Associates at Milliken & Co.’s Johnston, S.C., plant review the plant’s safety metrics on a performance board, which are found at all Milliken facilities.

Harness the Full Power of Your Incident-Investigation Process

Sept. 24, 2013
Accelerate your incident-investigation capability and boost your safety-performance results by following these five steps.

If you conduct a poll of safety professionals, common trends in manufacturing safety will be revealed. When people share the pivotal moment when safety became a core value to their organization, a common thread is revealed. For many, it was a traumatic incident that put their organization on the path to heightened safety. 

This prompts a major question: Is your organization harnessing the full power of your incident-investigation process to drive safety-performance improvement, or is your company using it primarily as a documentation tool? 

Milliken's 39 manufacturing facilities located in the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France and China routinely are used by other companies as benchmark facilities, particularly for our performance and safety systems. For more than two decades, Milliken studied manufacturing processes from around the world, particularly Japan, where the principals of Six Sigma and lean manufacturing and the foundation of safety were developed. Milliken applied the principles discovered through this extensive capital investment to create its unique operating and safety systems. 

For this reason, it is instructive to learn how Milliken uses its incident-investigation process to drive its TIIR closer and closer to zero. Milliken's plants gain the maximum benefit by effectively engaging in the important process of an accident investigation. You'll find Milliken's five keys to conducting a thorough incident investigation a vital read if your process appears to be no more than a data shuffle of record maintenance, or worse – a pencil-whipping blame game. Accelerate your incident-investigation capability and impact your safety-performance results by following these steps.

1. Define Core Cause

Until the true cause of the incident is revealed, corrective action can be misguided. Often, there are underlying circumstances that are left undiscovered without the use of core-cause analysis. There are numerous methods utilized for this step – some simple and others quite intricate. Select one that matches the capabilities of your culture, and through the incident investigations, define the core cause of each incident. Address the cause so that the incident cannot be repeated.

Milliken has utilized the 5-Why methodology to define core cause for many years. This technique has allowed our associates to think through the various factors that contribute to an incident and funnel down to the final cause. This methodology has resonated with our associates in the search for core cause. Selecting the best methodology match, for cultural and systems capability, should be considered if your investigation process does not fully drive to core cause conclusions.

2. Involve Employees

Once a core-cause methodology is adopted, consider training and including a small group of shop-floor employees in the investigation as well as the analysis and the corrective-action development process. Their knowledge of equipment, tasks performed and proper operating procedures are invaluable resources when defining core cause and corrective needs. Involving employees helps develop greater safety ownership while also increasing their problem-solving capability and general morale.

At Milliken, members of the employee Safety Steering Committee routinely are involved in the incident-investigation process to help discover the facts and the core causes of incidents. Through their involvement in this step, they are enthusiastic about finding workable corrective actions for safety improvement. From this experience, they also become more proactive in identifying potential risks before incidents occur. 

3. Track Corrective Actions 

Finding true causes of incidents is important, but completing implementation of corrective action is imperative. In our fast-paced world, it's easy for things to slip through the cracks and ultimately be forgotten. 

Allowing this to happen with corrective measures merely creates the potential for a similar incident to occur. Failing to replicate corrective actions to similar equipment or similar tasks multiplies this potential. Tracking corrective items on a simple spreadsheet and reviewing completion status with operations leaders on a regular basis is one means to ensure timely completion. Further, Milliken recommends using percent completion of corrective actions as a safety-process metric to lead and manage safety-performance improvement over time.

4. Trend Incident Data

Trending several years of incident data along strategically selected criteria can provide worlds of insight into the safety needs of the operation. Specific equipment, specific tasks, specific areas or shifts and similar-type injuries are just a few of the common items that incident trending can highlight. From this data, targeted projects or initiatives can be selected and implemented as countermeasures to the trend findings. This activity facilitates injury reduction and moves the operation toward a more preventive culture for safety.

At Milliken sites, various levels of site leadership and employee safety teams use this data to identify problematic areas, tasks or behaviors. This generates a more strategic approach in determining greatest site needs, and through a collaborative approach, translates into meaningful improvement projects to address them.

5. Communicate Results

With respect to HIPPA, I recommend you share targeted incident findings with the work force to help employees learn from workplace mishaps. Couple this communication with the changes needed for safety improvement and the corrective actions in motion, which will prevent the incident from reoccurring. In addition, use the communication venue to ask for other safety concerns or improvement suggestions from attendees. These not only convey a desire for quick response to employee safety needs, they also help the work force become more prevention-focused. 

Investigations that identify fundamental facts while excluding core causes of incidents cannot truly drive an organization toward safety-performance improvement. If the true source is not found and eliminated, an incident is destined to be repeated at some point. As we have learned at Milliken, involving associates in the investigation process can be instrumental in finding the core cause and in determining effective countermeasures to avoid incident reoccurrence. As a result, this is now one of the foundational elements of our safety process.

Mike Powell has worked for Milliken for 32 years. He has served in manufacturing, employment/education, human resources and safety roles across 11 different manufacturing sites and five technologies. Currently, he leads safety-system implementations at several leading client organizations as part of Performance Solutions by Milliken, Milliken's consulting services group. 

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