How do you turn an old, dilapidated 400-acre shipyard into a clean, tidy workplace that is a shining example of safety?

At Atlantic Marine Alabama, Mobile, Ala., winner ofISHN’s2007 “Safety That Soars” contest, it started with becoming discontent with the status quo. Then, through training and the use of an innovative safety program, the company put ownership, responsibility and accountability for safety into the hands of each and every employee and contractor.

The shipyard, which has existed since the 1890s and experienced its heyday in the ’40s during World War II, has been privately owned by Atlantic Marine since the 1980s. In early 2006 the company embarked on a major safety effort and in a year’s time lowered its total injury/illness case rate from 11.7 to 6.5 in one of the most dangerous industries. The shipbuilding industry average is 10.9.

Atlantic Marine Alabama shipyard occupies 400 acres.

Culture change

While the reduced total case rate is impressive, what’s even more striking is the culture change that swept through Atlantic Marine. Once complacent towards safety, the workforce is now invigorated and enthusiastic about doing the right things when it comes to safe behavior.

Teresa O. “Terry” Preston, director, safety, environmental & quality, attributes the turnaround to a program called ORA, which stands for Ownership, Responsibility and Accountability.

“We trained every employee and contractor that every injury is avoidable, loss control is recognizing and controlling hazards, and every employee, contractor and customer has the authority and responsibility to ensure a safe workplace,” says Preston.

The yard’s motto under the ORA program: “Safe production, rather than production and safety.”

“The ORA program is really a win-win for everybody when you consider that there’s no serious tradesman out here that doesn’t want a safer workplace to work in,” says David Oliver, a machinist technician at Atlantic Marine. “A safer workplace lends toward the company being able to be more competitive in the marketplace, which lends toward better customer satisfaction, which lends towards more business, which means growth in the operations. It’s a win-win all the way across the board.”

Terry Preston, director, safety, environmental & quality, Atlantic Marine Alabama

“Babysitting” didn’t work

Preston, a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y., with an unlimited Master’s license, started with the shipyard in 1997 and says for several years the site made some safety progress, but “it wasn’t better than anybody else in the industry. I was out there ‘babysitting’ people. But that wasn’t giving people ownership of their own worksite and safety.”

“We were maintaining safety statistics that were average or slightly better than average with other shipyards,” says Tom Williams, vice president of operations. “That is not good enough. In 2004-05, we made some fairly significant safety improvements. But again, we plateaued at a level that was unacceptable.”

A near fatal incident finally caused Preston to realize the shipyard needed help to improve its safety efforts. An employee was walking backwards in an engine room as he pulled a copper welding cable from the bottom of a pile of cable. He backed into a cargo hatch, which had a guard rail around it that was not high enough to prevent the worker from falling through the hatch and dropping 20 feet. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to hold onto the cable, which enabled him to only suffer a broken leg instead of being killed.

“At this point I realized that even I was not recognizing hazards that were out there,” says Preston. “When I came to this realization I said, ‘We need someone to come in here who can show us how to see again.’”

ORA to the rescue

This is when Atlantic Marine called in safety and health consultant Cliff Purcell, creator and owner of the ORA program and principal of the Cliff Purcell Group. In February 2006, under Purcell’s guidance, the shipyard kicked off the ORA program, which Preston says took the site “to a top level of safety performance.”

The three major terms represented by ORA describe it — ownership, responsibility, accountability. For leadership positions, says Williams, there is an additional “O,” for obligation.

“Through the training we reinforced with [supervisors] that they have obligations that go along with their job, obligations to care enough about their employees such that they want to see them all go home healthy and well at the end of the day,” says Williams.

The program gets broken down to very simple things like “momma’s rules,” says Williams. “For example, if you use a tool, put it back where it belongs when you’re done. As simple as this sounds, it’s profound in its impact on us. Number one, you don’t create a hazard, and number two, the next person who needs to use it knows exactly where it will be.”

The program involves courses devoted to training people to recognize and control hazards, and every person in the shipyard is required to go through the training. ORA impresses and reinforces the idea of individual responsibility for the workplace.

Mike Gallegos is project manager and chairman of Atlantic Marine’s Safety Steering Committee, which helps oversee the program. “Every employee went through ORA training, along with the president/CEO, who signed a letter on safety policy that says all employees have the power to stop an unsafe act. So when someone walks up to you and says, ‘that is an unsafe condition,’ there is no more gray area. People stop and address problems at the employee level.”

Since the ORA program has been implemented, every employee has the authority and the right to stop work and correct it immediately. If the problem is not easily remedied, they have the authority to stop work and get somebody who can effect change.

The company will do an annual assessment on the ORA program to monitor progress and to see where improvement is needed. The program enables employees to write down actions they can take to improve safety at the site, and these are periodically reviewed with their supervisors. Additionally, each leader develops a 30-day, 60-day, and 90-180-day plan of ways to further improve ORA.

Achieving buy-in

Management commitment is vital to achieving employee buy-in to the safety culture change, says Preston. “We trained over 700 people over the course of the past 15 months. Almost every class was kicked off by Tom Williams (VP of Operations) or by Ron McAlear, the company president/CEO — giving their vision, showing their commitment, offering their support.”

“Seeing their commitment made a difference,” says Oliver, the machinist technician. “When you see the president of the company walking through the shop, picking up a piece of paper off the floor and putting it in the trash, it makes believers out of the employees. There’s pride in the people in the yard now.”

There are still some skeptics, says Gallegos, “But the majority of the people see the difference and the benefits. The newer employees are coming in to an easier time because the shipyard is cleaner, there are fewer hazards, there are things like job safety analyses in place. We will stay on this journey until we have zero accidents and zero people going to first-aid or medical. It’s a lofty goal, but achievable.”

— Bill Noone, Managing Editor

Snapshot: Atlantic Marine Alabama
Location: Mobile, Ala.
Employees: 700
Lost-time injury/illness rate: 0.9
Major hazards: slips, trips and falls; falls from heights; confined spaces; crushing injuries; eye injuries; high voltage; welding and painting fume exposures; large, heavy machinery.
Major accomplishment: Transformed dilapidated shipyard into clean, organized workplace. Reduced total case rate in highly dangerous industry from 11.7 to 6.5 in one year.

Honorable Mention: Gilbane Building Company

Gilbane Building Co., Providence, R.I., was given an aggressive schedule for the completion of Heritage Village at Elton Corner, in Freehold, N.J. The project consisted of two three-story senior housing buildings containing 75 residential apartment condominium units in each building.

The company used a number of local subcontractors — the site averaged about 100 contractors, typically small, residential subcontractors, according to Gilbane Corporate Safety Director Anthony O’Dea, CSP, CHST. Adding to the difficulties, most of the tradesmen on the project spoke English as their second language.

By using progressive safety techniques, which included coaching contractor foremen, safety motivational programs, and intense oversight, according to O’Dea, the job was completed without a single recordable injury.

The company implemented an inspection and analysis program, developed by DBO2, to identify and correct site hazards and increase safety accountability. All told, the team conducted more than 117 inspections comprised of more than 20,000 observations and identified and corrected over 726 unsafe acts/conditions.

Said O’Dea: “The reports were used in weekly meetings, serving as an invaluable source for identifying trends by hazard or contractor and enabling us to focus on eliminating unsafe acts and conditions before they became accidents.”

These meetings, or “Toolbox Talks” with managers required two-week “Look-Ahead” reports from each subcontractor to accomplish regular safety planning. Also, a task hazard analysis was required of the subcontractors. The analyses were reviewed by the five-person Gilbane project team and the subcontractors together prior to commencement of work.

O’Dea and his project team also created an incentive/penalty program, setting safety benchmarks that were rewarded to subcontractor craft groups by a lunch served by the project team itself. Public recognition of achievements was important; so too was a discipline and fining system for companies observed not in compliance with the safety program.

To overcome linguistic differences, O’Dea covered his worksite in signs; safety signs located throughout the site were in several languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and Russian.

— Seth Fisher, Associate Editor

Snapshot: Gilbane Construction Co.
Location: Providence, R.I.
Employees: 1,700 (five non-contractors)
Lost-time injury/illness rate (2006): 0
Major hazards: Falls, suspended loads, heavy equipment, adjacent Route 53 traffic, entrapment in excavations, burns from welding, eye injuries.
Major accomplishment: Through the coaching of contractor foremen, safety motivational programs, and aggressive oversight and monitoring, the company completed a demanding construction project using many small, residential construction subcontractors over 450 days and 124,000 hours without a recordable injury.

Honorable Mention: Southern Ohio Medical Center

When Safety Services Assistant Sheri Lynn Anderson joined the Southern Ohio Medical Center (SOMC), of Portsmouth, Ohio, the enterprise was in flux. A massive expansion at the hospital had safety personnel clamoring to learn how to manage construction hazards and hundreds of new employees, mostly contractors. Yet through staff education, an engaging safety program, incident tracking and the implementation of safety guidelines, the hospital was able to instill a culture of safety and maintain a low recordable injury rate.

The program, entitled “Safety Champions” engages frontline staff in safety. Says Anderson, “Our safety champions meet quarterly. Their primary responsibility is to serve as a liaison and a resource to others. Safety champions are rewarded with the established SOMC rewards & recognition tools. The effectiveness of the program is measured through our total recordable injury rate, OSHA compliance, workers’ compensation expenses and dashboard (safety metrics) performance.”

The addition of construction hazards and employees created a special challenge for the hospital. “Learning the OSHA construction regulations and keeping contractors accountable is an ongoing hazard,” says Anderson. “Several of our staff members have obtained the OSHA General Industry and the Construction Industry 30-Hour Certification.

The hospital also implemented an event reporting system that allows the safety manager to track and seek trends. “The entire staff has the ability to report an event via our internal Intranet,” says Anderson. “The reporting of an event implements an investigation. The event is then assigned for a review. Once the review is complete the event can be closed.

Mandatory ergonomic education and training was also recently implemented to help prevent employee sprains and strains.

“Our accomplishments include the reduction of recordable injuries and the reduction of workers’ compensation costs by nine percent,” says Anderson. “The implementation of this program has made safety our first strategic value organization-wide.” The hospital plans to submit its OSHA Voluntary Protection Program application this month.

— Seth Fisher, Associate Editor

Snapshot: Southern Ohio Medical Center
Location: Portsmouth, Ohio
Employees: 2,200
Lost-time injury/illness rate (2006): 2.2
Major hazards: Construction hazards (falls, falling objects, heavy equipment, etc.), sharps/needle sticks, infectious disease and ergonomics.
Major accomplishment: Tasked with regular medical hazards, a bevy of new employees, and learning to manage construction hazards during a massive expansion, this Ohio hospital used extensive training, tracking and rewards to create an enterprise-wide, participation-centric safety program.