An aggressive journey to zero using perception surveys

When a series of close calls led to two serious injuries at Lane Electric Cooperative, leaders realized their safety culture wasn’t as strong as they had thought. They used the safety perception survey to create a baseline for improvement and began an aggressive journey to zero. Two years later, a follow-up survey confirmed measureable progress.

Wake-up call

One of the unwritten expectations in General Manager Rick Crinklaw’s job description is an assignment no leader ever wishes to face:  meet with the loved ones of a seriously injured employee.

One day, he found himself in that dreaded scenario when two employees on a right-of-way crew were seriously injured while clearing brush and small trees around power lines. Both employees suffered deep lacerations and one of them a serious concussion. Fortunately, both fully recovered, returned to their duties and, as a positive outcome of their horrific experience, Lane Electric began a journey to strengthen its safety culture.

The accident was a wakeup call to Lane’s board of directors and Crinklaw, who admits he had become complacent about safety because his organization had avoided major injuries for many years. “You may not be concerned about minor injuries or accidents, but if you’re having a lot of those they build up to something big, and that’s what we had set ourselves up for. Even though we felt we were doing well, we weren’t,” he said. “We had been lucky.”

Committing to change

Crinklaw vowed to personally take control of safety, to fix the problems that were leading to incidents. Since he was in charge of daily operations at the Eugene, Ore., facility, he believed it was up to him to find solutions.

Through a company-wide safety perception survey (SPS), which measures employees’ attitudes and beliefs about how safety is managed within their organization, Lane Electric employees were invited to share their true feelings about how safety stacks up against other business priorities.

“What I found from the survey was that the approach I was taking in response to those injuries was being counterproductive,” Crinklaw said. “The employees wanted to be engaged. They wanted to be contributors to the solution, rather than subjects of a top-down approach to making the situation better.”

So Crinklaw engaged employees to turn low-scoring survey categories into improvement projects. Employees joined small continuous improvement (CI) teams and participated in Rapid Improvement Workshops for more effective safety meetings, office/jobsite inspections and operating procedures. Each new or improved process included measureable accountabilities for everyone in the organization, all the way up to Crinklaw.

“I gave them control, but I’m involved at the right times and don’t feel left out,” Crinklaw said. “They own it, and through their expectations, the accountabilities they set, I own it, too. They’ve absolutely knocked my socks off with their commitment to this journey.”

Continuous journey

About two years into the journey, every employee at Lane Electric took another safety perception survey, a benchmark assessment to see if their beliefs about safety had changed since the initial survey. Employees’ positive responses increased by nearly 20 percent over the previous survey results. Crinklaw was pleased, but not at all surprised.

“Our lagging indicator metrics were improving every year and I could see our employees demonstrating their genuine buy-in by the way they do their jobs every moment of every day.”

Prior to deploying its safety improvement process, Lane Electric routinely experienced annual lost-time incident rates of 6.0 or higher. Its annual Days Away, Restricted and Transferred (DART) rate regularly topped 8.0. Both of those figures improved rapidly, reaching zero within two years. What’s more, the cooperative’s experience modification rate, a figure insurance companies use to calculate policy premiums, is at its lowest in Lane Electric’s history.

“With the commitment our employees have made, I don’t think for a second that this performance is thanks to luck,” Crinklaw said.

“If your organization is truly committed to doing whatever it takes to keep people safe, the person in my position has to tell himself, ‘It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is how the employees feel,’” Crinklaw said, “I am incredibly proud that they asked for, and created, change.”

Put away that shotgun approach

Georgie Meyer, a quality technician at Caterpillar Work Tools Waco, has a difficult time remembering what start-up meetings were like a year ago. That’s because early last year Meyer was on a continuous improvement (CI) team that transformed the way the entire facility approaches daily start-up meetings.

The meetings went from dull, check-the-box activities to informative, interactive engagements that incorporate safety into every conversation.

“Before, it was all about production, getting numbers out the door, and everyone just kind of stood around and listened,” Meyer said.

The improvements, which included adding visual tools, ice-breaker activities and peer-to-peer shout-outs, were all driven by Meyer and other front-line employees and supervisors in a Rapid Improvement Workshop (RIW).

Improving start-up meetings has been one leg of a journey to develop a culture of safety excellence through the Zero-Incident Performance (ZIP™) Process.  A Caterpillar continuous improvement tool, the ZIP Process is a management model similar to 6 Sigma that engages all levels of an organization in safety accountability. Leaders are motivated to elevate safety to a core value, middle managers and supervisors are trained to champion safety activities, and hourly employees are empowered to build systems that make the entire work environment safer and more productive.

 “We had been using a shotgun approach to safety improvement, trying to implement dozens of initiatives without seeing improvements in our metrics,” said John Vizner, the facility manager. “The ZIP Process helped us step back and focus on the few critical items and ultimately get better results.”

With immediate improvement recognized in start-up meetings, momentum was high for a second RIW. The steering team agreed that peer safety observations was another area of opportunity ripe for a quick win. CI Team 2, a new group of volunteers, improved the traditional observation process by increasing employee engagement and communication through the recognition and reinforcement of safe work behaviors.

The team established five key principles of quality observations and communicated them to all employees with an easy-to-remember acronym, COBRA.

The COBRA Safety Contact Program:

Commit to Speaking Up and Listening Up

Observe safe and unsafe work practices and conditions

Be positive

Recognize safe work practices and review safe work procedures

Achieve agreement in correcting unsafe conditions and work practices.

By the end of 2013, the facility’s RIF had dropped from 9.51 to 3.37.

“I won’t be satisfied until we get to zero, but with a rapidly growing workforce and 30 percent turnover, I recognize that we’ve made solid improvement,” Vizner said.

Keeping score

The plant manager had me give safety presentations to the quality counsel. Safety was first on the agenda because “safety first.” I showed the charts, the safety inspection results and created a safety scorecard. The safety scorecard was not my idea. They had a quality scorecard. Dow wrote the book on safety, on quality.

One day I asked the quality manager how I could get all the supervisors to complete accident reports, do their monthly safety inspections, and hold safety meetings. Some did, some did not.

 “Well Pat, you can create a safety scorecard like the one we have for quality.”

 I did. It worked in less than a year.

I would put a minus mark next to each accident that occurred in that department shift, a plus mark if they wrote up an accident investigation report, a plus mark if the accident report was received in the health office within three days, and another plus if it were not a lost-time case.

I put a plus or a minus next to monthly safety meetings, a plus or minus mark for safety inspections and for safety training sessions.

 The number of accidents went down, the cost of workers’ compensation went down. Lost-time cases were zero in most months.

By Patricia O’Rourke, author of “I Came, I Saw” (Veni, Vidi) More than a Memoir”

50+ years on the road, hundreds of thousands of miles, and no accidents

Many things have changed since 1962: Back then, the average cost of a new house was $12,500, gas was 28 cents a gallon, and the U.S. space program was still taking its first steps. But one thing hasn’t changed since 1962: UPS driver Tom Camp’s driving record is still accident-free.

Rigorous training helps all UPS drivers navigate more safely.

“On average our drivers undergo 40 hours of training before they hit the road in a UPS vehicle,” says Emilio Lopez, global fleet safety manager. “When drivers achieve 25 years without an accident, they become part of the UPS Circle of Honor and receive a special uniform patch… signifying the milestone achievement.”

Camp, who drives in Livonia, Mich., now has the UPS record for safe driving: 51 years. He’s delivered more than five million packages in that time. He’s just one of two UPSers to achieve the distinction of wearing the number “50” on their Circle of Honor patch.

A natural athlete who once tried out as a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Camp joined UPS in 1962 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.

What has kept Camp safe during the last 51 years on the job?

“You just have to pay attention out there,” he says. “You can’t get distracted. Safety is No. 1.”

This message is carried not only by Camp, but also by UPS’s record-breaking 2012 group of 6,284 Circle of Honor members across the United States, Canada, Germany and Puerto Rico. This year’s membership includes 1,283 inductees, of whom 36 are women.

Of the Circle of Honor members, 364 have been accident-free for 35 or more years, with 40 of those having driven more than 40 years without an accident.

UPS’s 102,000 drivers worldwide log nearly three billion miles per year with less than one accident per million miles driven. All UPS drivers are taught safe driving methods beginning on the first day of classroom training through the company’s defensive driving platform. The training continues throughout their careers.

In 2010, UPS implemented a ban within its organization on text and e-mail messaging while behind the wheel, distractions that are a proven cause of traffic crashes.

At 73, Camp is not pondering retirement any time soon. “I enjoy my job and my customers,” he says. “As long as I can do it well, I’ll keep going.”

Communicating core values

PotashCorp is the world’s largest integrated producer of nitrogen, phosphate and potash serving three distinct markets: agriculture, animal nutrition and industry. Here’s William J. Doyle, president and CEO, writing to his employees:

“PotashCorp’s Core Values and Code of Conduct gives every employee clear guidelines related to our work environment. As expected, our people have been exemplary representatives of the company, demonstrating these values and standards of conduct in their daily actions.

“This is a living document that is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it remains current with our operating environment and the expectations of our stakeholders. We are pleased to provide you with this updated version. While it remains true to the values and standards set forth in the prior version, it does contain updates in areas that reflect changes to our company or business practices.

“Once again, we ask that you review this material on a regular basis and renew your commitment annually. In addition, we ask you to be proactive in reporting any possible breaches of our Core Values and Code of Conduct.  The instructions for doing so are located at the end of this Code.  We do not permit retaliation of any kind against an employee for raising a concern, question or complaint in good faith.

“Please read this version of our Core Values and Code of Conduct, then sign the certificate located inside the back cover of this Code or online and return it to your local Human Resources representative.

“It is your commitment – and actions – that will allow PotashCorp to move forward with the full support of the stakeholders in our company.

Core values

  • We operate with integrity
  • Our overriding concern is the safety of people and the environment
  • We listen to all PotashCorp stakeholders
  • We seek continuous improvement
  • We share what we learn
  • We are accessible, accountable and transparent

5 ideas for your safety culture

Safety vest: Reinforce safety culture by requiring all visitors e.g. customers and contractors to wear a bright safety vest at all times when they are on the manufacturing and production floors or at other areas where hazards such as mobile equipment are operated. Special visitors e.g. OSHA compliance officers may be assigned a safety vest with flashing LED lights.

Safety University: Develop and manage safety and health training under a university concept e.g. curriculum, faculty, and library. Faculty should include supervisors, HR, and “graduate” employees – not just the safety and health pro. All safety and health training should include a written and/or practical test with a minimum passing score based on a percent of 100. Attendance alone should not qualify someone as being trained.  Praise your high GPA students. Provide extra attention to students with low GPAs. Build your professional library with free electronic books from the National Academies Press

Training passport: All contractors at the worksite should have a “passport” either in paper (small book) or preferably as scanned files of certificates on a smartphone that readily shows current training that the contractor has completed.  Concept is popular in the oil industry but will work everywhere.  To work in designated areas established by the worksite, a contractor must produce a passport that shows necessary completed training e.g. LOTO, PPE, bloodborne pathogens, etc.  Develop your own passport, especially if you need to maintain the training information for certification maintenance.

Conference exhibits:  To bring innovation to your site safety program you need to be aware of the leading products and services – that can be found at exhibits at national and state safety and health conferences.  Especially when time and budget are tight, just spend a day at the exhibits and skip the educational sessions. Usually you can get on the exhibit floor for free or at a very reasonable cost. Ask questions, handle products, obtain handouts, and observe demonstrations at each booth. Visit safety exhibits at least every three years to keep up on the latest and greatest safety innovations.

Safety neighbor:  Next door, across the street, or just down the road there is worksite where someone is tasked with building and maintaining a safety program. It doesn’t matter that the worksite is a different size or produces different products or services than your worksite, or that the person with safety responsibilities does not have “safety” in their work title – many of the safety tasks and objectives will be the same as yours. Meet your neighbor and propose mutual support. A safety neighbor has an advantage over joining a local safety association. Neighbors may spontaneously get help for a specific issue, whereas the safety association generally meet at a specific time to address generic issues. Even if you initially give more than receive, the safety neighbor will be valuable. 

Dan Markiewicz

Brand your safety program with an identity

This year, TNT Crane & Rigging celebrates eight consecutive years with an EMR below 0.75. Our Incident Rates are below 80% of the national average for our industry. 

The TNT safety program is a quantifiable system consisting of outline elements, each of which is reviewed, measured, and evaluated to ensure we are always moving in the right direction. The two main elements of the program are Doctrine and Continuous Improvement.

The Doctrine component of our safety program consists of three elements: Identity, Base Principles and Documents.

Identity: At TNT we feel safety is important enough to warrant its own identity consisting of a symbol/logo and tagline. The logo is used on official safety correspondence, forms and safety incentives. It is a constant reminder of our company commitment to safety.

Base Principles: The Base Principles or values of our safety program are those that are unchanging and remain a constant commitment.  These have been created, defined, and are presented to employees and customers on a regular basis as a reminder that safety must always be our top priority.

Documents: Our safety manuals, safety forms, policies and procedures are living documents that are reviewed, updated and/or modified on a frequent and regular basis.  As regulatory guidelines and industry expectations change and update, we strive to ensure that our policies and procedures stay current above and beyond industry requirements. 

Continuous improvement

The Continuous Improvement component of our safety program consists of four elements: Safety Community, Communication, Training and Reporting.

Safety Community: TNT employs a group of full-time safety professionals throughout our company.  These individuals have specific training, certifications, and knowledge to be an asset to support field employees.  This entire group participates in weekly and quarterly safety community meetings.  The goal is to foster consistency across company locations, review trends, and share lessons learned.

Communication: The safety team communicates on a regular basis with the field workforce as well as members of management.  This is done through daily safety meetings, weekly safety meetings, safety incentive programs, safety newsletters, safety alerts, etc.  All safety community members participate in weekly updates reporting progress in their areas, which is then shared with the company as a whole in branch safety meetings.  Company executives are updated on a regular basis of safety happenings and events.

Training: Safety and skill training is offered company-wide on a frequent and regular basis.  Many of our locations have dedicated training rooms and we strive to conduct training through our in-house certified / qualified instructors.  Our current safety team includes OSHA instructors, MSHA instructors, First Aid / CPR instructors, test administrators, environmental trainers,  paramedics, EMT’s, etc.

Reporting: A consistent company-wide incident reporting procedure is in place with defined roles and responsibilities for all involved.

Don’t be a “hired gun”

Creativity in workplace safety is more than just an interesting concept, it is an absolute essential, especially when at risk is a blue-collar workforce, especially when at risk is a blue-collar workforce with its own culture of values, beliefs and perceptions. If a safety professional does not tap into the right channel of what they understand, any safety training will be reduced to words from Charlie Brown’s teacher, “wah, wah wah.” 

These are concepts I have used and have proven to work.

Trust: The first perception of a safety supervisor is that of a “hired gun,” someone management has appointed to reduce workers’ compensation costs and/or comply with regulations.  With this perception, a safety professional is no more than a door-to-door salesman, one whose sales pitch is nothing more than an act designed to sell something nobody really needs. 

The first creative concept is for the safety supervisor to garner the trust of the workers, show them you care about them more than some directives or quotas.  Sit with them in the lunchroom, spend time at their workstation, invite them to your home, and accept invitations to theirs.  Anyone will listen to a friend long before a door-to-door salesman.

Speak their language:  Before you try to teach them, listen to them talk, what slang and sentence structure is most frequently used, if you have a teenager at home, start by listening how they communicate to their friends and ask for their help in understanding the communication.  One of my most well-received programs was a bilingual, English and Spanish, monthly newsletter that was written entirely with simple words, very basic sentence structure and slang.

Entertain: According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than four hours of TV each day, programs that have one thing in common — to, get the viewer’s attention and hold it.

That’s far different than “interesting as watching paint dry” that characterizes many safety training programs I have audited. 

Entertain does not mean you must do a juggling act; safety instruction must start and end upbeat with drama in the middle; start with something humorous, a story or visual that distracts the worker audience from anything else on their mind, then tell a story that builds to a frightening climax, one that could occur in their workplace; now you really have their attention. Follow with instructions on how to prevent this in their workplace; end with a positive safety note about them and their workplace, always have them leave a training session with both instruction and hope.

Remember, when they are with you they are not workers, they are people, men and women with hopes, dreams, and
a family they love and look forward to going home to at the
end of every workday — in essence, they are you.  Relate to them as your family away from home and they will eventually notice; then, everything you have to say is received as caring communication.

Mike Mattia

A sweet safety message

(U-NO) I have heard the (Snickers) lately about our new safety effort. Let’s not be (Goobers) about this. (Take 5) minutes to think about your safety and the safety of those around you. Helping us reduce hazards may prevent the next (Whopper) of an accident or save your buddy from the (Crunch) heard when they get their fingers caught in the machine.

These new guidelines can literally be (Life Savers). Don’t be a (Slow Poke) in getting on board. Following these can go a long way to seeing that you get that good (Payday) you are looking for. We don’t need to be a bunch of  (Nerds),  let’s all get with the program.

Let me know of a hazard that you find today and we will work together to eliminate or control them, thereby raising our hazard elimination (Skor). Just like the (3 Musketeers) we are better together as a team than individuals. Let’s work together toward our ultimate vision of (Zero) hazards, injuries and illness.

The idea here is to use different varieties of candy to deliver the safety message — and of course it is always good to have samples of these to pass out along with the message.

We have used this method to challenge supervision to give better messages and a message that will be better understood. We have also run contests between various departments as to who could come up with the best safety slogan or awareness point using between 5 to 7 different types of candy — it is amazing the imaginative power of our employees. It seems rather silly at first but once they get into it, the results have been pretty awesome. It might even be worthy of a little reader challenge to do the same — could be a lot of fun.

Skipper Kendrick

How to de-escalate a crisis situation

Open and accessible corporate campuses offer many benefits. They typically promote a more productive and healthy corporate culture – both for staff and customers.

But these work environments also pose risks, exposing staff and visitors to potentially unpredictable social situations.

Such was the case with Folio Health Services* a Seattle-based provider of specialty health services in January 2014. Uninvited and, sometimes, unstable members of the community wander onto their open campus – to nap in obscure areas, seek shelter from weather, or simply loiter in the area. Because of the diverse number of individuals visiting the campus, specialized safety and de-escalation trainings were critical and essential skills for this organization.

The value of this specialized and comprehensive training, provided by Seattle-based Sound Mental Health, a behavioral health services and training firm, was quite evident during a crisis situation this year.

One morning in early January, a man in his 30s had arrived on campus. It was not clear at the time that he was distraught. Upon being approached by two staff members, he became extremely agitated, combative and verbally threatening. Annual staff safety and de-escalation training for the organization’s 500 staff members, in this case, paid off.

Within minutes, Folio’s safety protocol launched, with the prime directive being the safety of staff, clients and the outside community.

First, the two staff members remained calm (despite their natural anxiety and apprehension), maintained eye contact and directly engaged the individual, keeping a safe distance. They were empathetic, used clear communication and redirected the conversation when necessary to maintain calm. They also firmly established acceptable boundaries of behavior to maintain a sense of order. Using mobile communication devices, they alerted the organization’s crisis team.

The crisis team closely monitored the volatile situation, ready to intervene if necessary. Concurrently, the crisis team engaged law enforcement and emergency services. Though arriving quickly and ready to act, police remained out of the agitated man’s sightline (to prevent further aggravation). The entire campus was secured — all doors were locked, and all exit to or entry from the facility/campus was rerouted away from the aggressive individual. Once the incident passed, the campus was reopened, a debrief email was sent to all staff, and emergency services were discharged.

In the end, staff kept the man calm and persuaded him, without incident, to enter a waiting ambulance – and on to a hospital for stabilization and treatment.

Jenniffer Brown and Katrina Egner

*organization name changed for confidentiality