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Corporate parks, parking lots and power lines â€” North Jersey is New York City's concrete backyard. November 5th is a dreary one in Franklin, N.J., about 50 miles west of Manhattan. Morning fog and drizzle blanket bare trees. At the end of Commerce Drive, the mood is matched by 40 or 50 dark suits mingling in the cafeteria of L'Oreal USA's Franklin manufacturing plant. But the execs and managers are all smiles.
L'Oreal USA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the world's largest beauty company, is announcing its commitment to gain "Star" status for all nine of its U.S. manufacturing sites in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program in the next five years. L'Oreal is believed to be the first foreign firm to set such a goal for all its U.S. industrial plants. OSHA chief John Henshaw is here. So is Jean-Paul Agon, CEO and president of L'Oreal USA. L'Oreal Group Director of Safety, Industrial Health & Environment, Dr. Zack Mansdorf, has jetted in from Paris. Reps from Golin/Harris International, hired to reel in the media, walk around meeting and greeting.
Why the fuss? What prompts a company like L'Oreal to go to the time and trouble to attain VPP "Star" level status? Compiling reams of ISO-like documentation. Opening up to OSHA auditors. Pledging to fix whatever is found wrong. Driving injury and lost-time rates below three-year industry averages.
L'Oreal's track record is already sterling. Fifteen of the L'Oreal Group's 43 factories worldwide have not experienced a lost-time incident so far this year. In the past three years, the group has reduced lost-time injuries by 44 percent in its global factories. Plus, manufacturing Maybelline and the like is a low-risk enterprise. No one has ever been killed on the job in a L'Oreal USA plant. Worldwide, the last fatality anywhere in the L'Oreal Group was in Germany in 1991, according to a company official.
In this edition of ISHN's e-newsletter, we examine what makes L'Oreal push safety and health performance into rare air when most would say "good enough," and put their energy elsewhere. Why bother?
And L'Oreal is not alone. Last week, OSHA honored a Titleist golf ball plant in Massachusetts for being the 1,000th site to achieve "Star" status in the 21-year history of VPP. In the past month alone, companies as varied as Mary Kay Cosmetics, Lucent Technologies, Monsanto, Pratt & Whitney, and Chevron have had sites approved or re-approved as OSHA "Stars." More than 30 corporations have made broad commitments similar to L'Oreal.
FACE OF COMMITMENT
First, let's look at how that commitment comes across where the "juice," as they call it in cosmetics, meets the jar.
Housekeeping is what you first notice at L'Oreal's 270,000-square-foot Franklin operation. White pebbled synthetic floors look like they have been scrubbed by a fraternity pledge class on a work party weekend. Low-slung drop ceilings shower more light than in many offices. Very clean, bright, organized. Automated million-dollar production lines for lip stick, skin creams and other beauty products are almost entirely encased in clear, hard plastic boxes that look like props from a Vegas magic show.
In many parts of the plant, you hear conversations from across the room. The loudest sound is clattering glass jars bumping along curving silver-metallic assembly lines. 82 decibels is as loud as it gets, according the site's industrial hygienist.
Workers look like medical assistants in white smocks and hairnets. The plant employs about 400 workers, and runs three shifts. Still, there is scant evidence of wear and tear in the nearly 20-year-old facility.
What you do see are safety visuals, banners, and bulletin boards at every turn. "Safety and drugs don't mix." "Don't let safety slip away." Signs for first aid kits, blankets, eyewash stations, the right-to-know information station, and AEDs. Blue screen video monitors suspended from the ceilings flash safety reminders: "Be careful when walking. Never assume forklift operators can see you." A large wall chart tracks each department's number of reported accidents, lost-time accidents, and days without a lost-time accident for the month. The lab is up to 3,100 days through October.
Outside the cafeteria, a board lists current members of the safety committee, emergency response team members, and the fire brigade. A section is reserved for the Business Abuse Center. "Speak Up" cards are available to report anything suspicious using an 800 number.
Two print-outs itemize the safety-related criteria for the annual performance evaluations of exempt and non-exempt personnel.
Non-exempt employees are measured by participation in training; housekeeping; PPE compliance; reporting near misses, injuries and hazardous conditions; operating equipment only if trained; proper lifting and bending; and proper use of tools.
Exempt employees are evaluated by participation in training and meetings; completed action items in formal audits and random inspections; signing off on the annual safety, health and environment plan; achieving goals of the plan; and setting an example with PPE usage and following rules. Supervisors are accountable for regular meetings held on safety, new employee safety training, and enforcement of PPE usage.
BACKBONE OF COMMITMENT
Policies and procedures â€” a management system â€” build safety into L'Oreal's operations. New equipment purchases above $400,000-$500,000 go through a process of initial risk assessment; third-party and internal reviews for safety specifications; prevention planning; ergonomic, noise and lighting level surveys; mechanic and operator job safety analysis training; and ongoing maintenance monitoring.
Employees on the floor assess hazards as part of the Safety Hazard Assessment Procedure (SHAP). Dangers for each workstation are defined and potential severity assessed, so a detailed map of each factory's hazards can be drawn. This map is the focal point of discussions between managers and employees for tracking hazards and improving safeguards.
Industrial Safety Risk internal rules are issued by L'Oreal's Production and Technology Division. They set out global policies and info on specifics such as alert instructions and personnel safety in high bay warehousing. Every factory worldwide abides by the same set of rules.
Roger Dolden, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of L'Oreal USA, chairs a safety council that meets every three months to tackle issues and track performance. A matrix of leading and trailing safety and health metrics is presented to L'Oreal's executive committee. "This is much more than just reporting injuries," says Mansdorf. Activity numbers, such as hours of safety training, correlate well to business performance, says Dolden.
OSHA likes to boast that VPP work sites have saved more than a billion dollars since the program started. But bottom line benefits don't interest L'Oreal. "That's nice," says Mansdorf, "but that's not what management wants to hear."
What does make this $16-billion multinational powerhouse with 50,491 employees in 140 countries so particular about safety that plant visitors are instructed that no high heel or open-toe shoes are allowed in any production area or warehouse?
L'Oreal makes shrewd use of safety and health to send a variety of corporate cultural messages to far-flung audiences broader than, but certainly including employees and visitors. In this sense, OSHA's VPP is a communication tool. "You're sending a clear message," OSHA chief Henshaw told the cafeteria crowd in North Jersey. "A critical signal is being sent."
So what's the message?
To employees, L'Oreal uses safety to reinforce teamwork, problem-solving, participation and operational discipline. "I tried to beef up L'Oreal's corporate cultureâ€¦ to grow employee commitment," said the group's CEO, Lindsay Owen-Jones in an interview with a French newspaper.
To supervisors and managers, the message is: "If you can't manage safety, we don't believe you can manage quality or productivity or anything else" says one L'Oreal exec. "Safety cannot be pulled out and separated from these other business skills and goals."
Safety also builds trust and loyalty. L'Oreal's business model is based on innovation, quality, efficiency and brand image. Growth depends on employees buying into these missions, said Owen-Jones in the company's 2002 annual report. The company cannot be run like McDonald's or Wal-Mart, with a revolving door workforce. Employees need to develop, like the British-born Owen-Jones, who joined the company fresh from business school in 1969 and has been CEO for 14 years.
Acquisitions are another part of L'Oreal's business model, and here safety and health standards are a way of "welcoming" new additions into the fold, setting expectations and ensuring consistency.
L'Oreal sells a "dream," in the words of its CEO. Its products are personal, shaping a customer's personality. This isn't about cranking out pumps and valves. It's about taking out wrinkles and preventing hair loss. L'Oreal needs a workforce attuned to emotions, wellness, health promotion. Attuned to a CEO like Owen-Jones, who tosses around words like intuition, adventure, and mystique. Products based on values require a values-based corporate culture. A strong commitment to safety and health reinforces the culture.
To communities where L'Oreal is sited (and this includes political leaders, grass roots groups and the press), safety and health efforts show that the world's largest cosmetics company is not some ravenous globo-monster exploiting the locals. The commitment to VPP is a sign of responsibility.
And particularly now in the U.S., with french fries turning into patriot fries and the Internet rift with French bashing ("The only way the French are going in with us is if we tell them we found truffles in Iraq," etc.), a strong safety pledge is a sign of valuing U.S. relations. Just like the poster by the front door of L'Oreal's Franklin plant that proclaims, "We support our troops."
To be sure, the first objective of every safety and health program is protecting lives. But L'Oreal and other VPP sites show how safety and health is leveraged to accomplish broader aims. "Great companies make great moves," said OSHA chief Henshaw. "Drive better performance in safety and health and you are more productive, more profitable."
Indeed, L'Oreal has shown double-digit earnings growth for 18 straight years.
Dave Johnson is the ISHN E-News editor. He can be reached at email@example.com, (610) 666-0261; fax (610) 666-1906.
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