Has American industry gone soft on safety? And if so, what can be done about it? These are the questions Industrial Safety & Hygiene News decided to explore after listening to Dr. Cohen and others -for the professor is not alone in his concerns.
"With 85 percent of my clients I see management going through the motions, satisfied with the status quo in safety," says a midwestern consultant.
"Complacency at senior management levels is real and growing," says Joseph Kinney, executive director of the National Safe Workplace Institute.
"A lot of companies are saying, 'We don't want to be outstanding.' Comp rates are manageable. What do you get for your efforts beyond a certain point?" says another consultant."
Given this kind of talk, it's not surprising that the nation's most visible barometer of workplace safety and health performance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' incidence rate of injury and illness cases, has been flat since the early 1980s. Total cases per 100 full-time workers was 8.4 in 1994, the most recent year surveyed, and 8.3 in 1981. The rate for total lost workday cases was 3.8 in 1994 and 3.8 in 1981. There are other measures of concern as well: ·
"Ten years ago, 75 to 80% of professionals would have been getting the resources they needed," says Darrell Mattheis, a health and safety expert who's spent his career tracking trends in the field.
So what's happened?
What has brought the safety and health field to the point that a 33-year-old industrial hygiene and safety manager for a division of a major U.S. manufacturer recently writes to ISHN: "A very large portion of professionals max out at mid-level positions or are placed in 'figurehead' positions with inadequate staffing or no staffing at all... They exist solely to maintain a status quo...and put out any fires which may arise during their tour of duty."
What has happened to prompt experts in the field, when asked to comment on ISHN's survey of this summer, to use words like "unsettling," "backwards," and "discouraging."
"As I see it, nearly half of your respondents are telling you that their companies provide resources sufficient only for 'average' or 'below average' safety, health and environmental efforts," says former NIOSH Director Dr. J. Donald Millar. This finding is "most ominous," he says. "Would these same companies be content with 'average' and 'below average' performance in protecting any other investment? You can bet your bottom dollar, no."
Lack of a crisis: The power of the "big bang," the impact of catastrophes on corporate psyches, can't be denied. The last major accident to rivet attention to workplace safety occurred five years ago in 1991, when a flash fire raced through a chicken processing plant in Hamlet, N.C., killing 25 workers.
By comparison, the 1980s were rift with alarming wake-up calls. In October, 1989, a devastating fire and explosion killed 23 workers and injured more than 130 others at a Phillips 66 Company plant in Pasadena, Texas. That same year, Exxon Corporation felt the heat of media and public outrage when the Exxon Valdez unleashed 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound. In 1984, toxic gas escaping from a Bhopal, India, chemical plant operated by Union Carbide killed 1,700 people and injured 200,000. One year later, methyl isocyanate spewed out from a Carbide plant in Institute, W. Va., sending 132 people to the hospital.
Seduced by success: Many companies have in fact substantially reduced injury and illness rates and workers' compensation costs. It's the old action-withdrawal safety scenario: "When there are serious problems, people panic; when things look good, people relax," says Mark Donaldson, senior safety engineer for a North American Chemicals Company facility in the eastern California desert.
Low performance standards: Many companies measure their safety efforts against OSHA requirements -in fact 50% of ISHN's survey respondents say regulatory compliance is the prime motivator for safety and health spending. But for years experts have insisted that OSHA's rules represent the minimum for what employers should be doing. Numerous companies have learned through audits that their safety and health problems have nothing to do with OSHA issues.
Lack of external pressure: Who pushes safety outside the plant gates? Grassroots community groups focus on environmental threats. Stockholders and customers are not known for demanding safety excellence. The primary driver since the 1970s has been OSHA, and executives see OSHA backing off. In 1985, the agency conducted 71,727 worksite inspections. Last year, the total dropped to 29,113 -an all-time low- as the "new OSHA" scrambled to reinvent itself in the face of Republican attacks. This year the numbers will probably drop further; for the first three quarters of fiscal year 1996, 19,083 inspections had been conducted.
"I'd probably get a blank check if OSHA came in here and cited us. But when I ask for money, which is always a battle, OSHA's low profile just makes management stick to its guns more," says a safety manager in Mississippi.
The attitude seems to be, "If OSHA doesn't care, why should we?" says an environmental health and safety specialist for a North Carolina manufacturer. "OSHA's like a big dog with no teeth."
Standards-setting has also provided few sparks. The 1980s saw OSHA issue two of its biggest rules ever, covering workplace hearing protection programs and hazard communication. Congress was more active, too, passing the community right-to-know law and the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act in 1986. Ten years later, the buzz on Capitol Hill is all about reining in regulators.
Fear: Takeovers, reorgs, and layoffs have rattled the workplace for more than a decade now, taking a predictable toll. 49% of ISHN survey respondents point to employee morale as a top concern for the coming year. 29% are worried about their own careers.
"How outgoing do you believe an EHS professional is willing to be in today's environment?" asks one industrial hygiene and safety manager.
ISHN's survey offers several more reasons why it's been so tough to improve injury and illness statistics: ·
Interviews with more than 30 professionals for this article uncovered numerous cases. For example: ·
It's revealing to look at why these companies are not letting safety idle along. The steel mill needs every edge it can find to fight for global market share. The new cab, with better visibility and more comfortable seating, might run faster as well as be safer, says the plant's safety manager, who spoke with ISHN on background. "Productivity, quality, and safety go hand-in-hand," he says.
The petroleum blends manufacturer needs a product safety specialist to keep up with all the labeling, packaging, and material safety data sheet requirements that come with expanding international trade. "Every country can be different," explains the regulatory affairs manager.
North American Chemical is putting $175,000 into behavior-based safety in part because it fits nicely with the company's commitment to Total Quality Management and putting more responsibilities -including safety- into the hands of employees, says Senior Safety Engineer Mark Donaldson. Arcadian Fertilizer has budgeted $170,000 for behavioral safety next year to increase employee participation and break through a performance plateau of 2.3 incidents a year that policies and procedures can't seem to crack, according to Steve Jordan, manager of safety and loss prevention at Arcadian's Omaha, Neb., facility. Arcadian, it should be noted, has been battling OSHA in court for years over a $5 million penalty stemming from a 1992 explosion. The case has nothing to do with the behavioral safety program, says Jordan.
VPP status scores public relations points for the brewery at a time when beer makers fear they might follow the tobacco industry as a target of the White House's current campaign against unhealthy temptations of youth. The brewery's safety manager also wants to use vigorous VPP requirements to revitalize his program, which has gone so long without a lost-time accident (more than three million employee hours worked) that managers take it for granted.
Another common thread with upbeat pros is their focus on productivity. "We have to keep up with the Germans and Japanese," says Gerald Edgar, environment and safety coordinator for Iowa Mold Tooling, a manufacturer of cranes and truck bodies. "So productivity becomes very important."
"Management wants us to do things to keep our people healthy," says James Burden, production manager for the Porelon Group, an inking devices manufacturer in Cookville, Tenn., with 300 employees. "To help cut down on the cost of operations, we need processes and people performing."
Despite serious cost-cutting -the likes of which allow the aerospace and defense industry to report a second quarter '96 profit explosion of 416 percent on just a 10 percent sales gain, according to Business Week -a number of EHS professionals and consultants say money and support is available. "The dollars will be spent if I can prove risk," says one corporate industrial hygienist. "If I can cost-justify $200,000 or $300,000 in risk controls, management will do it."
Dave Herbert, a former DuPont safety official now in business for himself, regularly meets with senior executives and sees a growing recognition in board rooms that good management and good safety go hand in hand. A.D. Little health and safety consultant Chris O'Leary sees the same trend, saying a number of companies have "very, very savvy visions of how safety creates value."
Herbert and O'Leary spend much of their time visiting executives in large corporations, which might skew their view. Both have worked with Monsanto Company, for example, one of the nation's acknowledged leaders in progressive EHS management. But how many companies are like Monsanto, which recently created a position for vice president of learning?
Size has always been a factor in making EHS commitments, and seems to be a particular advantage in today's competitive marketplace. Gerald Edgar works for one of the country's largest manufacturers of service truck bodies. Mike Stevens' employer, Moore Corporation, is the nation's largest business forms printer.
"When you're successful you can afford to be concerned about health and safety," says Dennis Hussey, manager of global environmental health and safety programs for General Electric Medical Systems. "I know the resources are there for us."
ISHN's survey shows evidence of this split. There's roughly a 50-50 division in readers reporting resources for superior performance and those who aren't getting what they need. 45% say management would be interested in an ISO safety and health standard, 55% say their managers would not be supportive. 43% say their company's values and culture will be a source of confidence for them in 1997 -57% skipped over that item on the questionnaire.
Perhaps the progressives and the complacent neutralize each other, and the result is safety and health gridlock -14 years of stagnating performance.
But what if cutting-edge companies cut back? This is what worries Professor Cohen and others. Says a corporate EHS manager for a Fortune 500 company: "Companies see (the lack of action with OSHA) and ask, ŒWhat do we need these safety and health guys for?' So they cut these guys, cut a couple hundred thousand dollars from the budget, and go to outsourcing. This is the most distressing thing I've seen in the past few years, because innovation in EHS comes from internal programs."
If this thinking takes hold in the best companies, the idea of improving workplace injury-illness rates will take a backseat to just making sure they don't get worse.
The Philadelphia-based chemical maker has since climbed to the top third of the CMA. This year, the association awarded Rohm and Haas its Lammot DuPont certificate for significant injury and illness rate improvement in a five-year period. The average number of accidents and injuries recorded among Rohm and Haas's 50-plus operations worldwide in 1991, '92, and '93 was cut in half in 1994 and '95, according to Corporate Safety Director Frank Renshaw. In 1990, the company's occupational injury and illness rate was 6.5 cases per 100 workers. In 1995, it was 2.0.
This success story begins in 1989, when Rohm and Haas president Larry Wilson commissioned a study to look at the company's state of safety worldwide. After conducting an employee perception survey and benchmarking against competitors like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical, an ad hoc task force issued a report in February, 1991, recommending a "strategy for safety leadership."
The Board of Directors responded by making accident and injury rate reduction a top corporate objective. And a series of meetings between domestic and overseas line and senior managers produced region-specific plans for clear safety direction. The U.S. operations plan focused on six basic areas: ·
At Rohm and Haas, the corporate safety department serves the company like a consultant. Safety at each business unit is plant managers' responsibility. Corporate safety provides some training and consulting, conducts audits, and produces internal benchmarking data that allows each location and business operation to measure itself against the company's other units. But plant managers are like captains of their own ships, Snyder explains. It's up to them to help their own plants and the company meet the business objectives.
One thing's for sure: Since senior management began recognizing plants with the best safety records in each region and incorporating safety performance into plant and area managers' salary reviews, "for the first time we have had plant managers calling up the safety department and asking "We're at this plateau, what can we do next?'" says Snyder. The same peer pressure dynamic that lit the fire under senior management upon seeing their CMA ranking works on individual plant managers who see their operation ranked among other Rohm and Haas units.
The company still relies mostly on results-based measures like injuries, illnesses, and near-misses to determine the state of safety, Renshaw says. But some activity-based measures like safety meeting attendance, participation in training sessions, and whether or not managers are conducting safety sampling also reflect the culture change. Says Renshaw, "Our managers, supervisors, and employees are spending more time on safety than they did five years ago. There's no question in my mind about that." Renshaw says a recent corporate-wide downsizing that cut the safety department budget 10 percent hasn't been noticeable as far as the safety culture development goes: "Many of the opportunities to improve in safety are related to behavior," he says. "The things we do to motivate people and impact behavior are based not on spending money to fix things, but on serving as a good example, showing genuine interest in people's safety, and doing things to demonstrate our commitment."
Certainly workers' compensation premiums have dropped dramatically along with accident and injury rates. But with such strong upper-management support, showing the return on safety investments isn't stressed, according to Renshaw. What's more important seems to be evidence like the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program Star status of the Philadelphia plant, and the pending applications for VPP recognition at three other plants.
"[Our safety record] was around the industry average, but we were trying to find a solid means to improve it," explains Daniel Palmer, former industrial safety and health manager for the subcontractor, which was responsible for managing 525 facilities on the 560-square mile site along the Columbia River until Westinghouse lost the contract this year.
Two years ago, imminent downsizing and the looming possibility that the company's contract would not be renewed stunted enthusiasm for any safety improvement initiative among ICF Kaiser's 2,900 employees. The company tried raising safety awareness with what Palmer calls "flavor of the month programs" like DuPont's Stop Program and the International Loss Control Institute Management Program. But, he says, those efforts were management-driven, and employees just didn't buy into them. "They would say, 'I might get laid off tomorrow. Why bother?'" recalls Palmer.
Finally, following Westinghouse's lead, ICF Kaiser decided in April, 1994, to pursue OSHA Voluntary Protection Program certification. Getting management cooperation was no trouble. But workers weren't easily hooked.
So, at a cost of $195, ICF Kaiser signed up for a plan coordinated by the Department of Energy and the Voluntary Protection Program Participants' Association that would partner them with a company that had already achieved VPP Star status. Strangely enough, Kaiser was matched with an oil refinery on the other side of the country. But the mentorship of Mobil Oil's Paulsboro, N.J., facility proved to be just what Kaiser needed, says Palmer, who was tapped as the company's VPP facilitator. Mobil's guidance gave Kaiser's employees "a shot of self-help adrenaline," Palmer says.
To begin with, Mobil showed Kaiser that they were on the right track. "We always thought we had a good program, but we didn't know how good because we had no one to compare ourselves to. They helped us verify that we had identified the right improvements we needed to make."
Mobil also revealed that even a VPP Star site is not perfect, and that there is always more room for improvement. But, Palmer says, when he or another Kaiser worker described their own obstacles, Mobil mentors would respond, "We've been there, we've done that, you can do it too."
Imitating Mobil's concentration on consistent reinforcement, Kaiser began publicizing its VPP efforts in-house like crazy. The VPP team outlined its mission in a presentation it gave to anyone on the site who would listen, including Kaiser line management and worker safety meetings, the DOE, union leadership, and other companies operating on the Hanford site. Team members also wrote articles for the company bulletin and the site newspaper, and made one-on-one informal presentations to workers any chance they got.
Just 18 months after Dan Palmer and a small group of managers and workers made their first east coast field trip to observe the Mobil facility, real change was noticeable at ICF Kaiser. Accidents were down 25 percent, and the lost workday rate was half what it was two years before. But Palmer prefers to show other evidence of an improved safety culture. ("We needed to get away from those traditional measurements," he says.)
First he points to a 15 percent improvement in self-evaluation scores between 1994 and 1995. The self-evaluation was a performance measurement tool developed by the "VPP Champions" -a team of volunteer VPP cheerleaders from each of the major Kaiser divisions. Line employees and managers made up five evaluator teams that assessed the way Kaiser's nine divisions implemented 63 separate DOE/VPP guidelines. Individual evaluators ranked their division's performance in each category on a scale of one to four -four being "excellent" and one "needy." Results of an employee perception survey, plant walkthroughs, documentation and audit result reviews, and the evaluator's gut feeling about how the division was doing contributed to the overall score.
For example, according to evaluators' scores, between 1994 and 1995 the company as a whole had improved: ·
Other proof of progress was in the before-and-after picture of the safety culture. Palmer describes the contrasting scenarios: "In 1993 we had one division manager who would ask for safety committee help to solve problems. In 1996 we had nine. In 1993, there might have been two or three managers who would have asked employees for input in recognizing their peers' safe performances. By 1996 there were probably 25 who would routinely do that. In 1993 we had no more than three functional, supported safety committees. In 1996 we had 30.
What's stunning is that these improvements came in the wake of a downsizing that eliminated 800 Kaiser jobs, and despite the crushing loss of the DOE contract (meaning ICF Kaiser Hanford Co., which operated on the site almost continually since the early 1950s, ceased to exist September 30 this year).
The Mobil mentors had recently been through their own downsizing when they first came to Richland, Wash., in August, 1995 -an experience that went a long way to show Kaiser workers what could be done in the face of adversity. In fact, Bob Stroup, Mobil's team leader, continued to serve on the mentor team, flying to Washington and spending a week talking with more than 1,000 Kaiser workers, despite losing his own job to downsizing.
That showed workers something important, says Palmer. "It said to them, 'You're not doing this for the company. You're doing this for you and your family.'"
Sun's current system for storing and distributing MSDSs to its nearly 10,000 employees (at refineries in Toledo, Ohio, Philadelphia and Marcus Hook, Pa., Tulsa, Okla., and Puerto Rico, on a fleet of barges and tankers, and on a pipeline operation between Texas and Ohio) was state-of-the-art when it was installed back in the 1980s. Regular updates had kept it current. But before making any further revisions, Sun wanted to know what its options were for handling MSDSs for 9,000 purchased chemicals and 1,500 of its own manufactured products.
In March, 1996, Sun recruited Gayla McCluskey, CIH, CSP of Global Environmental Health Services for a project that took three months to complete and yielded a 200-page report and a two-hour presentation. McCluskey explains the motive: "Sun has always considered itself a leader in the environment, health and safety arena." Staying in the lead requires knowing what you're up against. And of course there's the monetary motive. McCluskey's research showed Sun how adopting an electronic system could cut postage and paper expenses incurred by mailing some 60,000 MSDSs to customers each year.
The benchmarking project, which McCluskey says might be better named "calibrating against your peers," was done in three parts.
First, 18 oil companies were mailed a four-page survey inquiring about their MSDS management system. For instance, the survey asked whether the system was centralized or decentralized; what software was used; whether the network was mainframe or PC; and how many staff people managed, purchased and manufactured product MSDSs.
Then, because Sun was also interested in how other research and development companies were managing MSDSs, another survey was mailed to environment, health and safety personnel at a variety of R&D firms outside the oil industry.
Finally, utilizing professional contacts in the health and safety field, McCluskey found four companies she calls "information development and delivery leaders" -the best of the best. For those companies, she developed a 30-page questionnaire and conducted half-day interviews and site visits. What separated the so-called leaders from Sun and its peers were MSDS management systems that used high-technology like the Internet, intranets, photographic scanning technology, and fax-on-demand, and separate systems for purchased and manufactured products.
In comparing Sun's system to technology leaders, McCluskey found several opportunities for the company to improve. Her recommendations included: electronic data entry (scanning); software that would accept faxed images; a system to automatically generate letters requesting new MSDSs from vendors; and a regulatory database that would eliminate the need to manually update files when regulations change. McCluskey also broached ideas with potential for major cost savings -like Internet and intranet with a group of professionals who hadn't yet explored the information highway. Those were new ideas that "had to sink in a little" says McCluskey.
And certainly they're options that wouldn't have turned up had Sun chosen to shop for the latest software instead of benchmark.
Look in the mirror. "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," said philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Iowa Mold Tooling Environment and Safety Coordinator Gerald Edgar puts it this way: "We can't be fat and sassy, sit back and buy training videos. Too many safety people spend too much time in the office writing policies. We need to be more involved with people in the plant."
Attitude counts. The difference between a C+ and B+ safety and health program is not resources but mental outlook, says consultant Darrell Mattheis. Good programs are not run by cynical, blasÂ® people, he says.
Walk the talk. Top safety and health managers are "serious people, that's the only way I can describe it," adds Mattheis. "They have a serious demeanor. They face issues straight up. They are on duty, to use the military phrase."
Press on. Consultant Mark Hansen says selling safety and health is not for the faint-hearted. "If people could die or get hurt you've got to speak up," he says. "The way you turn up the heat is to keep the heat on. I always let managers know I was ready to take a request to the next level."
Gain leverage. Find safety and health champions in the management ranks, and among the workforce. Build alliances.
Check your ego. A sterling safety record is great, but if executives, supervisors, and employees don't see benefits for themselves, safety remains segregated and isolated.
Be patient. Bringing safety into the business mainstream is a process, not an event, says A.D. Little consultant Chris O'Leary. It takes time for safety to take root as a value.
Gain access. It's easier to sell safety from the top down (president to vice president to plant manager) than the bottom up, says Hansen. Once the top executive is sold on your ideas, the option to agree, disagree or do nothing is removed from subordinates.
Watch your language. "Management hates talk about regulatory compliance and costs," says consultant Dave Herbert. "They can't wait for those meetings to end, and they project this to safety people." The tension is intimidating.
Focus on risks. "It's all about managing risk, not compliance," says one Fortune 500 health and safety manager. He sells by assessing the frequency and severity of risks like mangling packaging-line injuries. Then he offers high- to low-cost control options, based on budget cycles and capital spending plans. "Don't stand on the air hose." That's one EHS manager's way of saying: be savvy to business plans and priorities.
Be flexible. Learn to co-exist with production. You shouldn't be shocked when no one shows up for Monday morning safety training, or when production balks at your request to give hazcom training on a new hire's first day on the job, says GE Medical Systems' EHS manager Dennis Hussey. "We need to be creative about how we deliver health and safety processes," he says.
Don't dictate -facilitate. The best you can hope to accomplish with rules is obedience, says O'Leary. Above-average safety performance is beyond the grasp of employees who are treated like adolescents, he says.