Staying Strong in Tough Times

Your safety program and results shouldn't suffer during an economic crisis, speakers told the attendees at the OH&S 2008 Executive Safety Summit.

Because the sudden slide in U.S. stock prices was happening just as the OH&S 2008 Executive Safety Summit was taking place, managing in difficult times became a major theme for several presenters. Keynote speaker Robert Pater, managing director of Strategic Safety Associates Inc. and MoveSMART®, started the trend when he asked the audience to consider how stressful times affect people: They lose their sense of humor and develop tunnel vision.

“This is a time when it’s easy to have accidents because we’re distracted,” Pater said. Culture is a surround system, and a scissors approach—cutting through cultural obstacles from the top and the bottom simultaneously—is a smart strategy, he added. “Don’t give up safety emphasis in difficult times,” said Pater. “It doesn’t mean spending money. It means reminding people.”

Held Oct. 6-7 at the Doubletree Hotel Crystal City in Arlington,Va., the event featured nine speakers and two executives who described their companies’ approach to safety, employee retention, management, and motivation.

At Eagle Materials Inc., a building materials supplier based in Dallas, Texas, all 1,700 employees have a safety responsibility, said President and CEO Steven R. Rowley. He noted the hazards inherent in the work done at the company’s wallboard and cement plants. “You get what you hire, so you’d better be careful before you hire someone,” Rowley said. “If they don’t have that (safe) attitude, we don’t want ‘em. If you’re not participating in our safety program, you’re not going to have a job at Eagle Materials.”

“Everyone knows if you see the boss performing an unsafe act, you are obligated to point it out,” he said. “When we say safety’s first, it’s always first. It doesn’t matter where you are in the (business) cycle.”

Twenty-five percent of the company’s long-term executive compensation is tied to safety, Rowley said. The company has extended its wellness program to include employees’ families, and it anticipated the construction slowdown and thereby avoided layoffs at its wallboard plants by reducing overtime and setting a 60-hours-per-week limit.

The other executive sharing the stage with Rowley was Phillip G. Retallick, Clean Harbors Environmental Services Inc. senior vice president of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs. The Norwell, Mass.-based company is the largest North American environmental and hazardous waste management services company, with 5,000 employees. Front-line supervisor accountability, expertise from Clean Harbors employees, and a behavior-based safety program have brought the company’s DART rate down by 76 percent in the past five years, its TRIR rate down by 71 percent, and its EMR down by 28 percent to a best-ever 0.62, Retallick said. These improvements have been achieved with a multilingual workforce, especially in California, and a field services unit experiencing about 30 percent turnover per year, he said.

“We strive for zero defects, but we plan for behavior change to get there,” Retallick explained. Today, four of Clean Harbors’ 38 TSDF sites (Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facility) are VPP sites,with nine more on track to achieve that elite status within two years, Retallick said. And the company wants to be an OSHA Corporate VPP participant by 2011.

Rowley and Retallick agreed safety and health excellence begins in the field, not in the executive suite, and good programs have a foundation in good communications. Every Clean Harbors employee signs an ethics statement, Retallick said.

During his opening keynote — the speech started the event, and the Rowley/ Retallick panel concluded it — Pater reminded his audience not to set a goal for which the payback is more than year away, and instead set goals where success is possible within three to six months.He also recommended looking for areas of opportunity to have an impact, such as an incident involving an executive’s family that suddenly makes him or her receptive to a safety initiative, such as a safe driving campaign.

‘See Perfection As the Goal’
Robert S. Krzywicki, North American Operations Leader for DuPont Safety Resources, began his presentation by noting DuPont does not allow employees to use their cell phones while driving on company business. Like Pater, he mentioned the global economic crisis and its possible impact on corporate safety programs.“I hope all of you really see perfection as the goal,” Krzywicki said. “Anything less than that is really accepting that an injury can occur.”

Two members of the audience raised their hands. One said inexperienced new hires are being pushed very hard at his workplace, and the other said newcomers are entering the steelmaking workforce and being immediately placed in critical positions, where in the past they could have joined as laborers and learned the jobs by watching experienced co-workers do them. An occupational health nurse in the audience said she sees more workers fabricating injuries than in the past.

“Never take for granted that the culture you have today will be there five, 10, or 20 years down the road,”Krzywicki told them. He explained the concept of people-based “felt leadership”—having your leadership’s effects be felt throughout your organization— and a framework for moving from enforcement, to agreement, to inspiration.

Each of the three components of safety culture contains four elements, he explained:

Leadership — management commitment; policies & principles; goals, objectives, & plans; procedures & performance standards

Structure — line management accountability & responsibility; safety personnel; integrated organization structure; motivation & awareness

Processes & Actions — effective communication; training & development; incident investigation; audits & observations

“Everybody in the organization needs to be involved,” Krzywicki said. “If you truly want to get to world class, you have to work on all 12 areas. You will be suboptimal if you don’t.”

Urging the audience to stress the concept of operational discipline (doing the right thing the right way every time), he said, “You will achieve the level of performance that you demonstrate you are willing to accept. So, what are your leaders willing to accept? Where they set the bar” will determine your performance.

Health Care and Emergency Management
Most of the remaining Summit speakers addressed two topics: ensuring employees’ health and managing emergencies.

Jayme Ambrose, MSN, RN, COHN, CCM, director of Corporate & Community Health for Scottsdale Healthcare, explained how the nonprofit organization has integrated its health and safety programs and used an Employee Injury Reduction Committee to reduce injuries and worker’s compensation spending. Employees and hours worked rose by 150 percent and 139 percent, respectively, from 2003 to 2007, but claims declined by 11 percent, she said.

Ron Bellows, MS, CSP, CIE, consulting services manager for AIG WorldSource, stressed the importance of pre-hire employee health screening, which he described as one leg of the three-legged comp stool (with traditional prevention and medical management/ return to work representing the other two legs). For only $30, employers can administer an ADA-compliant questionnaire prior to hire that gives them a much stronger post-loss defense posture, Bellows said.

Frank Pennachio, senior consultant and trainer for Injury Management Partners, addressed how to manage employee injury claims without incurring excessive costs.

Dr. Myles Druckman, vice president of medical response for International SOS, began by citing a recent poll in which more than half of corporations with international operations said they had experienced a health incident (such as a diagnosed TB case, norovirus, and a meningitis case on a movie set) that affected their operations. The impact of a global health incident can be in the millions of dollars, he said, urging his audience to assess their global health risks, create response plans, and put resources in place to fulfill the plans.

Richard M.Miller, vice president of Public Safety Solutions, and Ellen Clas, CIH, CSP, president of Clas Consulting LLC, discussed training and preparing employees for emergencies and how safety directors can implement effective emergency planning.

Michael A. Fina, vice president of reward and recognition firm Michael C. Fina (and a member of the third generation of his family to work at the 74-year-old firm), outlined Generation Y’s needs and expectations and what kinds of rewards work best to motivate and retain those young employees. He advised his audience to focus their rewards on the safety initiatives their companies typically use, including safe driving and teamwork initiatives.

This article originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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