2004 National Safety Survey

July 14, 2004
Our annual survey of safety and health managers finds many coping with lean environments and enlisting top management, supervisors and employees in the effort to eliminate workplace injuries and illnesses.

It's not hard to find common ground among respondents to the National Safety Survey. Safety and health professionals work in a demanding world of too few resources, multiple responsibilities and constant change. But while the pressure can be intense, many respondents are also finding that they can adapt at least over time to these changes and continue to develop effective, efficient programs that prevent injury and illness and provide value to their organizations.

Nearly 70 percent of the respondents to this year's survey have full-time EHS responsibilities. For the others, job duties range from quality assurance to purchasing to building maintenance. One safety manager reported that his other duties included IT and network management. While he doesn't do safety full-time, "it seems that way." Many respondents were human resources managers who have safety and health as one of their responsibilities.

EHS work may be demanding, but 84 percent of respondents said they intend to stay in the field until they retire. The vast majority cite altruistic reasons. "It's very satisfying to help find better, safer, healthier ways to accomplish work," said one respondent. Others mention the variety of issues and tasks in their jobs as stimulating and interesting. A supervisor of environmental health and safety said: "When I come to work in the morning, no matter what is on my to-do list, I really don't know what I will wind up spending most of my day with. I learn something new every day and I love learning new things."

For the minority, safety presents either a stepping stone on their career path or something they find unrewarding. Said one safety coordinator: "I have been given this responsibility out of company need, not my choice. I have a hard time being heard and taken seriously since safety is not a management concern but more of a necessity. I am not empowered to make change." A supervisor of safety and regulatory compliance in New York said safety was not enjoyable. "I feel constantly isolated and fighting an uphill battle. There is a lack of concern by supervisors to take responsibility for their part in ensuring the safety of their staff."

A sense of organizational support for safety helps separate the safety "haves" from the "have nots." For example, 94 percent of the respondents who described their organization's safety and health programs as "world class" or "very good" said that top management in their organization provided active and visible support for safety. Conversely, 63 percent who said their programs were average to poor reported a lack of active top management support.

With large corporate safety staffs becoming a rarity, the safety manager (or department) can no longer operate in isolation and simply demand compliance with government regulations. Success requires management support, responsibility and accountability among supervisors and employees, and an appreciation for both the physical and psychological components of safety. Our interviews with survey respondents underscored these tenets.

Taking the Lead

Each of Weyerhaeuser's 16 business lines has a "safety lead," notes Chris Redfearn, manager of health and safety technical services, but he clarifies that that safety specialist is really a support person for the executive managing each business. "They are responsible and accountable for results in safety," he said. "We also hold all employees accountable for their own safety."

The road map for Weyerhaeuser's safety activities is the Health and Safety Exchange, a safety management system and audit tool. "For 51 weeks of the year, it is a guide to the effective implementation of safety management," explained Redfearn. "For one week, it is an audit to check how well you are doing."

There are about 600 questions in the audit. For each question, there is a set of guidelines that explains its intent and what the audit is looking for. Each business can customize the audit to a certain degree so that it relates to the operations in the business, and auditors also allow some latitude. For example, said Redfearn, if a site can show that they have had an asbestos review and there is no asbestos on site, the auditor will not apply that element in the audit.

At the end of the audit, the site gets a numerical score for each element. "We can tell them, for example, that in leadership, the most important element, they scored a 98 out of 100 or a 75 out of 100," said Redfearn. While managers like the numerical score, he noted, it is important that they pursue activities that provide a good return on investment from a safety and health perspective, not simply pursue things to get 100 percent on the score.

Six years ago, Weyerhaeuser set a number of targets for safety performance. The targets stemmed from a core value at the company caring for people. "Where that translates to the health and safety side is we have a good understanding that all incidents are preventable. We understand their causes and we know we can prevent them all," said Redfearn. "In actuality, does that mean that all will be prevented? Likely not, but we can still make that a target and still drive injuries and illnesses out of our system."

Redfearn said the company is working to eliminate fatalities among both employees and contractors. It has an injury incident rate of 1.6, and has a target of 1.0 by the end of the year. He said company forecasts indicate that target won't be reached until mid-2005, but that the company is continuing to maintain the target.

This year, Weyerhaeuser began a program to improve contractor safety on its sites. Redfearn said company executives decided that contractors are "people working on our sites helping us succeed in business so we have a duty to help ensure that they are not injured and killed while on our sites." Among the actions being taken, he said, are raising the selection criteria on safety performance, measuring them closely against contract expectations and, if they fail to meet safety criteria, "they will not be working on our sites."

Redfearn said that top management's "visible, active commitment" to safety leadership has been the lynchpin in Weyerhaeuser's safety improvements over the years. And he said the company has made clear that there is nothing mysterious about safety management. "It is setting clear targets, providing support and capability for people to meet those targets, measuring performance against targets and holding people accountable the same way we would on production or costs or quality."

Helping People Do Their Jobs

As manager of safety for National Jewish Medical and Research Center, a medical facility specializing in respiratory and immunological allergy-related conditions, Jay Skarda operates both among very independent medical researchers in the facility's 50 labs and the heavily regulated environment of the clinic where mostly outpatient care is provided.

Where his department once was viewed primarily as the safety cops, he said they have worked hard over the last few years to change that perception and be seen as a resource. "I look at what I do as helping people," said Skarda, who has a staff of three technicians and secretary. That means helping people do their jobs in a way that allows them to go home in the same condition as when they arrived, keeping the facility in compliance, acting occasionally as a referee between departments that have a disagreement and doing it all in the least intrusive way possible.

That doesn't mean that Skarda keeps to himself, however. Just the opposite. "We have a real good working knowledge of what goes on here, what the risks are and what hazards employees encounter," he said. "We do a lot of risk assessments. We are out walking the facility. Employees are pretty mindful of our policies and regulations."

Skarda said one way he changed the perception of the safety department was by being very visible in the facility "doing everything from waste pickups to audits to accident investigations." He sends out an e-mail each Friday to the staff with two or three safety tips. Topics in an issue might include information on West Nile Virus, how to protect yourself from heat stress and a humorous story about safety. He said the e-mail "personalized our department as opposed to being just the police office in the corner of the administration building."

Skarda credits the facility's employee health department with helping to reduce ergonomic-related problems. Anytime an employee reports a musculoskeletal problem, an employee health nurse evaluates their work setting to determine if it is ergonomically correct, if they are doing the job properly and if their tasks can be modified to reduce whatever strain is causing the injury. Skarda said when the department began aggressively investigating ergonomic issues, the incidence rate and costs went up. "That was because things weren't being reported and investigated," he explained. "Over the years, both have dropped."

With 1,300 employees and a constant stream of visitors and patients, Skarda's safety department has to be vigilant about walkways during Denver's icy winters to prevent the broken arms and other mishaps that have occurred. During the winter, the safety department technicians walk the facility's sidewalks and parking lots each morning, identify icy spots and report them to environmental services so they can apply ice melt. Skarda said he investigates every slip, trip and fall that is reported at the facility.

Skarda has applied a more high-tech solution to safety training. He and his staff conducted many classroom training sessions annually and, he admits, "Employees hated it and we hated it." Busy employees had to attend scheduled classes and training compliance rarely reached 85 percent.

That changed when they instituted computer-based training. Now employees can log into the training site, type in their employee number and the system immediately shows them what training they must complete for the calendar year and where they stand.

"As interesting as you try to make it, when you do the same class 35 times a year, it gets pretty boring for the instructor as well as those attending," said Skarda. "They go through the motions, take a quiz at the end, sign their name and dread coming back next year. Online training is customizable, so we can change it and try to make it as interesting as we can." Employees can call the department if they have questions about the material, he added, and compliance has reached 100 percent for most training.

Mile High Safety

The Public Works department in Denver handles many of the tasks that keeps a city running plowing streets, picking up the garbage, managing the storm and sanitary sewer system, even running an asphalt plant. Steve Brendlinger, the safety and loss control director for the city and county, readily acknowledges that the department's 1,100 employees face myriad hazards. "We have everything from the hazards of picking up trash to working with hot asphalt to trenching and shoring issues and confined space exposures," he pointed out. "We are constantly in and out of the public." Over the last 3 years, the department's vehicles have averaged a total of 7 million miles traveled annually.

To keep employees safe, Brendlinger employs constant training. Each year, the department runs about 200 safety classes. For example, a recent program called "When the Rubber Meets the Road" offers specialized training for waste truck drivers and garbage men who frequently work in narrow alleys, noted Brendlinger, that were "never designed to hold a big trash bin and a big truck." The program includes information on back care, proper hydration and a defensive driving class specific to this equipment, as well as new rules spelling out when employees can ride the back of the truck. "The person can't be on the truck for more than one block, the truck can't be on a main street and the truck can't go over 10 miles an hour," he explained. The program proved so popular that they adapted the program for street maintenance employees and will also be providing it to wastewater division workers.

Brendlinger tries to minimize the impact that the training has on the operations. For example, they'll focus classes in the period between the end of snow removal and the start of paving operations in the spring.

While there was some discord initially about the time that training took, Brendlinger said as the years have gone on and employees and supervisors have seen the value of an enhanced safety program, the training has become well accepted. "You will lose employees for a couple of hours in class, but if you have an injury, you lose them either off work or to modified duty for an extend period of time," he said. "In the long run, the investment in training pays off phenomenally."

Brendlinger and his safety officers work hard to build relationships with managers throughout the department. Safety is a regular topic at senior management meetings. He attends department directors' meetings and the safety officers who each cover a specific division meet with those directors on a regular basis. The safety officers also go out on a daily basis to do site and facility assessments to make sure that personal protective gear is being worn, safety procedures are being followed and equipment is in proper working order.

Since he came to the department in 1989, injuries have fallen by 60 percent, said Brendlinger. Those high injury rates prompted management to support strong safety measures. "Once a year, at directors' meeting, I'll bring out the new statistics and do a 10-year history just to remind some of the newer people where we have come from and how the training and proactive safety measures have contributed," he said, adding that some of his best allies are veteran employees who will testify about the former high injury rates and the corresponding problems with keeping full crews on the job.

Preventive Approach

Bruce Schryver's path to the safety profession came by way of time spent in law enforcement and in medical school. In both cases, he recalled, he was dealing with the effects of problems and doing little to prevent them. "You weren't proactive and I decided maybe there was a better way to go. That's how I ended up in safety."

Now as vice president of loss control services for ICW Group, a group of insurance carriers operating primarily in the western states, Schryver, who has a Ph.D. in safety management, gets to employ his safety skills in helping a variety of clients solve safety problems. For example, one client's vehicle fleet was having a rash of rear end collisions. "Having law enforcement experience, I bought radar units. We started clocking their vehicles," he said. If they caught a driver speeding, he was laid off for three days. If the driver was caught twice, he was terminated.

"Within a period of a little over a week, we completely stopped their rear end accidents from occurring," he said.

With employers' permission, Schryver also likes to use digital cameras and video to capture what is really going on in plants or construction sites. "It is irrefutable when you go out and take a picture of a guard not on a saw or a damaged power cord or an improperly grounded generator," he said. Management has something concrete to act on, he added, rather than reacting to hearsay.

Though Schryver offers services such as road observation and radar speed checks, he is a firm believer that management is responsible for safety. "Over the years, I have always been a believer that when an accident occurs, management has failed to do something. In a lot of cases, people say, 'It's not my fault, it's the employee's.' My answer is, 'Did you adequately train that employee? Did you provide a safe work environment? Did you have a good inspection program? If it is a vehicle accident, what kind of proactive training program did you put your people through?' That's not to say you don't have an idiot out there that is going to do something silly, but in most cases, management abdicates its responsibility for a safe workplace."

He notes the truism that supervisors are responsible for safety, but he asks how often they are made accountable for safety. He recommends to companies that supervisors be given clear-cut guidelines and expectations regarding safety. If the company reaches its safety goals, supervisors should be rewarded. And if they don't properly manage safety, he said, there has to be a downside, such as a reduction of their year-end bonus.

Unlike some safety experts, Schryver supports the use of safety incentives as a good way to promote safety awareness. He recalled a construction company that had a truck as the top prize in its incentive program. He convinced them to contact a local dealer and offer to park the truck on the front of the property with a sign promoting the safety contest and the dealer's name in exchange for a discount on the truck. When it was time to award the truck to the safe worker of the year, the company invited a representative from the dealership and the local newspaper to the ceremony.

Schryver recommends that incentive programs be set up so that employees are not excluded from the contest immediately if anything goes wrong. For example, one client had an incentive program where employees received a token each week if they had no accident, They wrote their employee name and number on it and dropped it in a lockbox. If an employee missed a day because of a minor injury, they simply lost one chance out of four for that month's drawing. "People didn't see this as being completely cut out. They still had three chances to win a safety prize. That overcomes the nonreporting issue."

Schryver preaches to clients that the best way to control workers' compensation costs is to minimize losses. "The most frightening client you can have is one that doesn't care because it is 'insured.' It doesn't see the underlying costs to the organization the hidden iceberg," he noted.

As an example, he recalls an incident in which a piece of cardboard fell into a conveyor, causing an irritating sound. Reacting to employees' complaints, a maintenance foreman decided to crawl under the conveyor while it was running and pull out the cardboard. He became entangled in the conveyor and his arm was severed.

There were 100 people working on the conveyor lines that day. Suddenly, they were plunged into a nightmare as some employees tried to get him out from under the conveyor and stop the bleeding while others screamed or fainted. Some workers were sent home or needed medical attention themselves. When Schryver's group stated examining the costs of this gruesome incident, they determined that the costs in lost production and other related items cost the company 100 times what the injury itself cost.

Setting a High Standard

With its vast network of service stations, BP Oil is constantly in the process of either remodeling or building new stations. Bovis Lend Lease Global Alliance, a construction management company, is charged with making sure that this work goes on safely.

Corporate Safety Director Tom Crowley said the global alliance between the two firms has introduced a key safety program called Incident and Injury Free (IIF). The program seeks to promote the concept of a safety environment in which people must act safely both on and off the job. The program was introduced first to the principals of the contractor companies working on BP sites. It is then provided to supervisors and finally to workers. Training sessions, provided by Crowley and other safety personnel to employees either one-on-one or in groups, use videos and stories of real-life incidents to drive home the need for safe behavior.

The companies already enforced a Safety Passport program, which requires anyone working on a BP Oil site to take an online safety test and, upon successful completion, be issued a passport that is good for 1 year. The test is offered in English and Spanish, and takes about an hour. The test is geared to construction safety and covers topics such as falls protection, electrical safety and confined spaces.

The alliance employs a variety of other measures to help ensure safety on BP sites:

  • Besides the Safety Passport training, project managers are required to take 16 additional hours of safety or environmental training.
  • Before any unusual or potentially hazardous work is done, contractors must prepare a safety methods statement, which is essentially a risk analysis that spells out how the work will be done and the safety precautions that will be employed.
  • Operators must be trained and have a card before using operating any equipment such as an articulating boom or scissor lift.
  • Workers must wear personal protective equipment, such as hard hats, safety glasses, long pants, shirts with sleeves, shoes or boots and gloves if needed.
  • Employees must be tied off or protected in some other way if working at a 6-foot or higher height.
  • Ladders may only be used if nothing else will do the job and it will last less than 10 minutes. Otherwise, said Crowley, "we want scissor lifts, JLGs, articulating booms. If they have to use a ladder, it must be manned by a second employee."

All these precautions, said Crowley, are paying off in a program that has gone millions of hours without a lost-time injury and has not had a reportable injury in more than 24 months.

Sidebar: What Do You Enjoy Most About Your Job?

  • Training and educating others in regards to safety & health. Interacting with others in my profession and with the employees where I work. Helping others as a resource.
  • Diversity of tasks, prevention of injuries and loss, the combination of technical and administrative duties, working with diverse groups (employees and customers).
  • Working with people. It is amazing to watch the transitions in employees when they truly begin to understand the need for EHS policies/programs and embrace the system as opposed to just working in it.
  • Interactions with people across the world and the knowledge that what I do makes a difference.
  • Learning from people in different cultures and different countries. Feeling that my job is a benefit to the workers and the environment.
  • Diversity. Our corporation has over 100 active sites with over 200 contracts. I practice safety from A to Z. Every day, something new pops up or needs to be addressed. A great job!
  • I have a chance to make a difference in people's lives. I have moms, dads, husbands and wives that send people to my work force every day and it's my responsibility to send them home the way they came into work. They trust my company and myself to give them a safe working environment to work in and I take that responsibility very seriously.
  • Immediate results. When you see your work have a direct effect on lowering the number and severity of recordable injuries, it's very satisfying.
  • Showing people it does not take any more time to do it safely.
  • Playing a major role in the health and safety of employees; Keeping the facility environmentally friendly and compliant.
  • Always something new. I love solving problems. I would do it for free.

Sidebar: What single action have you taken in the past year that has most improved your organization's safety and health program?

  • Implemented a safety program called "Caught You Being Safe." It involves employees receiving drawing slips for being caught doing a safe act. A drawing is done once a week and we have several different items for them to choose from. All have a safety message on them. The supervisors are also rewarded for their participation in this program with a monthly drawing.
  • Placing an hourly employee as chairman of the safety committee. This action appeared to increase the buy-in of the work force to the safety programs instituted at our company.
  • We finally set long-term goals (10 years) for annual reductions in injury rates (OSHA recordable and lost-time). The status is communicated to the company president. This appears to have given the production managers a steady goal to focus on.
  • I publish a monthly corporate safety newsletter for all of our branches and include best practices and professional opinions that back up what I preach. In order for a safety culture to be attained, management has to get involved. However, injuries have always been viewed as just a part of doing business by my employer.
  • The incorporation of first-line supervisors into the program as trainers and an increase in EHS responsibilities for these same people on a more formal and programmatic basis.
  • Driven home the point to the plant manager that safety is not my job, which in turn greatly improved responsibility and accountability at all levels and placed the burden of getting things done where they belong.
  • Provided a HES risk inventory to senior management that allows them to use resources where they can provide the best return in HES performance.
  • Putting safety and health in every supervisor's annual objectives. This drove the "safety first" message to the operation floor and really woke up some lagging supervisors.
  • Ergonomic evaluations of new manufacturing processes; re-evaluation of existing workstations to reduce high risk concerns; becoming a trainer for the MoveSMART program and implementing that training for everyone in the organization.
  • Implemented an electrical arc flash program including the completion of arc flash studies at each of our facilities, electrical PPE purchases, warning signage and training.
  • Convincing management to change my position from a part-time shared safety manager (with another company) to a full-time position. This has allowed me more time to be on job sites, take more frequent visits to jobs and be more thorough and professional in all other aspects.
  • AED installation. We purchased three for a plant of 650 and conducted CPR, first aid and AED training to go with it (mandatory and voluntary people).
  • Single Action? Not even close. Everything I've built with this company in the last 3 years has finally all come together in the past year. We've got structured processes in safety for incident investigation and reporting, EHS committees, employee involvement, safety training, new hire orientation, auditing, corrective action follow up. The list goes on and on.

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