Walking the Talk at Bell Helicopter: A Culture Change at Bell Helicopter Is Fueled by the Participation of All Employees in the Company's Journey toward Zero Illnesses and Injuries

By Smith, Sandy | Occupational Hazards, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Walking the Talk at Bell Helicopter: A Culture Change at Bell Helicopter Is Fueled by the Participation of All Employees in the Company's Journey toward Zero Illnesses and Injuries


Smith, Sandy, Occupational Hazards


At Bell Helicopter, safety and a safe work environment are not the sole responsibility of the safety department, but of every employee. While many companies make this statement, not all "walk the talk" by backing it up with the resources Bell Helicopter devotes to creating an accident--and injury-free environment.

Employees receive several types of training--including DuPont's STOP (Safety Training Observation Program) and SMART training, which teaches good body mechanics and lifting--as well as safety-specific training for their jobs and, in some cases, daily safety briefings.

Mark Bregenzer, manager of Shipping and Receiving, says the employees in his area have begun monthly safety audits as an outgrowth of their DuPont training, which teaches them to stop and observe both safe and unsafe behaviors and activities. In Shipping and Receiving, every operation is inspected by two or three employees who work in a different area. "You might have 25-foot lengths of pipe sitting there, but everyone in that area is used to them and just walks on over them," says Bregenzer. "The employees from another area bring a new set of eyes into it. They want to know "Why is that pipe--a potential trip hazard--laying there?"

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Two of the most successful tools the company uses to engage employees in safety have been Safety Summits (for both hourly employees and managers) and Operations Managers Safety Training.

Operations Managers Safety Training

Participants in the Operations Managers Safety Training review the company's current culture, and look at seven "deadly sins" that have caused problems with compliance and safety performance. They study what other best-in-class organizations have done when faced with the same challenges, conduct a cultural analysis and culture gap analysis, and discuss what is needed for change to occur.

The seven "deadly sins" reviewed by participants are:

* Tolerating EHS defects. "That's when you get accustomed to seeing the trees in the forest and don't do anything about it," explains James "Skipper" Kendrick, manager, Industrial Safety and Hygiene. "Kind of like those pipes Mark was talking about."

* Assuming that small operations--just because they're not part of the main focus of the company--don't need an EHS management system.

* Delegating responsibility without understanding what's been delegated.

* Setting up EHS managers for less than success. EHS managers must be provided with the resources and corporate commitment to get the safety message across to all employees.

* Positioning EHS professionals in the company hierarchy so they cannot be a catalyst for change.

* Forgetting about the community. Bell offers activities for members of the local community, invites them into the facility and makes donations to local schools and for local projects.

* Making safety the responsibility of the EHS manager only.

At the end of the day-long session, managers are asked to commit to one activity or behavior they will personally change to help move the culture change forward at Bell. Some managers have committed to daily safety meetings with employees. Others said they would take a daily "360;" that is, stop at some point in the day, do a complete 360-degree turnaround to look for safety problems, and fix and they see.

Bregenzer recalls he vowed at a meeting to never be caught without his safety glasses. There are certain operations in the area Bregenzer supervises where nail guns and saws are used. The use of safety glasses in those areas is a relatively recent and important cultural change at Bell, and Bregenzer says he wants to lead by example. "The first thing I do when I come in is put my safety glasses on and head straight for that area to check that employees are wearing them. I can't tell them to wear them if mine are hanging around my neck. …

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