Kroger: A Grocery Cart Full of Good Ideas for Safety

When 10,000 employees at 34 manufacturing sites have a lost-time injury rate less than one-third of the industry average, there's more to peanut butter, cakes, meats and cheese — and safety — than meets the eye.

A few years ago, Kroger Manufacturing would not have made the cut for America's Safest Companies. From 1994 to 1996, Kroger reached an average high of 18 OSHA-reportable injuries per 200,000 hours worked. “To be honest, safety performance — at the stores, the distribution centers and manufacturing — was less than stellar,” says Joe Girone, senior director of Manufacturing Human Resources/Labor Relations.

At the time, Girone worked at a Kroger Manufacturing facility in South Carolina that on paper looked pretty good; it had operated for 5 years without a lost-time incident. Despite that fact, “Something was missing,” says Girone. “A system approach, to help with continuous improvement, was lacking.”

Girone and others were asked to serve on a committee that examined safety needs at Kroger Manufacturing. They benchmarked against companies such as Proctor and Gamble and DuPont, and examined ISO 9000 requirements. In 1996, Kroger Manufacturing implemented a behavior-based safety program from BST and adopted the following safety principles:

  • Nothing we do is worth getting injured over. Our work is important, but the safety of every employee is our most important responsibility.

  • All injuries can be prevented. Every injury has a root cause that can be eliminated and therefore, every injury can be prevented. Bad luck plays no part in an effective safety process.

  • Safety will be managed. Safety is a process and by utilizing an effective safety process, we can manage safety results and reduce and eliminate injuries.

  • Safe behavior is a condition of employment for all employees. Employees who do not accept responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others will not be retained.

“This was a multi-million dollar investment without a tangible measurement of return,” remembers Melvin Jones, manufacturing safety trainer for Kroger Manufacturing. “This was very out-of-the-box for our company [which has a philosophy of] showing specific return on investment.”

The efforts have paid off. Today, recordable injuries for Kroger Manufacturing are a fraction — one-sixth — of what they were in 1996 and behavior-based safety is one of six elements of a safety process that also includes: expectations and involvement, goal setting and action planning, safe practices, plant training systems and performance tracking.

Volunteer safety committees examine both the behavior-based and physical sides of the safety process. There is no fault-finding when incidents occur, says Girone. Instead, incident investigation teams, the safety team and the safety committees look for and analyze the root cause of incidents, whether they were recordable or not, and take proactive action.

All Kroger employees — from management to line employees — are asked to set safety goals. For managers, the goals are related to the safety process at their facilities. For employees, the goal might be to increase participation on a safety committee or to generate a work order to improve the safety of a work process. Empowerment and participation in safety at all levels is evidenced by:

  • Any associate has the authority to shut down a line if running equipment or doing a task is deemed unsafe.

  • Senior management serves on the plant leadership safety team at the corporate level.

  • General managers hold safety meetings at least monthly.

  • Each division has a safety leader represented at the plant general manager level.

“We care about the welfare of our associates and are committed to providing the safest work environment possible,” says William Boehm, senior vice president of the the Kroger Co. and president of Kroger Manufacturing. “This award is the direct result of the focus our entire company places on safety. In fact, in the past 10 years, Kroger has cut accident rates in half in our stores, manufacturing facilities and warehouses. We believe every individual throughout our organization is responsible for safe work practices and reducing accidents.”

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