Talk about a revolution
The revolution at Livermore got its start in 1990 when the plant engineering safety circle was introduced to Steven Simon, Ph.D., whose company, Culture Change Consultants of Seal Beach, Calif., helps companies launch organizational and behavioral change. The safety circle, established in 1983, was frustrated: too much time was being spent on fixing tools and broken ladders instead of addressing workers' attitudes, and accident rates weren't improving. The circle needed an identity, says sheet metal worker Clay Pendley. So plant engineering manager Bernie Mattimore asked Simon to come in and talk to the committee.
The first thing Simon did was explain Heinrich's law to the circle: For every major accident, there are 30 minor injuries and 300 near misses. Safety circle members decided to work on getting employees to be more aware of those 300 near misses.
Next, Simon told the group that a significant change in the safety culture meant a serious commitment up front and a five- to seven-year wait for results. The circle_which expanded to become the Executive Safety Committee, composed of 25 carpenters, roofers, mechanics, plumbers, and other plant engineering workers chaired by welder Jerry Morgan and sheet metal worker Pendley_decided to go for it.
Simon kicked off the process by conducting training sessions and seminars for workers and managers. And the safety committee launched a safety awareness campaign that asked workers to enter a drawing by submitting types of near misses.
Revolutionary results The revolution has produced results right on schedule. Accidents and injuries are down 80 percent, and in 1995 workers' compensation expenses for the department were 20 percent of what they were in 1991: a $2.5 million savings in four years.
Morgan and Pendley brush aside those statistics. "We try not to concern ourselves with numbers," they say. In fact, the committee was astounded when management announced the workers' compensation savings last year. Instead, to gauge how well they're doing, safety committee members consider the attitude and morale around the facility. "We look at how people react when someone walks up to them to say, `Hey, maybe you could do this safer'," Morgan says.
Perception surveys conducted by Simon in 1991 and 1994 show improvement here. Simon's scientifically validated survey asks respondents to rank on a scale of one to four statements like, "My boss puts safety first," or "When I make a suggestion, my supervisor listens." The overall average score for the Livermore plant engineering department jumped from a 2.9 in 1991 to a 3.9 in 1994. "A 4 is the score you get when you survey VPP sites," says Simon. "We've built a trust up that's hard to explain."
When the second survey was tabulated, the committee called a two and a half day meeting at the Livermore Holiday Inn to review results. Members split up to develop strategies for dealing with their weaker areas pointed up by the survey.
One glaring weak spot was the rapport between the plant engineering department and, of all things, the health and safety department. Workers looked at hazard control specialists as the enemy. Now, after concentrating on building better relationships with the safety pros, "one of them can walk into our area and we don't think, `Oh, here comes the cop' anymore," says Morgan.
On the last day of the off-site meeting, the workers invited managers over to the Holiday Inn and presented them with their new roles in the revolution. "We asked supervisors to become our partners in the safety process and to work with the safety reps in their respective areas. And we asked the gentleman in charge of all plant engineering to become our main resource, not just for funding, but to help knock down walls in some of the areas higher up where we'd been blocked before," Pendley explains. How did management respond? "It took them 15 minutes to look it over and say, `It looks great, let's do it'," says Pendley.
Management has always been supportive of workers taking ownership of safety at Livermore. But now, "we've built a trust up that's hard to explain," says Morgan.