality, productivity, etc."

3. Weekly safety observation tours. Every week, each supervisor and union steward walk their area and identify any hazards, including unacceptable work practices. As much as possible, rather than being a negative audit, it is intended to be a coaching and reinforcement process. "Any problems that are identified are entered into a database, where they remain until they are resolved," adds Thomas.

4. Continuous improvement workshops that integrate safety as one of the components. "For example, if there is a quality problem, we may find that it results from an ergonomic issue," he explains.

In 2001, the company added two more components to B.E.S.T.: a lockout compliance program and a driver PIV (powered industrial vehicle) safety program.

The cooperative initiative between management and the union has been working well, according to Thomas. "We have the leadership portion of the cultural shift mostly in place," he reports. "We don''t have much difference of opinion with the union, because we are both seeing the positive results of B.E.S.T." The next step, he points out, is to take it down to the next level in management-union leadership, then ultimately down to the worker.

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