Steelcase plant nears 'impossible' goal
May 31, 2000
In 1990, Steelcase, Inc., an office furniture manufacturer, gave each of its plants five years to improve safety and reduce accidents by 90 percent. At the time, the Western Division plant in Tustin, Calif., had an injury rate of 105 per 100 employees, including first aid cases. To some at the Tustin plant, the goal seemed impossible, says Peter J. Zande, supervisor, safety and employee services. Fast forward to 1995. The Tustin plant has reduced injuries by 70 percent, only 20 percent away from the "impossible" goal. Behaviors and attitudes of workers have turned around. The plant has won the Steelcase Achievement Award for Continuous Improvement in Loss Prevention four years in a row. Top execs introduced, and presented to Tustin, the Leadership in Safety Award after realizing the plant had become an exemplary guide for others in the company. Zande and his crew of two point to five key factors behind this success story: Ownership: The safety staff stays away from being OSHA cops, says Zande. "We think of ourselves as a support group. We provide customer service to plant employees as safety consultants." They delegate responsibility- and safety ownership- to superintendents and supervisors. Supers oversee daily safety activities. They conduct inspections, safety training, accident investigations, and maintain equipment and facilities. Quarterly safety meetings include progress updates, training, and rewards for the best supers. Goals are based on job activities and affect incentive plans. Performance is measured monthly, as it relates to individual ability, says Jennie Ghear, manufacturing superintendent at the Western Division. Delegating safety responsibility extends to workers. Employees are taught the reasoning behind safety rules. They understand their responsibilities and the consequences of not following guidelines. Now, says Zande, he sees workers stretching and exercising when they would have previously been sitting and drinking coffee. The strategy is to show workers that OSHA compliance is not the end goal- sensible safety is. Workers rebel against top-down control, but given a good explanation and shown a good example, they will pursue safety on their own, says Mike Reed, former plant manager and now director of quality assurance. Zande says Reed was essential to changing worker behavior. He set a good example of self-responsibility by showing himself as an involved individual, not just a plant manager who commits to the program but leaves all action to the safety staff. "Mike took ownership of the five-year goal," says Zande. Goals: Safety staffers and plant management set up the '96 Goal Team, consisting of five supervisors, at the program's start. The supers' own teams drive the safety measures within their areas. "They held our feet to the fire and suggested new things we could do," says Reed. JSAs and patience: Patience is also a factor. Everyone involved took on the project as a five-year goal to fix the problems at the root; quick fixes are not the norm. Supervisors, trained by the safety department, completed JSAs (job safety analysis) on every task. They identified possible hazards and suggested corrective actions to management. Ergo team: Cumulative trauma injuries were a major concern and needed an aggressive approach, says Zande. Before the new program started, 40 to 50 percent of the injuries were CTDs. An ergonomic team, made up of an engineer, a supervisor, and an hourly employee, performs risk assessments in the plant. After a full day of additional ergonomic training, team members were given the freedom to act on their own initiatives, using the safety staff as consultants. Safety staffers helped with tougher job evaluations and in the prioritization process, says Zande. Steelcase implemented quick fixes but used the prioritized project list for long-term planning and budgeting. Exercise: "Stretch for Safety" was first designed for spray painters, but has grown into a plant-wide health and wellness program. At start-up time, supervisors lead a five-minute work warm-up. There is also a stretching and strengthening room, equipped with a dozen weightlifting machines. Zande says warm-up time is good for getting workers to focus on safety. "With a warm-up, workers have safety on their minds all day," he says.