Field Check: Hot Issues for Safety and Health

Taking the EHS pulse, we checked out what issues leading safety and health directors focused on in 2001 and what's ahead for next year.

Safety and health professionals across the country face a myriad of issues as 2001 winds down and 2002 approaches. With the terrorist attacks and anthrax scare still at the forefront, these leaders cannot focus only on basic workplace safety issues anymore.

To learn what EHS pros have on their agendas, Occupational Hazards interviewed several corporate safety and health directors at some of the nation's larger companies, such as DuPont, Marathon Oil, Sonoco, Broyhill Furniture and Fluor. Here's what they had to say.

Charlie Curlee, Marathon Oil

Charlie Curlee, the safety and training manager for Marathon Oil, has spent much of 2001 working through the company's reorganizing of geographic regions into larger business units. Fortunately for Curlee, the company maintained the importance of the health, environment and safety (HES) organization.

"I have to give credit to our new senior management team, which has looked at our past successes and has recognized that HES has been positive," he says.

Without worrying about the future of Marthon's safety efforts, Curlee has been able to concentrate on standardizing HES programs as part of the reorganization.

Marathon formed a team of four HES staffers - two from the corporate office and two in business units &endash; who have a significant amount of experience and have held positions in two or more production locations.

The team worked with a larger group to identify 16 HES programs to standardize, such as lockout/tagout, hotwork permits and confined spaces. With confined spaces, for example, business units had varying policies for what constituted a rescue team, as well as different forms.

To ensure that standardized programs do not have a one-size-fits-all look, Marathon made drafts available to employees for their input. Standardized training will accompany the revamped programs, Curlee says.

In 2002, Curlee plans to concentrate on improving contractor safety and reporting of near-miss incidents.

As one of the 16 standardized programs, progress on contractor safety lags behind others, in part because of coordinating with contract services, legal and global procurement groups.

When the program is standardized, new expectations will be explained to contractors, such as improved injury and illness rates. Curlee also seeks to improve the selection process of contractors by looking more at their past performance, particularly in areas of environment and safety. "We want to use contractors with the same values of HES performance," he says.

One way Marathon plans to help contractors focus on safety is to hold more special events similar to a stand down for four hours this fall at a site to discuss safety issues.

Should a contractor refuse to embrace safety, Marathon will not hesitate to find

another company to do the work, Curlee says. Earlier this year, a contractor did not report a couple of serious incidents. When Marathon discovered the omissions, it terminated work with the contractor. The company made the decision even though oil production would be affected. "That becomes a powerful message to other contractors that we are serious about this," he says. "We want the incidents reported. We don't want rates to go down because people cover up incidents."

Marathon also will standardize the accident investigation process in 2002 to ensure all near-miss incidents are reported. The perception in the past from employees has been that a near miss should not be reported because it will reflect poorly on that person. Curlee says the company will work hard next year to change that perception. "We want employees to share that information so we can spread it around and others can learn."

Deborah L. Grubbe, DuPont

When E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. sought a line operations manager to lead a new corporate emphasis on ergonomics and employee health 1 1/2 years ago, it chose Deborah L. Grubbe, P.E.

Grubbe, a 23-year employee with a chemical engineering degree, readily accepted the challenge as a corporate director of safety and health at the global science company based in Wilmington, Del.

In her previous positions, Grubbe led global manufacturing and engineering organizations as director of operations. In her new assignment, she has focused on two areas in 2001:

  • Reducing musculoskeletal injuries among the company's 85,000 employees at facilities in 70 countries, and
  • Integrating safety and health in the areas of ergonomics and worker health.

DuPont's goal is to care for employees and keep them healthy so the result is a more productive and safe work force, Grubbe says. "If people are in better shape, are getting enough rest and are eating well, they're probably going to be more alert on the job and less likely to have accidents or other incidents."

Grubbe found that the company could emphasize ergonomics, but if workers have mental, emotional and social problems, the reporting of soft-tissue injuries will continue. "Our medical personnel have told us that often an employee is treated for an ache and a pain," she says, "but the reality is they really are depressed or suffering from anxiety."

As a result, Grubbe says, DuPont now uses a holistic approach to treating employees. If employees look forward to coming to work, they are more likely to be healthy, she contends.

In 2001, DuPont began pilot programs at several facilities to tackle specific ergonomic and wellness issues. One project in the South, for example, involves instituting a cardiovascular program to reduce the worker population's high incidence rate of heart disease.

The impact of the Sept. 11 events on employee health was not lost on DuPont's managers, Grubbe points out. "It has helped people see very clearly the level of stress and how the mental well-being of the work force is important and must be dealt with if you're a leader of an organization."

In 2002, Grubbe plans to oversee more integration pilot projects at various plants. She hopes to determine best practices to develop generic guidance for starting other pilot programs.

Grubbe says DuPont will focus next year on mental health issues, which she admits can be "real dicey." She wants to work with employee assistance personnel to determine mental well-being programs and education needed for problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, how these problems affect workers and how to help employees understand that they need help.

A.B. Robinson Jr., Fluor

For most of 2001, A.B. Robinson Jr., Fluor's vice president of corporate safety, has been "getting back to the basics." From a safety perspective, that has meant focusing on consistent implementation of simple activities such as management and supervisor responsibility, injury and illness tracking, mandatory pretask planning for every task, and measuring proactive activities instead of accident results.

Robinson calls his plan of attack the "Lombardi approach." Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi based his approach on the simplicity of blocking and tackling. The strategy is to do the basics consistently well and better than anyone else.

"We're about protecting people, protecting property and avoiding loss," says Robinson, a 24-year veteran at Fluor. "If we keep our eyes focused on that, we can drive down injuries and illnesses. That's what getting back to basics is about."

Here is a look at a few of the basics that Robinson and Fluor, an engineering, procurement, construction, maintenance and business services company, have focused on in 2001:

  • Management in action. Robinson has heard the term "management commitment" for years, but commitment is not enough, he says. "We've begun to focus aggressively this year on safety by example." The idea is to illustrate to management what safety means and the impact it has on the business, then provide necessary resources for managers to promote a safe work environment. In turn, management becomes part of the accident investigation process, participates in self-inspections and hazard analysis, and makes safety a topic of discussion in any project review meeting.
  • Supervisor accountability. Because accountability for safety tends to get lost at the first-line supervisory level, Robinson says, the focus this year at Fluor has been on holding supervisors accountable for driving safety performance. He accomplished this through a new, company-developed safety leadership training program. The main method is in-class training by Fluor's EHS professionals on topics such as employee coaching and inspection processes. "When accidents do happen, we want to make sure supervisors are involved in everything from the investigation to coming up with root causes to developing strategies to mitigate future occurrences."
  • Improved injury and illness tracking. Because of a greater need to know what types of injuries and illnesses are occurring, Fluor has spent more time analyzing where, why and how accidents occur. This has allowed the company to better direct awareness and training programs at areas of concern. For example, Robinson noted increased incidents of lower back injuries, so he has re-emphasized the "Smart Lift" program, a back injury reduction program developed by Fluor. The company shelved the program in recent years because of a substantial reduction in back injuries. "Paying attention to injury trends told us it was time to dust it off," he says.

In 2002, Robinson says the focus will be on redefining the role of the company's EHS professionals in the wake of the terrorist attacks. "Issues which we had little concern for will now be at the center of our attention, at least for a while."

One of the issues is security. While Fluor has separate safety and security departments, "we're working closer with security than we ever have before," he says.

Evacuation planning will be a continued area of attention next year, Robinson predicts. "We have to re-emphasize and retool evacuation plans to give employees a level of comfort and assure them that their safety is in good hands."

Gary Barger, Broyhill Furniture

Gary Barger's title at Broyhill Furniture is corporate safety director, but it could just as easily be sales manager.

In Barger's 13 years in the EHS field, he has learned that a safety program cannot be successful unless sold to management and employees. It's a concept that he has emphasized this year to the 6,500 employees at 30 facilities, including 18 manufacturing sites.

"To be good at this, you've got to be a salesman," he says of life as an EHS professional. "Employees have got to buy into the concept that they want to be safe. I can't get out there and make them work safely."

Barger knows he has lost the sale if the company disciplines someone for working unsafely. "If you get to the step in safety that you have to write up an employee for doing something wrong, you've failed," he says. "It should have been taken care of prior to that through coaching and fostering."

As a "salesman," Barger has spent 2001 "advertising" his product (workplace safety) to customers (employees) to build awareness. This is important, he points out, because there is a direct correlation between awareness of safety and employee buy-in.

Barger has found the most effective means of advertising in 2001 to be face-to-face meetings with employees. He has used these "sales calls" to close the sale with managers and line workers alike.

Many of these sales calls occur during training opportunities. Instead of having employees watch the same safety video they have seen for three years and have memorized, Barger and a staff of four environmental and safety compliance managers focus more on moving training back into the work areas.

Each plant has employees who double as safety trainers. They talk with employees at their workstations and near equipment they use about safety issues specific to that job. Trainers use checklists to ensure that workers know how to perform their tasks safely.

One of the areas with the most improvement in safety training in 2001 has been lockout/tagout, Barger says. In talking with employees who fail to properly lockout and tagout machinery, he found there are obstacles that workers do not know how to overcome. In some cases, the problem is with equipment not designed to allow a lockout.

"Part of being a salesman is learning about the problems employees face and working together to come up with a solution," he says.

Barger's goal for 2002 is to make himself and the safety program even more visible to employees. "It's hard to sell safety if you're not there," he says.

When Barger visits a plant, the purpose often is to perform a three- or four-day audit. Instead, he plans to conduct shorter audits focused on specific needs so he can visit more facilities more often.

Barger found success in selling safety to managers, who have asked for more supervisor safety training next year. He hopes to build on past initiatives of behavior-based safety and the psychology of safety.

Brad Gampfer, Ace Hardware

Material handling has been on the mind of Brad Gampfer, MBA, corporate safety manager for Ace Hardware. Not only has Gampfer spent much of 2001 on material handling issues, particularly in warehouses, but plans to focus in 2002 on changing the company's process for handling hazardous materials.

For Gampfer, safety issues at Ace Hardware have not cropped up during manufacturing as much as during handling and transporting products in and out of warehouses.

Back injuries have been the biggest bugaboo at Ace's warehouse facilities. To reduce these injuries, Gampfer has focused more attention on the company-developed back safety training program, which includes best practices, training on how to lift and how to get help. New hires, in particular, have been recipients of the training. A mentoring program for supervisors has helped them train workers new to their departments.

Forklift training has been another area of material handling emphasis this year at Ace Hardware. "With the amount of forklifts we have in the distribution centers, the potential for something to happen is pretty great, so we really scrutinize our operations," he says. This happens via thorough training and follow-up and by having a low tolerance for improper operating of forklifts.

Also in 2001, hand lacerations, such as when employees cut through gloves with knives when opening boxes, gained the attention of Gampfer, who implemented a policy that employees must wear a Kevlar glove on their noncutting hand.

Prior to Sept. 11, Ace Hardware started to implement changes to its hazardous materials program. The effort will hit full stride in 2002.

The biggest change is how Ace fills and ships orders. Previously, employees handled order processing manually, with a potential for human error such as putting incompatible hazardous materials in the same shipping container.

Ace will continue efforts to switch all warehouses to bar code scanning technology of hazardous materials. The bar code system "red flags" potential hazardous material problems, such as incompatibility of products shipped together. The technology instructs what hazardous material labels are needed on a shipping container and prints out the labels.

Gampfer also will focus next year on consolidating hazardous materials order filling into specific employees' jobs. That way, not all workers in warehouses will need hazardous materials training. To that end, Ace will ensure that hazardous materials are stored in one location in each warehouse.

Mike Sunderland, Sonoco

Employee involvement will play a key role in 2002 in Sonoco's march toward zero injuries. Mike Sunderland, corporate safety director for the $2.7 billion supplier of consumer and industrial packaging products, said the company will be pushing to have 100 percent of its employees involved in safety teams.

"Traditionally, the safety effort has been supported by the plant leadership team, the safety coordinator, the safety committee &endash; usually a fairly small group of people and most of those are volunteers," Sunderland says. "Safety has become too big - too many activities have to be done - to have the same small groups supporting the entire effort."

Sonoco plants will have a main safety committee that will serve as a steering team, establishing the safety strategy for the facility. Subteams will deal with particular issues such as ergonomics, energy isolation or audits and inspections. The subteams will have a mission statement and annual objectives. The chair of each subteam will serve as its representative to the plant steering team.

The ongoing responsibility that involvement in teams demands, Sunderland says, is "extremely beneficial to keeping folks aware of what needs to be done in safety and modifying their behavior as a result." Moreover, he adds, it "drives home the point" that the safety process has to be "supported by everyone."

Sunderland calls behavior-based safety (BBS) the "missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to our safety process." After a false start with BBS a few years ago at a Canadian plant, Sunderland says Sonoco better understands the concepts now and will begin implementing BBS at some of its operations. He says antecedent-behavior-consequence (ABC) analysis used in BBS is very helpful in understanding what changes are needed to improve safety and just how difficult it can be to change human behavior.

This year, Sonoco's Milesburg, Pa., plant became a Star facility in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program. In preparing for the VPP inspection, Sunderland notes, plant officials said the methodical review of safety processes, the development of new safety programs to fill gaps and the discipline imposed to document them resulted in a safer operation. Moreover, he says, the "massive job" of developing and documenting safety processes "led to a very high involvement of the work force."

In 2002, Sonoco will upgrade its training on electrical safety and energy isolation. Because electrical accidents can result in serious or even fatal injuries, a corporate committee decided to require that all manufacturing employees be trained to what OSHA calls the "unqualified" level. The company will use a combination of classroom and interactive CD-based training to train "unqualified" and "qualified" employees.

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