Safety Forum: Safety, Productivity in Real Time

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 @ 03:11 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
Talking about the theory of safety and productivity working in unison is a nice lecture for a college professor to give in engineering school. It is very useful, but seeing it work in real time often seems like a pipe dream.

Not anymore. Manufacturers are truly seeing the light and understanding the two concepts are able to work together to not only ensure a safe work environment, but also bump up productivity. Three companies that truly get it gave presentations during Tuesday’s Rockwell Automation Fair 2011’s Safety Automation Forum in Chicago.

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PepsiCo, GM and L’Oreal talked about various forms of implementing a safety culture in a real life scenario.

“It is possible to go five years or so without injuries at your plant,” said Tommy Short, health and safety manager at L’Oreal during his presentation. “Yes, it is possible, but you have to believe.”

That is where the issue lies, people have to believe and buy into a true safety culture. “Safety is a lot of work and it takes a lot of energy from everybody involved,” Short said.

“I hear safety is the number one priority at our company,” said Craig Torrance, global senior manager of health, safety and well being operations at PepsiCo. “I don’t agree, I feel it should be a value. It should be something we just do.”

Short talked about three areas in the safety culture spectrum: Dependent safety culture, independent safety culture and interdependent safety culture.

Dependent is more restrictive, doing things people are told, following rules and regulations to the letter. Independent, he said, allows for personal values, and good practices and habits. Interdependent allows for a caring culture where people work well with one another; more of a true communication environment.

He showed a chart that proved the interdependent safety culture that had true worker participation had the lowest rate of safety incidents.

He talked about an employee program at L’Oreal where there was participation and a reporting system. This was not about getting other workers in trouble, but rather, ensuring there was a safe work environment. This means the culture at the company was able to change and be more active because workers were looking out for one another.

“True ownership comes from employees,” Short said. “You really need to focus on what matters and make sure everyone is actively engaged. Actively engages employees will reduce safety issues.”

Torrance agrees, but his issues were all about implementing a safety program across a truly global enterprise. With over 800 manufacturing plants located around the world, implementing any kind of plan can be very difficult to say the least.

In a decentralized, autonomous, innovative and fast-paced corporation, it is difficult to get everyone thinking on the same page.

“That environment makes it very difficult to implement any kind of standardized safety program,” Torrance said.

He said it is difficult to have people buy into anything about safety until you start buying safety related items.

“Once you start spending dollars on safety, that had a huge impact on the culture,” Torrance said. “We actually had operators say to us, ‘you are actually serious about this.’”

Torrance talked about a 10-year machine safety program he launched this year. Before he could really get it going he knew the most important factor he had to work with was getting true executive level buy in from the beginning. He then sought out the various chief executives and business heads for all the units within PepsiCo. He was able to achieve the buy in, but that endeavor took him nine months.

“Without leadership buy in, you can’t implement a global safety program,” Torrance said. After you get executive sponsorship, you also need to implement an accountability measure.

“Accountability is something that has gone away. For safety, you need accountability,” Torrance said. “We have accountability on the business side, but not as much with health and safety.”

One more important element that will help get the job done in a global initiative is keeping everything as simple as possible. “Too often,” he said, “global programs get lost in the details.”

One of the other areas he often encounters is when engineers meet and go over programs they will say to him the plan we have works well and we have a solid return on investment, but the problem we have is the safety part of the program is too costly and we can’t get a return. They will then want to unbundle safety from the package.

“If you can’t afford to do the project with safety, you can’t afford to do the project,” Torrance said.

That all goes back to the credibility issue that talks about safety as a value within the mindset of the organization.

“You need to dialogue with workers to be fluid, effortless and spontaneous,” said Mike Douglas, senior manager for safety at General Motors. “That is how you achieve all the goals you need.”

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