Management's Big Payoff: By Adopting an International Occupational Health and Safety Management System, a Compaq Facility in California Slashed Injuries. (Editor's Notebook)

Article excerpt

Success is simply a matter of luck," newspaper columnist Earl Wilson said. "Ask any failure." Too many companies continue to approach safety and health that way, giving it short shrift as a management focus and instead deciding to ride out their luck until one day something terrible happens. "We've always done it that way" quickly degenerates into "It was a tragic stroke of bad luck."

Not far removed from that approach, frankly, is the "We adhere to OSHA standards" safety management philosophy. Those same free-market champions who decry government interference in business magically transform into acolytes of a government agency that freely admits that it develops minimum standards for safety (when it develops standards at all).

Thankfully, there are a good number of other companies that focus not on government compliance, but on the goal of preventing injuries and illness in their work force. Focusing on prevention provides a vastly more powerful motivator because it reflects a value that everyone in an organization can rally around. Not surprisingly, many organizations are interested in occupational health and safety (OHS) management systems to help them achieve this goal.

At Compaq's Fremont, Calif., manufacturing facility, company officials decided to implement the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Specification (OHSAS) 18001, an unofficial international "standard" that is an offshoot of the British Standards Institution's 8800 health and safety standard. While 18001 is used widely internationally, it is only beginning to be used in the United States.

Similar in nature to ISO 9002 and ISO 14001 standards, the standard requires Compaq to conduct an annual risk assessment, use it as the basis to set goals and then put policies and procedures in place to address those goals. The standard calls for continuous improvement and clearly defines health and safety as everyone's responsibility. It took Compaq six months to integrate OHSAS 18001 into its existing safety and health program. BSI Inc., a third-party registrar, audited the system and registered Compaq's compliance with the standard.

So far, the implementation of the OHSAS 18001 process is paying off handsomely for the Fremont facility. While it set a goal of reducing employee injuries by 15 percent every year, the plant saw employee injuries fall by nearly 30 percent in the first six months. …