Empowered Employees Keep Medtronic's Heart Beating

Nov. 1, 2009
A key component in the mission statement of this Minneapolis-based manufacturer of medical device technology is to recognize the personal worth of each of its 38,000 employees.

At Medtronic, a strong tie exists between the company's EHS vision and its mission. The company strives to maintain good citizenship in each of its 45 manufacturing and distribution facilities around the world.

The company-wide code of conduct includes specific health and safety requirements: “Medtronic is committed to a safe, healthy work environment that is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. All employees are expected to develop a pro-active, cooperative attitude toward issues of health and safety throughout the company.”

“We believe that empowered managers and employees can significantly influence our safety culture and we've seen dramatic results to prove it,” says John Ficklin, director, health and safety.

He cites Medronic's Humacao, Puerto Rico, site as an example of management's dedication to safe production. The site rapidly was expanding and as a result, was experiencing higher injury rates and compliance issues.

The site manager made safety and health a priority by including it in all of his manager's performance evaluations and he measured their progress with regular status meetings. The result was no recordable injuries for five quarters.

According to Ficklin, the company's Santa Rosa site “had a laissez-faire attitude toward safety.” It had one EHS representative and large workers' compensation payments. New site management shook things up, says Ficklin, adding four additional EHS personnel who implemented management systems and performance scorecards. After 6 years, the site has experienced a 90 percent reduction in DART (days away, restricted or transferred).

Numerous sites have strong near-miss reporting systems combined with excellent follow-up and communication, which encourages employees to continue to report near misses.

“Incident reporting and analysis is especially important at Medtronic,” says Ficklen. “An online incident reporting and analysis system supports early reporting of incidents and supervisors are quickly involved in incident analysis and corrective and preventive action planning. In recent years, near miss incident reporting has increased 38 percent to 50 percent per year, which has been instrumental to early interventions and the reduction in recordable injuries and in reducing injury severity.”

Environmental health and safety is integrated into many facets of the Medtronic business, says Ficklin. “All businesses are required to conduct EHS evaluations for new product development, facility changes and the transfer of technology from R&D to manufacturing,” he says. “EHS evaluations are conducted when transferring a manufacturing process from one site to another. Many sites have also incorporated EHS in lean manufacturing projects, six sigma projects and rapid improvement projects.”


One of the most interesting aspects of Medtronic's business is its Total Rewards and Total Health programs. In addition to the types of health and wellness programs found at many companies, Medtronic employees can receive nutrition counseling, join their peers in marathon training or volunteer and learn new skills through community activism.

Such activities have earned the company awards such as “2009 Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles” from the National Business Group on Health and “Fit Friendly Companies” from the American Heart Association.

Maintaining a good quality of work life is so important to Medtronic's success that the CEO developed annual Inclusion Awards. They recognize individuals, businesses and departments that are attracting and retaining a diverse mix of highly talented employees. The company also sponsors a number of employee resource groups that help employees with common backgrounds or orientations connect and network. Because of these efforts, Medtronic regularly sits on Fortune's lists of “World's Most Admired Companies” and “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

“Medtronic has a strong tie between our EHS vision and our company mission,” says Ficklen. “Everyday, employees work to provide safe medical devices and therapies for our patients. It's a natural extension for employees to expect a safe and healthful work environment.”

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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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