Breakthrough Strategies: Distributing Safety
These centers, common to many industries, have a host of proprietary safety and morale challenges.
- By Robert Pater
- Jul 03, 2007
WANT to break through vexing problems?
By understanding underlying
methods of turnaround
change in one area, you can apply these
strategies to other longstanding challenges.
Take, for example, operations common
to many companies: Distribution (or
“Logistics”) Centers that distribute,
receive, and warehouse product or parts.
From what we’ve seen, these centers often
have more than their fair share of injuries.
And no wonder.
First off, recognize that Distribution
Centers (DCs) are predominantly designed
to maximize throughput (“Get it out!”),
not necessarily for ergonomics nor
employee safety; on top of this, most companies
have steadily winched any slack out
of the workload.
Also, DCs have a range of proprietary
physical exposures. Many workers are on
the move much of the time with lots of
reaching into bins to handpick and
retrieve objects, case stacking, palletizing,
loading/unloading trucks, manually
shrink-wrapping smaller loads, aiming RF
scanners, using difficult-to-control pallet
jacks, and more. Those who drive lift
trucks have other “opportunities” for
injury, from stepping onto and off the lifts,
using joysticks, and driving in twisted
positions. Add in a wide array of mental
contributors to potential accidents and
injuries. Work that can alternate between
go-go and repetitive can lead to attentional
drift. Change—and not for the
better, in workers’ perception—has come
to many DCs. For example, most forklift
drivers formerly drove in the loaded
(backward) position half the time as they
transported loads; Just-in-time and other
efficiency methods have drivers with full
loads 90 percent of the time—more
twisting. Now, RF scanners supplant
people being able to occasionally get off
lift trucks to read package loads, limiting
potential tension relief.
To these ingredients, stir in cultural
issues that are markedly different from traditional
manufacturing jobs, and you have
potential recipe for safety and morale
issues. These may include working with
minimal supervision, up and down pace
(either too busy or too static), doing
“break-in work” when conveyers and
equipment are down. Combine all the
above with an independent DC worker
mentality. Mix and pour, and what we often
see is an increasing level of dissatisfaction
and higher injuries.
But there’s more than hope. We’ve
worked with numerous DC operations in
many industries and have found it possible
to make significant turnarounds in
safety performance and culture by tailoring
solutions to unique DC culture.
So what’s effective?
¦ Tune your perceptions; acknowledge
the unique aspects of DC exposures
and culture. Whenever you find that traditional
plant-based approaches to safety
and cultural change don’t work to a high
level, remind yourself to assess those
forces that drive as well as those that
restrain safety performance improvement.
(I’ve listed a few above; probably
there are other factors in your company.)
¦ Target the three biggest problems,
no more. Rather than attempting to correct
everything at once, restrict initial
interventions to highest DC exposures,
especially to those that affect worker
comfort and job satisfaction. How will
you know this? (See the next point.)
¦ Distribute involvement early, both
in cataloguing safety issues and concerns
and in effecting change. We’ve
seen great success in training DC
workers to become peer instructors,
coaches, and change catalysts. They are
then an ongoing impetus for coworkers’
incorporating desired behaviors,
skills, and attitudes into a wide
range of activities.
¦ Enlist management as a central part
of the solution. To overcome tensions
between management and workers,
develop a set of specific, easy-to-accomplish-
with-minimal-time actions that
leaders can take to enhance management-
worker communications. These
might include acknowledgment of even
small accomplishments, non-blame incident
investigations and messages, safety
motivation that is positive rather than
scare-based, reduction of frustrationladen
communications, and more.
¦ Specifically, involve them in the
peer catalyst process, introducing expectations,
strategizing with them on how to
make needed changes, and participating
in identifying unique DC problems.
¦ Provide practical training that
addresses specific DC issues in reducing
or neutralizing external risks. For
example, DC workers can learn methods
for boosting leverage while palletizing
and case stacking, how to best control
pallet jacks, safest ways for getting onto
and off lift trucks, how to reach/
grab/carry parts with maximum control,
using joysticks while minimizing forces
concentrating on the controlling hand,
how to best turn while reducing pressure
on the back and neck, and, as important,
skills for directing, sustaining, and
switching their attention with shifting
DC workload demands.
For many companies, DC performance
issues can be tough nuts to open. But experience
has shown you can make breakthroughs
in safety by putting aside past
approaches and then spearheading fresh,
This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.