SLC 2014: Subaru – Surviving the Elements of Safety ThinkStock

SLC 2014: Subaru – Surviving the Elements of Safety

Even in the most abnormal conditions, a solid safety foundation will endure.

In mid-November 2013, the Subaru of Indiana Automotive plant in Lafayette, Ind. took a direct hit from an EF-3 tornado.

Sixty percent of the roof was ripped off. Thirty-foot walls inside the facility were lost. Computers were ruined.

Yet the plant managed to only lose one day of production.

“It was amazing how people came together,” said Denise Coogan, manager of safety and environmental corporate affairs, told participants in a facility tour, part of the EHS Today Safety Leadership Conference.

Using contracted help and its own workforce, Subaru cleaned up the debris and dealt with the aftermath of the natural disaster with only one recordable injury – a hand laceration sustained while an employee was pumping water out of the plant.

That’s because Subaru employs a preventive safety culture at its Lafayette facility, a soon-to-be 4-million-square-foot plant 45 minutes outside of Indianapolis.

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Coogan said. “We want people to go home as safely as they come in.”

Each of the plant’s 3,900 employees is trained on how to react when faced with completing non-standard work and thus knew how to behave in a safe manner when faced with the unusual task of tornado cleanup. But that’s no surprise given how ingrained the culture of safety is at the plant.

Other tours: SLC 2014: Dodge Ram and Cummins: Iconic Brands, Quality and Safety and SLC 2014: Continuous Safety: The Toyota Way.

Employees wear Kevlar sleeves and gloves, and receive incentives for coming up with new ideas on how to improve safety at the plant. And, every break time, they switch jobs, rotating to a new task to work different muscles and prevent injury.

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Coogan said. “We want people to go home as safely as they come in.” (Photo by Ginger Christ)

As the employee count continues to rise – Subaru plans to hire another 900 people in the next few years – safety remains a top concern from the start.

“We put a lot of time and effort into the beginning stages, and that’s one of the reasons we see the low injury rate at SIA,” said Brent Lank, management system specialist.

As each new employee enters the plant, that employee is first put through a static offline training, during which time the new hire has to master the given task 100 times at takt time with zero defects before moving onto the shop floor for more training.

New workers are videotaped on the job by staff nurses who then analyze the recordings to offer safety tips to ensure new hires immediately embrace and adopt the high safety standards expected at Subaru.

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