America's Safest Companies Share a Passion for Safety

Oct. 26, 2005
At first blush, Occupational Hazards' 12 picks for America's Safest Companies of 2005 have about as much in common as a bag of Doritos and a gallon of Speedway SuperAmerica gasoline.

Look beyond their diverse industry sectors and product offerings, though, and you'll find that the 2005 America's Safest Companies share a common element: They set their own standards for safety excellence, which usually go well beyond OSHA and EPA regulations and industry norms.

"We're extremely pleased to recognize the safety and health achievements of this year's America's Safest Companies honorees. Some companies still believe that on-the-job injuries and illnesses are a cost of doing business. Our honorees see things quite differently," said Stephen G. Minter, editor and associate publisher of Occupational Hazards. "They understand that work-related injuries and fatalities are a cost in human and financial terms that no company should expect to incur. That's why they apply their management skills, ingenuity and resources to ensuring that their employees are safe on and off the job."

The 2005 companies are bound together by some common threads: lost-time accident or injury rates well below their respective industries' averages; EHS programs that have earned the recognition and admiration of their industry trade associations and federal and state occupational safety and health regulators; and EHS programs built on rock-solid, fundamental concepts of occupational health and safety, such as safety committees, safety training, risk assessment and job hazard analysis, accident control and prevention, safety auditing and consistent, continuous communication and awareness-building.

America's Safest Companies not only have employee involvement and empowerment in safety, they have upper management commitment that goes beyond just lip service. At Kinetic Systems, CEO Kurt Gilson conducts project safety audits. At Springs Window Fashions, the plant manager is co-chairperson of the central safety and health committee.

Delta CEO Jerry Grinstein, in a September 2004 memo to officers and directors, could have been speaking for all of the 2005 America's Safest Companies when he said, "providing a safe, secure operation is Delta's first and most fundamental obligation to our customers and employees" and added that commitment to the values of "safety, security, ethics and compliance starts at the top and then extends down through every level of the organization."

Every CEO or senior manager interviewed for this series of articles concludes that everyone from top company officials to the newest hire must have a sincere interest in and passion for safety for an EHS program to be successful that passion was evident in the applications submitted by this year's honorees.

The 2005 America's Safest Companies and the Safest Companies sponsors MCR Safety and PureSafety were recognized at an event at Moonfish Restaurant in Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 21.

Calpine: Safety is Personal

Calpine Corp.'s leaders say they take safety personally. And if you don't believe them, just watch their video.

There aren't many companies that would put their senior managers in front of video cameras, let them expound about safety and then share those thoughts with employees and the public. But that's just what San Jose, Calif.'s Calpine Corp. did with "Safety at Calpine: It's Personal."

"I did 30-minute interviews 22 interviews and ended up with 11 hours of video. We cut that down to 13 minutes," remembers Kyle B. Dotson, vice president and corporate safety officer. "I told them it was a candid discussion to get their thoughts and feeling about safety and health in the workplace."

Dotson says he was "delighted with the response."

"If anything, I had too much good content. I wanted to make sure they got to say what they wanted to say. Nothing was taken out of context. And, I was surprised by the depth of feeling people had for safety. Our chief legal officer was so real, so feeling. When it comes to legal issues, she's so analytical. She talked about how she feels so deeply for the families of people who get injured. You'd almost expect your legal officer to be callous about it, but that wasn't the case."

Training and Education

The video is just part of Calpine's efforts to train and educate employees and managers. All contractors, visitors and new or transferred employees must receive site safety orientation training before performing any physical task in construction or production. The format and length of the orientation is based on the tasks involved and the complexity and type of hazards at the site. At a minimum, orientation must address:

  • The site emergency action plan, including emergency evacuation routes and assembly points.
  • The site fire prevention plan.
  • Hazard communication, including the locations of MSDSs, chemical lists and site/plant labeling systems.
  • Procedure for reporting safety hazards or concerns.
  • Disciplinary procedures.

Training in specific subjects also may be required, depending on the planned tasks (confined space entry hazards, hot work permit program, etc.) or re-assignment to a different area or department. Training records, which include date, subject matter, attendees' and presenters' names, signatures and date of follow-up evaluation (if applicable), are kept for the duration of employment.

Calpine has 15 regional safety professionals who provide safety management services to all operations and offices. More than half of the group has professional certification either CSP, ASP or CIH and Dotson would like to see that number grow. "My objective is to one day have all of the Calpine safety professionals be CSPs or CIHs," he says. Dotson is both a CIH and a CSP.

In addition, the company has full- or part-time designated Site Safety Coordinators at each of its plants and construction sites, and all are in the process of receiving four courses in safety management offered by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

"We asked ourselves, 'What level of competence can we ensure at that level?'" says Dotson. "We decided the ASSE certification in safety management was the best way to do that."

Additionally, each Calpine site the company has 3,500 employees at 100 power generation plants has an active safety committee made up of management and employees that oversees the safety of the plant, conducts periodic self-assessments and implements corrective actions if necessary. At some facilities, employees rotate on the safety committee every few months, so that in a year, everyone will have served on it.

The tendency at many companies, says Dotson, "is to educate managers and supervisors and train employees. Our programs are an example of how we're educating our employees. They're learning not only what we're doing and how to do it, but why. We provide more in-depth information into the why."

Keeping This Florida Site SHARP

Employee involvement and environmental stewardship are hallmarks of a high-performance EHS program at Amphenol AssembleTech Florida.

by Josh Cable

Jeff Herman will never forget the day when he was working at a Pittsburgh steel mill and he found out that one of his co-workers had died on the job.

"He was a young guy 20 years old and he didn't follow safety procedures," Herman recalled. "It's quite a shock to have your union steward come in at 7 in the morning and tell you 'Jeff' he had the same first name as me 'died last night.' I can still remember that and it still sticks with me."

Herman, who now is the human resources manager and EHS coordinator for Amphenol AssembleTech Florida in Lake Wales, Fla., admitted his background isn't in safety and health he graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology. But ever since that day at the steel mill in 1980, safety "has become a real strong interest."

"It really brings home the fact that if you're not safe, you can lose your life," Herman said. "Obviously the environment here is nothing like in a steel mill, but the concept is still the same."

Amphenol AssembleTech Florida, a division of Endicott, N.Y.-based Amphenol Interconnect Products Corp., has been the beneficiary of Herman's belief not only in the importance of safety and health but also in environmental stewardship.

The Lake Wales, Fla., facility, a contract manufacturer of cable assemblies and wiring harnesses that currently employs 54 workers, has experienced just one lost-time injury in the last 4 years.

In 2004, it was recertified as an OSHA Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) site, and its safety motto "Thinking Safety, Acting Safely and Staying SHARP" points to the site's commitment to retaining the OSHA designation.

Meanwhile, Herman's commitment to environmentally friendly business practices has led to the facility being classified by the EPA as a non-handler of hazardous waste it was considered a large-quantity generator when Herman joined the company in 1992.

Herman said he initially was hired to set up training programs to support an increase in production at the Lake Wales facility which, due to changes at the corporate level, has gone from being Escod Industries to Insilco Technologies to Amphenol AssembleTech Florida.

When he began "documenting production processes and training people on those processes," Herman "realized we didn't have a lot of procedures in place" for safety, so he started writing safety policies and "it kind of snowballed from there."

Herman later was promoted to be in charge of human resources and health, safety and environment, and he obtained OSHA 40-hour hazmat training as well as "all the EHS training I could."

From Putting out Fires to Being Proactive

The Lake Wales facility had 17 recordable injuries in 1997 alone, so Herman said his first priority as safety director was to start "putting out fires."

"Once we put out the fires, we started trying to take more of a proactive viewpoint," he explained.

Ergonomically incorrect work processes and postures were identified as the most pervasive hazard at the plant. So the company set out to implement engineering controls to avoid "awkward positions" and other ergonomic issues.

A tight company budget, however, required some creativity. For example, to avoid the physically taxing process of repeatedly picking up an electric screwdriver from a table for 8 hours straight, the company hung a retractor cable from the ceiling with the screwdriver pointing down attached to the cable.

"The worker grabs [the screwdriver] in a neutral position, and all they have to do is pull it down, perform the screw-down operation, release it and let it go back up," Herman explained. He added that the screwdriver is suspended low enough that it's easy to reach but high enough that "we're not creating another safety hazard."

Herman is hard-pressed to quantify the results of such an engineering control, but he said it's saved a lot of wear and tear on workers' wrists as well as a lot of time.

"Everybody says, 'hey, that helps a lot. I don't have the pain anymore. I don't have that tiring sensation anymore.'"

Facility Has Achieved its Environmental Goals

In 2001, the facility achieved its goal of zero hazardous waste discharge a goal Herman established soon after taking his position. When it comes to any kind of hazardous substances, "we either use it or recycle it," Herman said.

To achieve this goal, the facility:

  • During the request-for-quote (RFQ) process reviews the MSDSs for any substances or chemicals requested by the customer that may not be compatible with Amphenol AssembleTech Florida's environmental policies. If they're not compatible, the customer is asked to substitute a safer alternative.
  • Reviews the MSDSs for all samples of chemicals or substances before they are brought on site to ensure compatibility with the facility's environmental policies.
  • Cleans its equipment with isopropyl alcohol instead of with stronger, more hazardous chemicals such as chlorinated or halogenated solvents.
  • Recycles used oil, hydraulic fluid, solder dross, solder sponges, fluorescent tubes, wire and cable scrap and stainless steel scrap.
  • Purchases environmentally friendly "green end-cap" tubes (for lighting) to reduce and eventually eliminate mercury-containing tubes.
  • Has installed a closed-loop water recirculating system for its injection molding machines to eliminate a point-source wastewater discharge.
  • Has eliminated the use of acid-based cleaners for its air conditioning unit filters by purchasing disposable filters that do not require cleaning, thus avoiding having any chemical cleaner run-off discharged into the storm sewer system.

Herman pointed to the improved worker morale as well as the importance of being a "better community steward and better environmental steward" as the dividends the company's environmental and safety initiatives have been paying.

And there's also the peace of mind knowing that the facility is low on EPA's and OSHA's radars.

"I'd rather be low on the radar, be safe and have a tight ship than have a high profile because of a big ole fine against you."

Safety's in the Bag at Frito-Lay

For Frito-Lay Inc.'s 45,000 employees, safety is as addictive as a newly opened bag of Doritos.

by Sandy Smith

In 1996, the senior vice president of Operations at Plano, Texas' Frito-Lay Inc., Jim Rich, initiated a productivity process called "Starfleet." The program was designed to drive productivity, reduce costs, share best practices and, ultimately, create a more competitive organization. Rich viewed safety as a core value to the organization, and he made safety one of the founding "teams" of the Starfleet process, equivalent in stature and importance to core productivity and quality.

Part of the Starfleet process involved establishing an area called "No Debates." It means what it says: These are focus areas or priorities and there is no debate about the fact they are crucial to safety at the company. "This helped the company focus on key elements that would drive safety performance and strengthen our safety processes," says Jared Dougherty, a Frito-Lay spokesperson.

The annual planning process, which includes the development of safety plans at the local plant level, also is part of the Starfleet process, giving safety and accident prevention strong support among management.

"Safety is an instrumental factor in everyone's performance review," says Dougherty. "From the senior leadership to the front-line associate, safety is considered an extremely important job expectation."

Front-line employees participate in the development of the annual safety plan, conduct safety training, execute safety audits and inspections, conduct behavior-based safety observations and maintain applicable safety records and documentation. Employees are encouraged to participate on shift safety teams, as well as safety program teams, such as safety awareness, behavior-based safety or ergonomics.

"Our entire safety philosophy is built on the idea of 100 percent employee engagement. Without that level of safety ownership by our front-line employees, we would not be successful," says Dougherty.

Safety is Flying High at Atlanta's Delta Air Lines

At Delta, safety is written into job descriptions and business plans.

by William Atkinson

Want a job at Delta Air Lines Inc.? You'd better be prepared to work in a safe manner. Safety is incorporated into every single job description and leadership performance evaluation at Delta, representing the company's requirement for safety in every job function.

"Employee involvement in any safety process is critical to achieving success in Delta's operation," says James E. Swartz, director, Corporate Safety. "Safety is a fundamental element in the Competency Modeling process, which describes the characteristics, skills and abilities of people that are related to successful performance in their jobs at Delta."

Delta transports 200,000 passengers a day and 275,000 bags a day. It employs more than 54,000 people in 148 worldwide sites. Four Delta sites have earned Star status with OSHA's Voluntary Protection program.

CEO Jerry Grinstein sent a letter to officers and directors of the company that said, in part, "Providing a safe, secure operation is Delta's first and fundamental obligation to our customers and employees." He went on to say that he was asking them, as company leaders, "to participate fully in making safety and security the basis for everything Delta does, every day."

The company employs 13 environmental health and safety (EHS) professionals who operate from central locations, providing assistance 24 hours a day, and has 12 additional EHS professionals, one in each of the company's 12 divisions. All are expected to help reinforce the company's safety initiatives, particularly its written safety business plan.

Written Safety Business Plan

There is one specific initiative that Swartz believes deserves specific emphasis. Delta requires each operating division to prepare an annual Written Safety Business Plan, which details how the operation will plan, organize, communicate, implement, measure and enforce the local safety process. The business plan is used as a guide to incident prevention, regulatory compliance, divisional and operational planning, and assigning accountability and responsibility. Each plan covers the following six areas:

  • Management Leadership: Safety Policy, Goals and Objectives; Examples of Management Leadership; Assignment of Responsibilities, Authority and Resources; and Accountability.
  • Employee Involvement: Safety Teams/Committees; Employee Safety Communications (Hazard Reporting); Employee Safety Communication (Two-Way); Employee Safety Communication (One-Way); Safety Recognition Program; and Accountability.
  • Worksite Analysis: Investigations, Safety Audits and Evaluations; Job Safety Analysis and Risk Assessment; and Data Analysis.
  • Hazard Prevention and Control: Hazard Identification (Systems and Preplanning); and Hazard Control and Management.
  • Compliance
  • Business Partners: "This has become more important as we have continued to outsource a number of our operations to various contractors over the years," states Swartz.

The Written Safety Business Plan shows everyone exactly what safety means, what it looks like and how it will be measured. "As a result of this program, we have seen continual decreases in incidents, injuries and damages," Swartz says. "Also, we have seen an increase in our employees' perception that we are involved in very positive safety efforts."

William Atkinson is a freelance writer who has contributed a number of articles to Occupational Hazards.

Labeling Fort Dearborn a Safe Company

When a printing company stops printing to install a ventilation system, you know safety is a way of doing business.

Fort Dearborn Co. of Niles, Ill., employs approximately 900 workers at six U.S. facilities and one in Mexico. The company prints labels that go on paint cans, ketchup bottles and soft drink bottles.

While installing a new, six-color printing press at one of Fort Dearborn Co.'s facilities, it was determined that the ink mixing room had to be moved to a new area. The new room did not have exhaust ventilation. Ink was necessary to continue production, but proper ventilation was necessary to continue making ink in a safe manner. Production was stopped until ventilation could be installed.

"There was no question about continuing production," says Michael Saujani, corporate safety director at Fort Dearborn. "We could not put our employees at risk."

Employees respond well to management's commitment to safety, says Saujani. "They see management emphasis on safety is not just talk. When we first started, employees would bring up issues about safety and it would take management a couple of months to do something about it. Now, it gets done in a day or two. Employees see results, and they respond to it. If their concerns are not corrected right away, you get feedback from them about it."

In addition to quick response to employee concerns, the company pays for safety gear required by associates, has conducted safety fairs for the past 3 years and has provided free onsite medical screening for associates for blood pressure, glucose levels, body fat and cholesterol.

"Healthy employees are productive employees," says Saujani. "That's good business."

Focus on Ergonomics

Because of an aging work force, Saujani invited a professor from Northern Illinois University's graduate program in ergonomics to send his students out to Fort Dearborn's facilities and analyze ergonomics. The review, which cost the company nothing since it was incorporated into their semester studies, focused on material handling issues, since about 70 percent of the company's ergonomic injuries were related to sorting and palletizing.

The suggestions from the ergonomics students included buying vacuum lifts and lift assists to reduce bending. The company purchased new equipment and, at the same time, trained managers to identify ergonomic hazards before they become an issue and employees were hurt.

"For example, a customer wanted us to pack labels in a box and the box weighed 60 pounds. We normally would not lift anything above 35 pounds. The manager stepped in and told the customer, 'We can't do this because we went through ergo training and we know it's not safe for our associates to lift 60-pound boxes.'"

The customer agreed to change its requirements from 60-pound boxes to 35-pound boxes. The result, says Saujani, are boxes that are easier to lift, thereby reducing the potential for injury not only for Fort Dearborn employees, but for anyone who has to move those boxes farther down the line.

In addition to equipment and training, the company invited a chiropractor to one of its safety fairs. She conducted classes every 30 minutes that taught employees how to stretch and gave them instruction about proper posture and lifting techniques. The company is thinking about requiring employees to stretch for 5 minutes before the start of each shift, but has not instituted that program yet, says Saujani.

The company's focus on hazard prevention and injury reduction has paid off, he adds. "I met an insurance broker and he said the company had saved $1 million [in injury and illness-related costs] in 3 years. That is substantial. Safety does make good business sense. But the most important thing is you send people back to their families safe every day."

Next page.

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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