Clean Sweep

Douglas Dynamics chases the ultimate goal, zero accidents, with the key driver being the welfare of its employees.

CITING employees as a company's most valuable asset is so common today that it borders on cliché. Every organization, it seems, claims it as a management philosophy, but few actually live it. And yet when you find an organization that truly puts concern for employee welfare at the core of its performance strategy, the results can be phenomenal.

Consider Douglas Dynamics. Through its Western® and Fisher® brands, the company is the leading manufacturer of snowplows in North America. Founded in 1950, the company employs more than 550 workers in facilities located in Milwaukee; Johnson City, Tenn.; and Rockland, Maine. Plant employees design, fabricate, machine, weld, coat, assemble, and ship products for commercial, municipality, and residential use.

Douglas Dynamics began to aggressively manage its safety issues in the mid-1990s. At that time, while there were no real serious incidents, there were many--too many--minor incidents. Company representatives realized that its safety standards were not where they needed to be for the firm to be considered a high-performance organization. Douglas Dynamics embarked on its safety journey with a two-pronged approach.

"Our first emphasis was on the prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses," said Jim Janik, president of Douglas Dynamics. "Our second emphasis was on employee involvement, accountability and training." Safety responsibility was assigned at a management level in each plant, coupled with a corporate safety manager to provide assistance to each plant. Plant mangers participated in employee safety meetings, as did the vice president for Manufacturing when available as he visited each plant.

Partnering for Success
Through monthly participation in employee safety meetings, Douglas Dynamics continues to challenge and improve its safety program. Employee concerns receive prompt responses, and policies and procedures are continually reviewed for relevance. Even with its excellent safety record, Douglas Dynamics regularly seeks input from Wausau Loss Prevention on the identification of hazards and unsafe work practices.

Some of the key features of the Wausau/Douglas collaboration include:

* Supplemental investigation of safety issues raised by employees.
* Ergonomic surveys of manufacturing areas, such as assembly, to reduce manual handling and repetitive motion.
* Workstation analysis using CompuTask2TM, a proprietary ergonomic analysis software tool developed at the Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health to help companies control costs associated with manual handling operations.
* Industrial hygiene surveys to quantify welding exposure and effectiveness of controls.

Employee Involvement, Accountability and Training
Employees are required to report all injuries promptly. It is emphasized during initial and regular training sessions that timely medical attention can be an important factor in determining the cause of the injury and reducing the risk of the same injury's happening again.

Employees at each facility participate on the safety committees. At the Western Products plant in Milwaukee, employees participate in a monthly, plant-wide safety meeting where any concern they raise will be followed up and reported on at the next month's meeting.

To enhance safety awareness, employees earn financial and recognition rewards for their dedicated safety efforts. For example, at some monthly safety meetings, the names of employees with "perfect safety" records are drawn for $15 gift certificates. Impromptu prizes such as T-shirts or hats are given, and paid time off can be earned, as well.

In addition, the company celebrates achieving successful benchmarks. For example, periodically at the Johnson City facility, safety teams of 25 to 30 employees are rewarded with a catered lunch. As the months go by, the meals become increasingly more desirable. By the end of the year, senior managers grill, then serve filet mignon to the team.

Similarly, at another Douglas Dynamics location, safety team rewards increase in value over the year from a catered breakfast to an employee outing, and finally to a trip to a local amusement park for employees and their guests.

"Our employees are without a doubt the real driver behind our safety success," said Janik. "They have taken individual responsibility for safety, earning the company a reputation for being a good place to work and, in turn, enhancing our bottom line."

Is there any concern at the company that offering rewards and incentives for zero OSHA recordable incidents might inadvertently lead to an injury's going unreported? "No," said David Hermanson of Douglas Dynamics, citing the company's culture of safety and employee commitment. "While we prefer a positive reinforcement approach, employees are aware that they are subject to fairly severe disciplinary action if they don't record an incident. But it's not really a problem. It simply isn't worth it to hide an injury for a free lunch."

Award-Winning Results
The result? In six years, Douglas Dynamics cut its number of claims by an unprecedented 83 percent. In addition, between 2001 and 2003 the three facilities reported just three lost-time injuries.

The list of recent safety awards is inspiring and underscores the company's commitment to its employees:

* The Wisconsin Council of Safety and the Wisconsin Department of Work Force Development presented the firm with two awards for the Milwaukee plant's perfect lost-time safety incident rate in 2001, 2002, and 2003: Outstanding Achievement Award for Excellence in Safety and the Certificate of Safety Excellence.
* In 2002, the Maine Safety Council presented the Rockland facility with the Award of Significant Improvement and Excellence in Safety and Health. Since 1994, the firm has reduced the number of OSHA recordable accidents by an unprecedented 94 percent. This facility also earned the top award of Excellence in Safety and Health in 2003 from the Safety & Health Council of Northern New England.
* The Johnson City plant earned the State of Tennessee Commissioner's Award for Safety in 2003 for working 500,000 hours without a lost-time injury and the Governor's Award for Safety in 2004 for 500,000 hours without lost-time or restricted activity injuries.

"Douglas Dynamics has demonstrated--and continues to demonstrate--what a commitment to a true safety culture can do for its organization," said Joe Gilles, Wausau's president and chief operating officer. It turns out that what is good for employees is more than the right thing to do; it's good for the company's performance and its competitive position.

This article appears in the June 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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