Moen Goes the Distance

Selected as a finalist last year, Moen Sanford's dedication to safety improvement earns it recognition as a 1999 Champion of Safety.

When Moen Inc.'s Sanford, N.C., plant was named as a finalist in the 1998 Champions of Safety contest, employees at the plant celebrated with gusto. For many companies, that award would have crowned their safety program.

Yet, as Sanford employees accepted their plaque and the recognition that followed, they made up their minds to become Champions of Safety and not to rest until they had met that challenge.

They examined the benchmarks set by the 1998 Champions winners and cast a critical look at their own programs and objectives to determine what they had to do to achieve their goal. Then, they did it.

Building on Success

Prior to 1995, much of Moen's safety effort focused on staying compliant with OSHA regulations. At the 280,000-square-foot Sanford faucet finishing center, safety programs were developed to control risks from machine use, materials handling, chemicals, confined spaces, heat stress, repetitive tasks and waste management. Contractor safety was also a concern. The existing safety program used a bingo-type game to encourage safety awareness, but participants could be rewarded as much for luck as for effort.

In 1995, Moen's corporate philosophy shifted toward reaching a standard of global excellence in every aspect of its business. Once a part-time activity in the human resources department, safety gained full-time advocates in the hiring of Dennis W. McKinney as director of environmental, health and safety (EHS) in the Cleveland headquarters and Ramona J. Bowling as safety coordinator in Sanford.

"We see safety as a building block, a foundation of a successful business," explains Nagib Nasr, Sanford plant manager. "EHS is one of five critical measurements -- customer service, quality, asset management and cost are the others -- that are part of a world-class operation." Those critical measurements are taken daily, weekly, monthly and annually.

"We don't consider safety a priority; we consider it a value. Priorities can change. Values don't. They're ingrained; they're part of the culture," Bowling says. Thus, on a worker's first day at Sanford, he is given a set of safety rules and a hazard management statement as part of orientation, and Bowling hands him her business card with instructions to call her with safety questions or concerns. In addition, Bowling makes it clear that accidents, near-misses and injuries must be reported. "Even if nobody gets hurt, even if it's a near-miss, you report it. If you don't, it's as much a violation of corporate policy as chronic absenteeism."

Keeping employees safe on four shifts, seven days per week, with production demands climbing, is no easy task, admits Ernest D. Barbry, Sanford's operations engineering manager. But, he is quick to add, it can be done, and it is done. Daily production meetings on every shift include a segment on safety, and written reports and e-mail communicate safety across shifts and departments. Monthly measurements on the five key elements are posted and disseminated to every employee. Daily measurements, including every injury and recordable incident, are discussed at weekly departmental meetings, and the company newsletter and magazine carry good and bad news on safety matters in every issue. Bowling, McKinney, Nasr and Barbry are accessible to every employee.

Reinforcing the message of safety as a value is the plant's approach to behavior-based safety. "I prefer to call it a participative safety program," McKinney says. "In a behavior-based program, you have associates observing their associates doing their jobs, recording what they see and communicating back to them.

"I'm more of a fan of total involvement, because I'm concerned a pure behavior-based program will not stick long-term. We want sustainability and quality in our program."

The new program awards points tied to safety activity, then offers token rewards each quarter based on point totals. It also rewards reporting accidents and near-misses that are corrected. Bowling acknowledges that doing so may raise the plant's incident rates, but asserts, "We want to take corrective actions so that, down the road, we're not dealing with something even worse."

Employee participation in safety has several venues. Safety Scouts (the "eyes and ears" of the department) perform weekly safety inspections, provide safety orientation to new or temporary employees and act as safety liaisons between employees and management. They also write work orders to correct safety problems. Safety trainers and coaches volunteer to undergo 10-hour OSHA compliance training courses and two-day train-the-trainer courses related to specific regulations, then impart their training to managers and hourly workers, as well as offer them consultation. In-house industrial hygiene monitoring specialists complete a 40-hour course in conducting air and noise monitoring. SHAPE team volunteers encourage awareness of health and wellness issues with classes, contests and health screenings. Points also are given for giving safety talks, publishing articles on safety, leading exercises, participating in National Safety Week activities and submitting safety suggestions.

Sanford also has put more emphasis on ergonomics. While the plant had an ergonomics team for many years, it lacked direction. In late 1994, a formal evaluation process was developed, and Bowling brought in an ergonomist to address ergonomic concerns in the areas with the highest numbers of repetitive strain injuries, such as the buffing and polishing operation, and to evaluate corrective actions taken.

Barbry and his staff of engineers assess every piece of new equipment and complete an environmental and safety checklist before capital fixed asset appropriations are approved. An equipment-approval and operating-safety checklist must be completed and assessed before new operations may begin. If equipment can be adapted to ergonomic requirements of the workers, Barbry's team is on the case. For example, the carded parts assembly workstations incorporated a tilted work surface and component bins and cutouts to shorten the reach envelope and improve comfort. A robotic palletizer unit eliminated the repetitive strains of manual material handling.

Since 1995, Bowling and other Sanford staff have been trained to perform ergonomic assessments and develop remedial actions. Cumulative trauma disorders have tumbled from 37 recordable cases in 1994 to 2 in 1998. Workers' compensation costs for repetitive strain injuries have fallen steadily every year from $300,000 incurred in 1995.

Sanford's commitment to safety extends to contractors. "Everyone who comes through this site goes through the same safety gates," Nasr says. "We have a contractor safety management program that we share with them. If their program is not as strong as ours (in specific areas, such as lockout/tagout), we insist that they follow ours. We go over it with each contractor. They also are informed of whom to call in an emergency, what to do if they hear an alarm, where exits are, Moen and OSHA contacts and other information." During a July shutdown period, not one recordable injury occurred among the 140 contractors on the Sanford site.

A stringent environmental management program involving random and scheduled monitoring of air, water and hazardous and solid waste emissions; waste recycling; and water and air treatment rounds out Moen's safety agenda. The environmental management program has been so successful that it earned the North Carolina Governor's Award for Excellence in Waste Reduction in 1997.

Not Yet Satisfied

Since 1995, Moen's Sanford facility has earned several honors, including the North Carolina Department of Labor award for 1 million work hours without a lost-time injury. Still, McKinney and Bowling dream greater dreams. "I want us to be in the position to be recognized as a Carolina Star Site (North Carolina's version of OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program's Star Sites Program)," Bowling says with determination.

"My goal is to drive ownership of the program down to the floor employee," McKinney says. In keeping with Moen's continuous improvement philosophy, he wants to shift the safety focus from results to process.

"Safety is a well-planned, well-thought-out process -- not a program," McKinney says. "Programs end. Processes are continual. We didn't get this far by accident."

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