Safety Under Pressure

July 28, 2003
Fierce competition and tight budgets have safety managers fighting for resources, and taking innovative steps to improve their safety programs.

How do you get better when business conditions are so demanding? That's a question many readers who participated in our 2003 National Safety Survey are grappling with as they strive to protect employees and property, implement or improve safety management systems, and demonstrate to company executives that their function offers a competitive advantage, not just insurance against an OSHA inspection.

The obstacles can be formidable. In addition to safety, health and environmental responsibilities, readers are taking on new responsibilities in security, workers' compensation, human resources and other disciplines, with all the attendant paperwork. Respondents repeatedly cited time, money and lack of staff as impediments to getting their jobs done. "We are operating on a thin line to stay competitive in the market and continue to keep our employees employed," an EHS director in Indiana said. "We have to work with the resources we have and find unique ways to accomplish our goals with minimal funding. It's a sign of the times and one that I accept."

Less easy to accept for many safety and health personnel is the lack of support they get from senior management. "Ownership sees my position as 'overhead' and the safety department's expenditures as throwing money into a pit," a safety director in Illinois complained.

"Top level support varies from passive to obstructive," reported an industrial hygienist in Montana. "Decisions are often made based upon cost or the likelihood that a negative event will happen on their watch. Major decisions are made without asking those who know best for their input. Every other part of our business demands input from the experts, except safety and health."

Moving Forward

In an era of scarce resources, safety and health managers demonstrated a high level of resilience and creativity in advancing their safety programs. Many turned to a more inclusive management style where they sought to build ownership of safety amongst operations managers. They also looked for effective communications vehicles where they could raise safety awareness and provide information to employees. And they frequently reported efforts to target their programs more effectively through new management systems and techniques.

Stephen Wilson, corporate director of safety, health and environmental affairs for Flowserve Corp., supervises a rigorous auditing process that includes safety, employee health, environmental and fire safety issues. Along with OSHA standards, the Irving, Texas-based company audits against internal standards that are based on ANSI, NFPA and other consensus guidelines, and the engineering standards of Factory Mutual, its global fire and loss prevention carrier.

"My company has reduced its worldwide lost-time rate from over 5 and a total recordable rate of over 15 in 1988 to 0.6 LTR and 2.3 TRR in 2002," Wilson noted. "All of this was accomplished while growing from a $400 million corporation to a $2.5 billion corporation and increasing our locations from 30 to over 200. We began our rigorous self-audit program in late 2000 and I believe it is the single most important factor in our success."

Wilson said the comprehensive audit report not only lists deficiencies but improvements and best practices that have been observed. "We spend a good a good bit of time in the audit report talking about the commendable things the facility has done - we call them 'significant accomplishments.' It's the issues where they have really upped their game from the last audit or where a facility is better than their peers in the company and they have a developed a best practice that we want everyone else to learn from. Then comes the bad stuff serious, repeat observations. Those are the things that were bad last time and have not been fixed this time. That means that continuous improvement has broken down.

This report, which also includes accident prevention and pollution prevention suggestions, is issued to the facility, which then has 30 days to provide the auditor, Wilson and division management with a written corrective action plan. Flowserve's audit system uses a 70 percent rating as a floor. "If you are under 70 percent, you are considered unacceptable in either your safety or environmental performance metrics. Facilities, until they reach 90 percent, are required to have a seven-point improvement per year. So if you were 70 this year, at a minimum you must be 77 in your safety metrics next year. The goal is to get everybody into the high 90s."

Two other measures Flowserve applies to its facilities are to have a lost-time rate of 1.0 or better for every facility, and to generate no more than 90 pounds of hazardous waste per every $1 million of manufactured, serviced or repaired product

Wilson also credits safety success to good engineers assigned to the safety and environmental function. "I mean really good engineers innovative thinkers who can think outside the box on how to solve a problem and who can share." Wilson and his staff try to meet at least once a year to make sure that programs and solutions that are working in one facility are being communicated with other applicable facilities.

A compendium of machine guarding solutions, available as a book and on the firm's intranet, is an example of sharing information across the company.

"It has picture after picture and descriptions of our best examples of guarding different kinds of metalworking machines around the world," he explained. Wilson uses it as tool to help get veteran machine operators to adopt guards.

"You hear them say, 'I've worked here for 30 years and I've never been hurt. Why are you making me guard this thing now?' We explain the OSHA rules, our policies, and then we also tell them, 'There are these fresh-faced children coming in as people retire and these young people have no concept of how this machine can hurt or even kill them. We're guarding it for you, but we're especially guarding it for them.' I am guilty of playing to the knowledge and pride of these people," Wilson admitted.

Alignment Essential

Many respondents to the National Safety Survey pointed to the necessity to align EHS goals with the broader goals of their organizations. At Rosemount Inc., part of Emerson's Process Management Workgroup, Karen Yeadon, the manager of the safety and environmental services group, said the most effective action she took this past year was to adopt the simple slogan, "Do this right and safely the first time," and put it on calendars provided to every employee. Senior management was stressing the quality of the company's process instrumentation products.

"It was the simplest way for us to tie in to that message," Yeadon explained. "If you do it safely, you're going to be on the line doing your job and we're comfortable knowing we have qualified people building our product. We approach it from the productivity side of quality, keeping qualified people on the line."

Yeadon's department has a budget of less than $300,000, but is responsible for developing safety and environmental programs for a $650 million company with 1,500 employees. She stresses that safety is every employee's responsibility, not that of the safety department. "It never ceases to amaze me to have an operations manager think that all safety issues are my responsibility and not his," she noted, adding that it is her group's job to have the tools in place to comply with regulations but not to implement the safety program.

One way Rosemount involves managers and employees in safety is through a joint labor-management safety committee. While the focus of the committee's monthly audit is primarily physical safety hazards, she said the committee also looks at cultural and behavioral issues. For example, committee members recently examined how well the company's hazard communication training was performing. What committee members found was a need to have first-line supervisors do a more consistent job of communicating with employees on hazcom issues.

The alignment between company goals and safety programs is critical, according to a veteran safety consultant. "Listen to what the top managers want to achieve (business objectives) and attempt to align your activities to these wants and needs, not enforce more regulatory requirements or safety campaigns."

Beyond Compliance

Finn Schefstad, director of safety management for MeadWestvaco, the global producer of paper and office products and specialty chemicals, was part of a team charged after the 2002 merger of Mead Corp. and Westvaco Corp. with forging an ambitious new safety program.

"Our vision was to partner with our customers in developing and implementing a safety excellence strategy that supported the company-wide vision of becoming the industry leader in safety," said Schefstad. "We as a corporate group would provide leadership, direction and resources, and promote information sharing in a collaborative environment."

In that process, representatives from the safety, health and environmental group asked their customers from the various business units of the company what they wanted in the new program. Among the principles they established were that the program would focus on incident prevention, be flexible so it could be adapted to facilities ranging from small specialty plants to large paper mills, include an assessment process that was positive, not punitive, and, most importantly, provide a blueprint for improvement that would produce sustainable results.

From the beginning, said Schefstad, the company made it clear that every facility shall be in compliance with safety standards. To reinforce that, the company organized a separate group to audit SH&E compliance. "We focus on the preventative side of safety," explained Schefstad. "We want to partner with our business units, not go in there and hammer them over a compliance issue, but rather evaluate their safety systems to let them know where they stand in the implementation of the safety excellence process."

The company established 10 program elements considered essential for every facility. The elements included management commitment to the safety process, rules and responsibilities, hazard recognition and control, and contractor safety. Then a matrix was devised that offered a rating of 1 to 7 for each of these 10 elements. These descriptions of program maturity ranged from a basic, reactive program (1) to a very preventive and proactive program (7).

From a baseline assessment, facilities could use the matrix to see where they stood and what they needed to do to improve. It also gave managers and supervisors a tool to help them carry out activities that would align with this need.

"For example, suppose that hazard recognition is an area where we haven't been doing well in our assessments. Using the matrix as a guide, it will identify the proactive activities the business unit should be doing. As a supervisor, my goal might be to conduct job hazard analyses with my people to identify the true hazards that are out there and implement corrective actions," Schefstad explained. "Now we have them all aligned with the mill safety goal as indentified in the assessment process and doing preventive things that we know are going to get them to the next level of maturity in the safety process."

Adding Value

Few safety and health professionals can justify their jobs solely on the basis of being compliance monitors. When asked how to add value to an organization, many respondents said safety personnel must be leaders who demonstrate the value of safety to their organizations.

"Know the facts and figures associated with how your job impacts the bottom line as well as the quality of the organization, and communicate that "value" to senior management in terms they understand, such as fewer injuries equals reduced medical costs, improved efficiency, increased competitiveness and a positive working environment for all," counseled Joe Harrison, CIH, an area safety manager with apparel manufacturer Russell Corp.

"To achieve an effective safety and health program, you must have the support and resources from the ownership," a safety manager noted. "The easiest way I have found is to document and furnish the monetary value of these programs' savings....Taking an organization from a penalty rating to a group rating ... has made documenting savings fairly easy. Being able to show several million dollars in savings makes it feasible to ask for budgets for safety improvements, equipment, training and other resources without blinking an eye."

Sidebar: What is the most frequent complaint you hear about the safety program in your organization?

Deleting the profanity, invective and hyperbole, the primary voices of complaint object to sitting through the various safety training classes which are imposed on everyone at the facility. Plant engineer

There seems to be a disconnect between upper management and front-line supervision. Upper management supports the safety process but some of the front-line supervisors don't walk the talk. This discourages hourly workers and sends the wrong message. We still have some work to do in this area. Safety director in Ohio

Discipline is enforced inconsistently. However, my feeling is that it is common for people receiving disciplinary action of any kind to feel that they are being singled out. Production manager

Safety committee is too aggressive. They want everything for the employee without taking into consideration the cost involved. Fire chief in Louisiana

Supervisors feel that safety should be my responsibility and not theirs!! ES&H manager in Pennsylvania

That it has no power. Government administrator in New York

It is just talk and no action. Union health and safety rep in California

The time commitment necessary for training. Our facilities are required to perform safety training at least every other month. Corporate EHS director in Ohio

"Where's the beef? There is a lot of talk but no incentives, not enough effective safety people in the field where the work is and not enough money to cover safety-related needs." Safety specialist

We use safety as a way of getting back at employees. They don't understand why we enforce "silly" rules. Safety manager

Safety too often takes a lower priority than production. EHS Manager in Wisconsin

Lack of uniform enforcement by supervisors. Safety manager in Ohio

You're costing us money! Safety education specialist

Why aren't you solving these issues (employee compliance, tracking chemicals, obtaining MSDSs) instead of me? SH&E manager in Maryland

Too many rules, too much paperwork. ESH coordinator in Washington

Management: Too much emphasis on safety. Costs too much Rank and File: Not enough emphasis on safety. Safety specialist in California

The safety director (me) doesn't spend enough time in the field. Safety director in Ohio

Safety meetings are too long and boring. ESH manager

No one ever does anything with the results of the program. It is nothing but talk, and they are right. Safety supervisor

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