On Oct. 28, 2011, Cintas maintenance technician Kevin Burgess died while servicing an industrial dryer at a Cintas uniform-laundering facility in Louisville, Ky.
Burgess, 55, died from blunt-force trauma after the dryer unexpectedly started up and pulled him into the machine.
No fatality is easy to accept. But this one was particularly troubling, considering that Burgess had completed his annual lockout/tagout refresher training just three weeks before the accident. And Burgess was all-too-familiar with the company’s lockout/tagout checklist, which requires maintenance personnel to isolate all energy sources and follow a prescribed set of steps to shut down and restart machines.
“I had a stack of checklists this high that [Burgess] had filled out,” said Rick Gerlach, senior director of safety and health for the Cincinnati-based provider of work uniforms. “He’d done lockout/tagout a thousand times.”
How, then, could such a tragedy happen?
We wanted them to follow the rules not because they’re rules, but because we care about them and we firmly believe that if they follow the safety rules, they’re not going to get hurt in our plants.
— Rick Gerlach, senior director of safety and health at Cintas Corp.
The fatal accident – and the questions that followed it – motivated Cintas to develop a safety certification program for its maintenance technicians, Gerlach explained during a presentation at EHS Today’s Safety Leadership Conference in Indianapolis.
The focus of the 12-week certification program is to go beyond traditional training by “engaging the hearts and minds” of Cintas maintenance personnel, or “partners,” as the company calls all of its employees. Echoing the remarks of Dr. Rick Fulwiler, who offered a keynote address earlier in the day, Gerlach emphasized that “you can’t just manage the worker from the neck down.”
“We really wanted to get to the point where our maintenance teams not only would understand what they were supposed to do but also would accept and embrace the rules and see the relationship between safety procedures and going home at the end of the day,” Gerlach said. “We wanted them to follow the rules not because they’re rules, but because we care about them and we firmly believe that if they follow the safety rules, they’re not going to get hurt in our plants.”
The elements of the certification program are:
- A kickoff conference call – Cintas introduced the concept by holding site-specific conference calls that included the site’s maintenance partners, the general manager (the site’s highest-ranking leader), the plant manager, the HR manager and the safety coordinator, as well as a corporate field engineer and a regional safety and health coordinator. “The purpose of the call is to let everybody know what’s about to happen, communicate the importance of the program and get everybody’s buy-in,” Gerlach said.
- A study guide – A 150-question study guide highlights all of the information from the company’s EHS program that Cintas wants its maintenance partners to learn. The focus is on four areas: lockout/tagout, confined spaces, live electrical work and falls. While the guide doesn’t include the answers, maintenance partners can find them in the company’s written safety program. “The whole idea is to drive familiarity with the written programs that we have in place for each of these topics,” Gerlach said. “It’s like homework.”
- Study sessions – For eight weeks, maintenance partners participate in one- to two-hour conference calls in which a corporate field engineer and a safety and health coordinator quiz them on chunks of the study guide. Prior to each conference call, maintenance partners are assigned 20 to 25 questions, for which they need to find the answers. For example, they’re asked, “Why is lockout/tagout important?” and “When is lockout/tagout required?” Maintenance partners receive the correct answers after each study session.
- A certification panel – After eight weeks of conference calls and two weeks of self-preparation, a certification panel tests each maintenance partner. The panel consists of the site’s general manager, plant manager and HR manager as well as a corporate field engineer and regional safety and health coordinator. Out of the 150 questions on the study guide, the panel asks 50 randomly selected questions. To earn certification, maintenance partners must answer all 50 questions correctly. In addition to taking the verbal exam, maintenance partners must take a written test that asks them how they’d respond to various hypothetical scenarios, and must take part in a hands-on exercise demonstrating their safety proficiency on the plant floor.
- Panel discussion – When the maintenance partner has completed the verbal and written tests and live demonstrations, he or she is excused from the room to allow the certification panel to deliberate. “It’s always a consensus because [the maintenance partner] either got the questions and scenarios right or they didn’t,” Gerlach said. “They did the demonstrations right or they didn’t.”
- Recognition – The most important aspect of the program is recognizing maintenance partners when they pass, Gerlach said. When they earn their certification, maintenance partners receive a signed certificate and a trophy as well as a patch for their uniforms. “It’s intense, so we really want them to know how grateful we are that they’ve been able to complete the process,” Gerlach added.
- Remedial action – For maintenance partners who don’t pass, Cintas creates a customized training plan, and the workers must be retested on all questions of any failed sections. They also lose their privileges in any deficient areas during the retraining period. For example, if a maintenance partner fails the lockout/tagout section of the test, the worker can’t perform lockout/tagout until he or she passes the section.
Of the 465 maintenance partners who went through the process, 86 percent of them earned their certification on their first try, and 12 percent succeeded on their second attempt. Gerlach said he believes that the certification process has given Cintas maintenance teams “an enhanced understanding of our safety program.”
But there have been other benefits. The process has fostered camaraderie among maintenance partners, many of whom studied with their colleagues to prepare. And among several testimonials that Gerlach shared, one worker said, “I have never seen a company care so much about the safety of their employees.”
Gerlach asserted: “You can’t buy that type of engagement.”