Sending a Worldwide Message

by Henry Jones Conducting a global health and safety day pays dividends to

HOW much is employee health and safety worth to one of the world's largest industrial companies? Enough to divert the time and energies of some 180,000 people from their production and other responsibilities and support tasks to re-focus their attention on the company's unwavering commitment to health and safety at work. During Compagnie de Saint-Gobain's first-ever International Day of Health and Safety on Oct. 28, 2004, employees in hundreds of plants and offices in 48 countries across the globe banded together for one day, working toward one goal: zero accidents at all Saint-Gobain sites.

"Our company is committed to building a world-class culture that emphasizes health and safety and the protection of the environment," said Jean-François Phelizon, president and chief executive officer of Saint-Gobain Corp., the holding company for the U.S. and Canadian-based businesses of Compagnie de Saint-Gobain. "We believe that setting this day aside to promote that goal will pay dividends in the long run to our employees and our company at large."

Saint-Gobain is a leading producer of building materials, insulation, piping, abrasives, industrial ceramics, high-performance plastics, reinforcements, glass containers, and flat glass. It is also the largest distributor of building materials in Europe. In the United States and Canada, some of the company's brand names include CertainTeed, Calmar, Norton, and Vetrotex. It operates about 180 plants in the United States and Canada with 25,000 employees and $7 billion in sales. Besides the corporate responsibility of assuring employees they will return home safely to their families from work, the company sees additional, practical benefits to putting its support behind a day like this. "The cost of injuries to Saint-Gobain is twofold," explained Phelizon. "Unsafe behaviors and conditions can result in injuries that lower the quality of life and the morale of our employees. On occasion, unsafe conditions have even resulted in fatalities. This is absolutely unacceptable. That's why we strive to make sure that our employees recognize, report, and do not put themselves in harm's way, so that we avoid even the most minor injury. "There is also a financial cost to our company each time a person is injured. Worker's compensation expenses for our U.S. operations went up about 12 percent over the last two years. This does not include the indirect costs, such as lost production time, the time and money spent on equipment repair, the necessity to hire and train temporary workers, and the time spent managing worker's compensation claims. We clearly see the need to protect the health and safety of our people. In addition, with medical costs in the U.S. skyrocketing, we want to reduce the costs associated with injuries," he said.

Harnessing the Power of Creativity
Organizing a day-long event on such a massive scale may seem daunting. Ironically, the key to its success seems to have been the fact that it was not tightly organized. Instead, the company challenged each facility to structure its observance of the day in the most creative way possible that addressed the particular needs and concerns of each site. "Each location enthusiastically tackled the assignment to create their own International Day of Health and Safety. By empowering them to tailor the event to their site, we think we encouraged their best efforts," Phelizon noted.

One common thread for each company location was the showing of two videos to introduce the event and clearly demonstrate the strong support Saint-Gobain showed for this initiative. One video featured Compagnie de Saint-Gobain's chief operating officer and gave the global view of the company's environmental, health, and safety efforts and goals. This was produced in several languages. The second video, shown in the United States and Canada, was made by Phelizon and focused on the employees' role in achieving the goal, as well as on the company's goals for the future. "Saint-Gobain is firmly committed to the worldwide Environment, Health and Safety Charter that focuses on ongoing improvements and the elimination of environmental risks at the facilities," he pointed out in his speech.

This Charter was another standard element of the day. It was distributed globally and posted throughout all company facilities. The bottom line for the company, as proclaimed in its Charter, is: "Towards zero work-related accidents, Towards zero occupational illnesses, Towards zero non-recovered waste!"

In general, responsibility for organizing the day's observances was placed on the shoulders of plant managers; environment, health and safety officers; and human resources managers. There were fairs, luncheons, barbecues, demonstrations, meetings, giveaways, screenings, awards, courses, signage, and contests. Police, firefighters, and EMTs were brought in. Many locations included the participation of local chapters of national and regional organizations. The advantage to this approach is to keep event costs down, develop good working relationships with these outside resources, and introduce employees to the depth of resources that are available to them.

A wellness theme was carried through most North American events. Saint-Gobain Corp. has developed a "LiveWell" program that raises awareness about employee safety off the job. This program offers benefits such as smoking cessation programs and discounted memberships and reimbursements for weight loss and exercise facilities.

A Broad List of Activities
The variety of activities during International Day of Health and Safety offers a checklist of ideas to review when planning a similar observance. Here is how one Saint-Gobain facility, the company's High-Performance R&D Center in Northboro, Mass., celebrated the day:

* American Red Cross demonstration of defibrillators
* An insurance company presentation on stress management, identity theft, and distracted drivers
* Workstation of ergonomic products
* Barbecue lunch
* Invitation to town officials, fire department, and police, as well as to a neighboring firm
* Health screening for cholesterol and glucose
* Fire drill to start activities
* Scavenger hunt for answers to questions on MSDSs, the chemical hygiene plan, policies and procedures
* Vendor demonstration on safety knife alternatives to razors and open blades
* Information on Personal Protective Equipment

Giveaways, sometimes as part of raffles and door prizes, were included at most of the 180 Saint-Gobain plants in the United States and Canada that participated. These included first aid kits, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide detectors, smoke alarms, T-shirts with safety messages, and grocery gift certificates.

Following Up
After the day, Saint-Gobain communicated to all employees the success of the effort and thanked them for their participation, with the goal of encouraging involvement in the next event. Plans are under way for another International Day of Health & Safety that probably will take place in 2006. Phelizon said it was "virtually impossible" to estimate the cost of the 2004 event "because it was so decentralized. Each location developed and paid for its own program."

"All of these activities that took place in the U.S. and Canada, and throughout the world, while varying from place to place, had the same ultimate goals,? Phelizon said during the follow-up. "That was to both raise awareness of workplace safety and workforce health and to focus everyone's attention on Saint-Gobain's commitment to preserving and protecting the environment."

Saint-Gobain has always counted among its corporate priorities the health and safety of its employees. However, things changed 15 years ago when current Chairman and CEO Jean-Louis Beffa launched and defined the company's safety policy. Under his supervision, the company's worldwide accident rate has been improved by 90 percent. Still, the company wants to cut the rate to zero.

A zero accident rate is not "utopia," Phelizon said. Among the list of company locations that have achieved 1 million hours without a lost-time accident are plants in Australia, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands; and in the United States, plants in Glenwood and Phoenix, Ariz.; Anaheim, Ontario, and Wilmington, Calif.; Boca Raton and Winter Haven, Fla.; Elk Grove, Ill.; Louisville, Ky.; Lake Charles, La.; Northampton, Mass.; Scarborough, Maine; Sanborn and Wheatfield, N.Y.; Houston and Ennis, Texas; and Washougal, Wash.

"Looking ahead, we expect to place a stronger emphasis on training. A skilled workforce with a strong orientation towards best practices in safety, health and environmental procedures is our best tool to achieve continuous improvement," Phelizon asserted.

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

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

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