Editorial: KS Industries "Walks the Walk" for Safety Excellence

May 25, 2005
A California firm pursues a vision of safety that is "value-driven, quiet, transparent, integrated and equal."

When we spoke recently to Bob McQueen, the safety manager for KS Industries (KSI), he told a story about a visitor from the previous week. The visitor worked for a company similar to KS Industries, which provides construction and maintenance services for the oil and gas sector, as well as engineering, manufacturing and fabrication work. He had looked up KSI on the internet and found that the company had a total recordable injury rate of 0.46, compared to his own company's 5.72 rate. How were they doing it?

McQueen told him how supervisors and foremen attend a biweekly "operational excellence" meeting with the company's president and vice president of operations to review all key safety data such as behavioral safety observations, audits and incident reports. The visitor was taken aback at the extent of management commitment to safety and their decision to have prospective employees undergo physicals and functional capacity testing. "When I talk to our managers about the things you are showing me," said the visitor to McQueen, "they never seem to have the time to listen. Not only that, they think I'm all wet to suggest we invest in these things."

"Well, it seem your biggest problem is your leadership has not bought into safety," McQueen replied. "They want to make that almighty dollar and not spend any money." But he added that given their injury record, "You're spending the money anyway."

In his article this month, "Stepping Up to Operational Safety Excellence," author Larry Hansen points out that "studies conducted over the past 10 years confirm that management (more than programs) is the major controlling influence in achieving safety excellence." KSI, a client of Hansen, is a clear example of that tenet in action.

Doug Erickson, vice president of operations for KSI, is a firm believer that employees take their cues from their managers and use their examples to model their own behaviors. "No matter how many policies or procedures you have, they are all reset by leadership. By that, I mean that if you have a back-in vehicle policy and employees see a first-line manager pulling in forward, you've just set the new policy. If we're not backing in, the policies and procedures are really meaningless."

Safety leadership, said Erickson, is a critical part of building a safety culture where safe actions are performed because of beliefs, not simply because the boss wants it. McQueen said company leaders strive to reinforce the idea that all employees are important and part of the team. They can stop a job any time they see something that is unsafe.

But Erickson stressed that safety promotes operational efficiency. "We're instilling in folks that when you plan your job out the most efficient way, it has to be the safest way as well," he said, adding that this planning eliminates unnecessary risks and exposures. For employees, he added, it also means that they will not have to work as hard because they are using the right tools and orchestrating the work properly. Moreover, he pointed out that the aftermath of injuries involves considerable waste. Supervisors are involved in incident investigations and "meeting after meeting after endless meeting with our customers, being reactive instead of proactive. That certainly isn't value and it's not productive."

KSI offers extensive safety training to supervisors and employees. General foremen and superintendents are encouraged to take an operations safety class at the local university. Employees receive specific training on the safety concerns of their job, as well as any training needed for forklifts, confined spaces, ergonomics, fall protection and respiratory protection. This year, the company also intends to institute a "boot camp" in which new employees will receive extensive craft and safety training, as well as steep them in the company's cultural precepts about quality and safety.

KSI employs a behavioral safety management system to assess employee safety behaviors. The company also provides employees rewards such as coffee mugs or lunch bags for safe behaviors. "We don't believe in incentives but we do believe in recognizing safe work and good behaviors," said McQueen.

One key area KSI is working on this year is enhancing its human resources process so that it can hire healthy employees who will share the company's belief in safety, and then work with them through training and other programs to help them perform at a high level. Jeff Hanesworth, the corporate risk manager, commented: "We have taken the time to invest in people who share the same perspective of safety and operations intermingled. We have the same buy-in by middle managers, front-line supervisors and field workers. It becomes very synergistic."

Added Erickson, who said the company's various business and operational goals are all interdependent, "Going home safe is just another component of succeeding financially. You can't have one without the other and that's what we're building here."

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