America's Safest Companies: Sticking to the Fundamentals Drives Injuries Down at Monsanto

Nov. 16, 2004
Monsanto Co. is using fundamental safety requirements and driver education to reduce workplace injuries for its employees worldwide.

Monsanto Co. has set its sights on more than just continuous safety improvement at its own facilities in 46 countries around the world, says Emer OBroin, vice president, Environmental Safety and Health.

"We want to continue the progress we're making locally at our facilities and create safer workplaces in general. If we could influence safety in agriculture, it would make a huge difference for safety around the world because so much of the world's population is involved with producing food," she notes.

As one of America's Safest Companies in 2004, Monsanto, a leading provider of agricultural products, impressed the judges with its commitment to standardizing safety processes and programs at its facilities worldwide, while still working within the boundaries of local cultures. The end result, says OBroin, is an educated work force of 13,000 employees who understand the benefits of a safe workplace.

Fundamental Requirements

Monsanto has fundamental requirements for every facility that define the required program elements of occupational safety and health, along with minimum standards for procedures and work practices. Generally, each location must have a site-specific written program, a listing of basic practices, a suite of required training courses, a core of occupational health fundamentals and other elements.

The fundamental requirements cover three basic disciplines: safety (process and personnel safety), industrial hygiene and occupational medicine. For example, safety requirements include policies for confined space entry and elevated work, use and care of personal protective equipment, and a process for incident analysis and investigation. Industrial hygiene requirements encompass company policies about hazard communication, respiratory protection and hearing conservation programs, and standards for industrial hygiene instrumentation and monitoring. Occupational medicine requirements create standardized qualifications and responsibilities of occupational medicine professionals supporting company sites, medical surveillance programs for respirator wearers, community medical emergency response plans and supervision guidelines for medical facilities.

Although the company operates in different countries with different social cultures, OBroin says management works with employees at each location to teach the value of the fundamental requirements within the framework of corporate and social cultures.

For example, at one of Monsanto's overseas facilities, employees were resistant to wearing safety glasses. Glasses, in general, were not as ubiquitous among the population as they are in countries like the United States.

The EHS manager made safety glasses a mandatory requirement for employment and talked to employees about the policy. He explained the physical reasons for the safety glasses to protect their eyes from flying debris and the cultural reasons they needed their eyesight to be unimpaired so they could enjoy their lives outside of work; home life is particularly important in that culture.

Soon, the attitude toward safety glasses shifted, says OBroin, and employees began demanding safety glasses when theirs were broken or lost. When the Monsanto employees left to join other companies, they demanded proper safety equipment from their new employers.

In another example of a safety practice that spread beyond one facility, Monsanto stopped transporting employees in the backs of trucks a traditional way of conveying employees to and from work in that country and switched to buses. The change occurred when Monsanto acquired a new facility and the new management team was told employees would not be quick to adopt any changes in longstanding policies.

"Discussions with employees revealed we didn't feel it was a safe mode of transportation and they didn't feel safe piled into the back of a truck. When we switched to buses, the absenteeism rate at that facility dropped dramatically. It is one of those intangibles that shows a culture change is possible," says OBroin.

Facilities are encouraged to share their good safety ideas globally. The company has what it calls a "safety exchange," in which employees visit different facilities in other countries to share their good ideas and learn from what other facilities are doing. "Even sites that have significant challenges can contribute best practices in some area," OBroin notes. "The safety exchanges provide an outside pair of eyes that see things at a facility both good and bad in a different way."

Driver Education

Like many companies, Monsanto has had its share of vehicle safety challenges. The company launched a vehicle safety program in 2002 that reaches far outside the boundaries of its facilities. The goal of the World-Class Vehicle Safety Team, created to promote the program, is to change attitudes about collisions. While many people see motor vehicle accidents as unavoidable, OBroin points out that the majority are avoidable with proper training and good driving behavior.

Through the program, all Monsanto employees have received Web or CD-ROM-based safety training that offers practical information about reducing driving risk and teaches new driving skills. Almost 5,000 employees have participated in the second level of driver training, which includes behind-the-wheel training for defensive driving skills and hazard avoidance maneuvers. Drivers who pull trailers or drive large trucks receive specialized driver training.

The company is sharing its driver training with employee families, industry groups and community members, including a teen driver program for employees' children. The World-Class Vehicle Safety Team also has created an outreach version of the program on CD-ROM.

Since the program began, Monsanto has seen the number of vehicular accidents cut in half from nine accidents every 1 million miles driven in 2002 to less than four in 2003, and the number continues to drop.

"Our goal is to create an injury-free workplace," says OBroin. "By eliminating hazards in the workplace and extending our safety values and procedures to agricultural sites and contractors, we are protecting the health and well being of our employees, visitors and communities."

Sidebar: Company Profile

  • Monsanto Co. is headquartered in St. Louis, Mo.
  • The company is a leading manufacturer of agricultural products. The business is managed in two segments: Seeds and Genomics, and Agricultural Productivity. The Seeds and Genomics segment consists of global businesses in seed and related biotechnology traits. The Agricultural Productivity segment is responsible for products like Roundup and other herbicides, a lawn-and-garden herbicide business and an animal agriculture business.
  • Monsanto has 13,000 workers worldwide at 280 sites, with 134 sites in the United States.
  • Monsanto employs 97 full-time EHS professionals, while 88 part-time EHS technicians are assigned to smaller sites. The company has a lost-time injury rate of 0.6 in the United States and a global lost-time injury rate of 0.5. The U.S. average for the agriculture industry is 3.3.
  • "If we were an average-performing company, an additional 3,400 employees and contract employees would have been hurt and some of those would have been fatalities," says Emer OBroin, vice president, Environmental Safety and Health. "Through our efforts, a lot of pain and suffering has been reduced."
About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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