Opening the Door for Employee Participation in Safety

This Montgomery, Pa., company encourages employees to serve on safety committees and act as "Safety Points."

Dell Pratt, safety coordinator at Springs Window Fashions, believes there's no magic in being one of America's Safest Companies. "It's hard work," he says, of a safety process that has earned the company Voluntary Protection Program Star honors from OSHA and recognition from the governor of Pennsylvania. "There's no magic involved."

Of the company's 783 associates, approximately 103 serve on a safety committee, and all supervisors and managers participate on one of the company's safety committees. The plant manager, Doreen Decker, serves as the co-chairperson (along with Pratt) of the Central Safety and Health Committee at Springs Window Fashions.

"I've seen some great written safety programs that sit in a book on a shelf, collecting dust. Ours is a process, and we not only encourage employees to get involved on safety committees and to monitor the safety behaviors of their coworkers, we empower them to correct any unsafe condition. Associates are given the time and training to do all of the departmental safety audits each month," says Pratt.

In fact, the company's eight safety subcommittees have written tasks and goals that are measured, and each meets at least once per month. "All safety meetings take priority over other meetings/duties, and are scheduled for the entire year," says Pratt.

The eight safety subcommittees activities, rules and procedures, education and training, occupational health and incident investigation, ergonomics, emergency and security, health and wellness and Safety Point associates vary in size from eight to 35 members.

Safety Points

Members of the Safety Points subcommittee serve as the main point of contact many employees have with the safety process. The 35 Safety Points come from every department in the office and factory. The Safety Points conduct weekly and monthly safety audits, and have been trained to teach other associates how to conduct audits.

A behavior-based safety observation program has been customized for the facility, says Pratt, and is scheduled to commence this fall. "One of the tasks of the Safety Points was to get the other associates on board with the program," says Pratt. The Safety Points, along with managers and supervisors, explained the new program and the reasons behind it to employees, and will continue to offer information and guidance to employees as they begin to "work" the program.

"We are very associate-oriented. Because so many of them are involved with safety committees or have served on safety committees in the past, they understand the emphasis the company places on safety and the reasons it is important," says Pratt.

"Safety is equal to production and quality; we have that type of culture. If it can't be done safely, it's not done."

Safety meetings, which occur at least once a month, are interactive, he says, and it's not often that training is simply a video or Powerpoint presentation. "Most of the training is done by supervisors with input from employees. It's a way to show employees that supervisors are on board with safety. If you don't have supervisor support, the safety program will fail," Pratt contends.

New hires at the company, which manufactures vertical and horizontal window blinds, are given an extensive safety orientation, and all meet with Pratt before they start their first shift in their department. "Management doesn't just give us the capital money we need to purchase equipment or training materials, they give us time time associates need to attend safety committee meetings, safety training and orientation and to work on safety-related projects," notes Pratt.

At Union Pacific, Safety is Number One

Ask any employee at Union Pacific Railroad and they'll tell you, "Safety is my responsibility."

On-the-job injuries at Union Pacific have been trending down for the past 10 years, the result of a company focusing on building a safety process, rather than enforcing a safety program.

"Safety at Union Pacific is a process rather than a series of 'programs,'" says Steve Kenyon, general manager-safety. "We treat safety just as we would treat a business. Every work unit be it a shop, an office or a track gang must have the safety process as part of its business plan."

The safety process ranges from employees warming up before work with stretching exercises to top executives visiting terminals and shops to talk about safety and get feedback.

At Union Pacific, safety is as much a part of the morning job briefing as how many ties are to be installed or how many cars are to be switched. "There are goals, accountabilities, resource allocations and measurements. The emphasis is on managerial as well as personal responsibility," says Dennis Duffy, executive vice president-operations, who leads one of two teams of senior managers that comprise the SHEOP (Safety, Health, Environmental and Operating Practices) Committee. "On our railroad, safety comes before productivity."

The SHEOP Committee plans, directs, monitors through visits to field sites and adjusts the overall safety processes. The work units, however, have authority to develop and manage their own safety action plans.

"At one location, grade crossing problems might be the main concern; at another, something else," Kenyon said. "So each group must have flexibility."

Choosing a Focus

Determining those concerns and acting on them is primarily the responsibility of the work unit's management, working with safety captains and safety committees at each work unit. Both are crucial components of UP's overall safety structure.

Although the work unit can design its own plan, some core elements are required at each site, including: supervisor accountability; training; monitoring work behaviors; job briefings; employee involvement and employee recognition; and communication through newsletters, safety hotlines and presentations on BTV, UP's in-house television network.

Employees are asked for their input, and their recommendations have resulted in a number of modifications to equipment and changes in work practices. Such input supplements the company's continuing ergonomic assessments for improving tools, equipment, workplace design and work processes, with the emphasis on preventing injuries.

In addition, an ongoing industrial hygiene surveillance program prevents and manages exposures to toxic chemicals, noise, dust and fumes, while personal protective equipment is another part of UP's injury prevention effort. UP supplies employees with safety glasses, hearing protection, respirators, safety shoes and other personal protective equipment as needed.

The company also provides first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training to employees and thousands of them have taken such training. As one employee noted, "A gang may be strung out for 20 miles, so the more people who have emergency training, the better chance there is that someone qualified will be nearby to help if needed."

Just one more example of the company philosophy: "Safety is my responsibility."

Savannah River Stands Down for Safety

At Westinghouse Savannah River Co., stand-downs and timeouts keep safety on the front burner.

At 11:30 a.m. one Friday morning in Aiken, S.C., all work stopped at the Westinghouse Savannah River Co. Over 10,000 workers stopped what they were doing to "stand-down" for safety.

The site president, Bob Pedde, had called a halt to business because three incidents including one involving an injury and one a forklift near-miss had occurred in a period of just a few days. He decided it was necessary to bring everyone's attention back to safety.

"The business manager came to me at 8:30 a.m. and said, 'We need a stand-down as soon as practical. I got a package of materials ready and by 11:30 a.m., work stopped," remembers Kevin Smith, industrial safety manager at the site, which is nearly 310 square miles devoted to the production and management of tritium and plutonium in support of the nation's nuclear stockpile.

Normally, stand-downs, whether site-wide or at one of the site's many facilities, occur because managers are seeing an injury or incident trend developing and want to nip it in the bud. Smith puts together a package of materials that include information about the injuries or incidents, a review of events that were related to the incident or were a cause for concern and a discussion of the choices that were made that led to the incidents or injuries and what should have been done differently.

Managers and supervisors are alerted when a stand-down will occur, because with the type of work being done at the site, just stopping work with no notice isn't practical, says Smith.

"The comment I get most frequently from employees about stand-downs is that they realize if we're stopping work to review recent mistakes or incidents that the management team is dedicated to working safely," he adds. And working safely at the Savannah River Site (SRS) is arguably more challenging that at some other workplaces.

"We perform high-hazard work such as building demolition and facility de-activation in environmentally hostile settings like high radiation levels requiring additional personal protective equipment," continues Smith. The site's 10,500 employees are involved with the management, treatment and disposal of radioactive and non-radioactive wastes. "When we're not working, we don't make money, so stand-downs have an impact on employees," says Smith. "If we quit producing for the government [in order] to talk about safety, then safety must be important."

Time Outs

Employees are encouraged to do more than just participate in safety at Westinghouse Savannah River; they are expected to take an active role. In addition to stand-downs, employees at Westinghouse Savannah River are frequently reminded of their responsibility to call a "timeout" when they feel uncomfortable about the safety of a job task. "Work does not resume until all parties involved are satisfied the concern has been addressed," says Smith. "Timeouts are informal in nature, in order to encourage employees to be quick to call them."

Employees at the site, which participates in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, are encouraged to constantly monitor themselves and their work areas for safe behavior. The site has an active behavior-based safety (BBS) program, and all employees are encouraged to participate either as trained observers or by volunteering to be observed. More than 5,000 employees have participated in the program.

Says Smith, "In light of ongoing workforce restructuring [downsizing] and other distractions, employees at the site continue to be highly engaged in the safety process. They take pride in their efforts to be their 'brother's keeper' when it comes to safety."

America's Safest Companies

2002
Alcoa
Chief Industries Inc.
Conoco Inc.
Deere & Co.
Delphi Corp.
Dick Pacific Construction
The Dow Chemical Co.
GE
Georgia Pacific Corp.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
Lockheed Martin Corp.
Lozier Corp.
New York Power Authority
Petrocon Engineering
Russell Corp.
Standard Register
Weyerhaeuser Co.

2003
Bechtel Group Inc.
Bon L Manufacturing
CF Industries Inc.
CSX Transportation
DaimlerChrysler
DuPont
ExxonMobile Chemical
Haynes International Inc.
Johnson & Johnson
Koppers Inc.
MeadWestvaco Corp.
Motorola Inc.
National Gypsum
Pactiv Corp.
Quincy Compressor
Salt River Project

2004
Anheuser-Busch Inc.
Bell Helicopter
DeFabCo
Denark Construction Inc.
DSM Desotech Inc.
Energy Northwest
Ford, Bacon & Davis
Freudenberg-NOK
Inland Printing Co.
L'Oreal USA
Milliken & Co.
Monsanto Co.
Packerland-Plainwell Inc.
Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.
Rohm and Haas
Texas Instruments Inc.
Washington Group International

2005
Amphenol AssembleTech Florida
Calpine Corp.
Delta Air Lines Inc.
Fort Dearborn Co.
Frito-Lay
ISP Columbus
Keystone Wood Specialties Inc.
Kinetic Systems Inc.
Marathon Petroleum Co. LLC
Springs Window Fashions
Union Pacific Railroad
Westinghouse Savannah River Co.

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