SH&E Practitioners Play Key Role in Automotive Manufacturing Competitiveness

Nov. 28, 2005
Two leaders in occupational safety, health and environmental (SH&E) provided insight into the birth of the leading automotive manufacturing safety process and how SH&E practitioners play a key role in keeping their companies competitive at the opening session of the American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) Manufacturing Safety Symposium.

"Yes, we're in the news, for many reasons" admitted Mike J. White, director of global and North America Safety for General Motors. But he added, "many don't realize that today, GM is the worldwide leader in automotive safety. With GM and the UAW working together since 1993, we have prevented 1 million workplace injuries."

White said that GM did not have an active SH&E program until 1993, when Paul O'Neill, the former chairman of Alcoa Steel, joined the GM board. The first question O'Neill asked when he joined the board was, "Where's the safety report?" O'Neill noted that a commitment to safety was key to Alcoa's turnaround. Directly after that, GM's top management wrote and implemented a new safety policy.

Since 1994, after the implementation of the new safety policy, GM has realized a 95 percent reduction in injuries and illnesses, White said.

"How did we reach this milestone?" White said. "The key to this success, and I can't stress this enough, is that you have to engage all employees in the process."

In response to a question from the audience asking why GM's safety policies did not work before the change in 1993, White responded, "The UAW ignored our safety programs and the training we rolled out. The message of the plant floor leadership was 'get the job done quickly, not safely.'"

"Since 1993, due to our successful working relationship with the union, we are able to hammer out any safety and health issues we may have before even going to the bargaining table. Hence, that element is completed before the bargaining begins," White said.

Financially, White said, due to a reduction in injuries and illnesses, management at GM has calculated that the company has seen a major reduction the hiring of replacement workers, fewer interruptions in operations with a corresponding cost reduction, and has avoided 9,000 lost workdays, which is a significant cost savings based on the estimate that one lost workday equals out to $33,000 in costs.

Richard D. Fulwiler, CIH, CSHM, told attendees, "From a business perspective, occupational safety, health and environmental processes reduce company costs. When businesses strategically compete for market share, safety and health can and does play a major role."

Fulwiler, who is president of Technology Leadership Associates and the former director of health and safety worldwide for Procter & Gamble. used as an example a major company that wants to compete against the store brands. It's not a matter of quality, but price. So the company looks at the various business units to see where operations could reduce costs to the consumers.

"The manufacturing segment will step up and reduce costs in production and the safety and health professional do the same in finding ways to shave off non-value costs," said Fulwiler. For instance, reducing workers' compensation costs, keeping case costs flat. There are many ways SH&E contribute to increasing bottom line profits and keeping their company competitive in the global marketplace."

SH&E practitioners from across the United States and Canada attended the 2-day symposium in Atlanta.

"The top 50 assemblers in the United States account for $1.9 trillion in revenue," ASSE member and Symposium Chair Warren Brown, CSP, ARM, CSHM, said, "Manufacturing is an important segment of our economy and helping to assure this portion of our economy operates in a safe manner is critical to us."

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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