Safety Awareness at Schneider Electric Pays Off

Rich Widdowson credits safety training and awareness for the recent improvements in the safety record of Schneider Electric's North American Operating Division.

"We've known for a long time that training is key," said Widdowson, vice president of safety, health and environmental affairs. "Your employees have to understand how to do their job safely. We don't want to tell them to be safe without telling them how to do it. Focusing on safety means knowing how to do it the safe way and then making sure they are thinking about it every single day when they come to the job."

Last year, Schneider Electric saw its medical incident rate for the 15,0000 employees at its 30 facilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico decrease by 33 percent. The company saved approximately $1 million in workers' compensation costs, said Widdowson, and realized another $1 million in savings from indirect costs. In its Seneca, S.C. facility, which manufactures electrical drives, starters and other motor control equipment, workers' compensation premiums have fallen from $775,000 in 2002 to $140,000 in 2005.

Safe Start

The company instituted the "Safe Start" training program, which uses automobile driving scenarios to illustrate four critical errors that can lead to accidents on the highway and in the factory: rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency. The program consists of five 1-hour modules, which employees complete over the course of 6 months. Widdowson said the program helps change some employees' perceptions that accidents can only happen to someone else, not them, and that there is nothing they can do to prevent accidents from occurring.

Schneider Electric is also taking a variety of actions to reduce musculoskeletal injuries in its work force. The company has conducted ergonomic reviews and installed improved workstations. Load assist devices have been installed in many facilities, particularly in warehouses and in packaging areas of plants. At sites where there is a significant risk for injury, the company has contracted to have an ergonomics consultant be onsite 2-3 days a week to address problems such as wrist soreness and examine workstations. Widdowson said the company uses the NIOSH Lifting Equation to establish weight limitations for lifting at all its facilities. "If a load is greater than 60-70 pounds, they need to get help with it, especially if they are lifting from the floor or if it is an awkward shape," he noted.

Other training programs are aimed at electrical safety among service workers and the reduction of contusions and lacerations among parts fabricators.

For further information about training, visit the Employee Safety Training Safety Zone at www.occupationalhazards.com/safety_zones/49. For more information about ergonomics, visit the Ergonomics Safety Zone at www.occupationalhazards.com/safety_zones/35.

Executive Action

Widdowson credits President and CEO David Petratis for driving safety awareness throughout the organization. Petratis, he said, made it clear when he rejoined the organization in December 2002 that he wanted Schneider Electric to be a safety leader and to be recognized as such in its industry. "He starts every meeting discussing safety and what safety means to him," noted Widdowson. "It really has created a safety culture that we never had before."

Safety awareness is reinforced by supervisors throughout the work year. Daily or weekly toolbox safety meetings are held with employees to discuss upcoming tasks and needed safety precautions. Widdowson acknowledged that supervisors shoulder a lot of responsibilities but said the company believes they "have to have a passion for safety and lead by example daily. If there are certain requirements for PPE in their group, they are going to be wearing that PPE so employees model their behavior." Widdowson added that safety performance is included in the annual performance reviews of all salaried personnel.

While Schneider Electric's safety process has paid off financially, Widdowson said, he maintains that the real benefit is the ability to have employees go home safe and healthy. If the company had kept on its previous injury rate, he noted, 150 people last year would have hurt, but instead went home injury-free. "That, more than the dollars, is how I measure success," said Widdowson.

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