Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Power of Positive Safety: To Make Safety a Continuing Success, You Have to "Recognize It, Compliment It, Nurture It, Encourage It"

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Power of Positive Safety: To Make Safety a Continuing Success, You Have to "Recognize It, Compliment It, Nurture It, Encourage It"

Article excerpt

As director of risk management services for R&R Insurance, an insurance agency based in Waukesha, Wis., Frank Wegner visits a lot of workplaces and he has become adept at sizing up a company's culture. At a company like client E.R. Wagner, he said, creating a positive safety environment almost seems easy. Yet, he observed, "You try to take people in a totally negative culture and have them look at that company, and they will say, 'We can never do that.'" But according to the safety officials we contacted at four award-winning companies -- Air Systems Components, BASF, Koppers Industries and E.R. Wagner Casters & Wheels -- creating a positive safety culture is possible for any company. It takes work and continuing dedication, but it can be accomplished and the benefits result in fewer injuries, lower workers' compensation costs and a work force that is happier and more productive. Here is their advice on the key elements to have in place.

Culture and Leadership

It is fashionable for companies to identify their employees as their most important assets, but safety success is built on managers believing that and acting accordingly. "One of our core values is people," said Wade Fletcher, vice president and general manager of E.R. Wagner Casters & Wheels, Hutisford, Wisc. "Everybody has to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. We'd like this facility, and E.R. Wagner as a whole, to be a place that they feel good about going to. It is clean, organized, well-lit and safe."

Randy Collins, vice president, safety, health and environmental affairs for Koppers Industries, noted that his Pittsburgh-based company operates a multitude of locations in the United States and abroad that are relatively small. Traditionally, this has been reflected, he said, in a caring work force and family culture where "we know our workmates and their families." He said the company wants to maintain those good qualities even as it moves to incorporate increasingly sophisticated management systems. Recently, Koppers won the National Safety Council's Green Cross Safety Excellence Achievement Award, honoring its efforts to build a workplace culture and environment that focuses on safety.

Anita Orozco, who manages human resources and safety for Air Systems Components in Tucson, recalled that it was only a few years ago when "OSHA was pretty much at our door every single day." Changing the culture at the facility, which manufactures grills and registers for HVAC units, required "a lot of discipline" initially, she said, as company managers struggled to convince employees that they were serious about the new emphasis on safety. But now, she observed, "It's nice because we have employees who know that our top priority is not production or anything other than safety."

Making safety a value in the company requires more than simply good will. Top management needs to clearly communicate the importance of safety and hold managers and employees accountable for safety performance. At Koppers, for example, an executive-level council chaired by the CEO meets monthly to review injury statistics, accident reports and the steps taken to prevent or minimize the likelihood of recurrence. New policies and action steps are developed. Communications from the council, Collins noted, go out as a single voice from the chief executive. "There is real power to that," he noted. "It has been an important element of our improvement."

Koppers' Collins also emphasized the importance of accountability. "We expect the plant manager to be the most outspoken person about the interest the company has in ensuring that employees get to go home as healthy and safe as when they showed up at work. We won't excuse the plant manager from that role, no matter whom she or he may have dedicated to that discipline." Safety is a component of managers' goals and performance evaluations, two tools that directly affect their base pay and incentive compensation. …

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