Safety is Essential for Continuous Improvement

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Safety is Essential for Continuous Improvement

Manufacturers want their employees to be safe. Yet in 2017 in the United States alone, there were roughly 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in private industry, of which 882,730 resulted in days away from work. In manufacturing, 115,550 injuries resulted in days away from work. Even worse, there were 5,147 fatal work injuries reported by private industry in 2017, including 303 in manufacturing.

Why so many?

Because despite their best intentions, many manufacturers still lack effective practices and policies to keep workers safe. Too often safety strategies focus on:

  • Tracking lag measures for safety, and reacting after incidents and injuries occur
  • Managing safety through supervisor monitoring and intervention
  • Failure to fully assess safety risks in their facilities, from equipment installation through operation
  • Prioritizing other metrics (e.g., throughput, productivity) ahead of safety measures

Safe employees are more likely to trust management and be engaged in their work and willing to identify and solve problems. With the U.S. unemployment rate at 3.7 percent in July 2019 (down from 10 percent in October 2009), many employees are now willing to consider new — and possibly safer — jobs. In fact, approximately 21 percent of employees successfully switched jobs in the 12 months ending June 2019. Given the more fluid workforce landscape and amid ongoing skilled worker shortages, a safe workplace greatly enhances a manufacturer’s ability to retain talent and recruit new employees.

The actions of frontline associates also improve workplace organization and processes, which allows them to pursue continuous improvement as part of their daily work — not as occasional projects. Changed safety processes and changed employee mindsets lead to significant quantitative benefits for the organization’s bottom line:

  • Increased production performances (e.g., productivity, quality, uptime)
  • Reduced recruiting, hiring, and onboarding costs
  • Reduced worker compensation costs and health premiums
  • Elimination of fines/penalties related to unsafe working conditions

Performance Solutions by Milliken, the consulting division of Milliken & Company, advises manufacturers that employee safety must come first — for the health of both workers and the bottom line. This strategy reflects a core belief of Milliken & Company, which was one of 13 companies on the 2017 America’s Safest Companies List. Milliken’s experience drives the safety emphasis within Performance Solutions and among its practitioners.

Performance Solutions practitioners help manufacturing executives in realizing the qualitative benefits of a safe working environment and work with them to establish safe working environments as foundations for operational excellence. Practitioners first conduct plant-safety walkthroughs, during which they identify hazards, behavioral issues, and conditions that contribute to an unsafe workplace. They also interview up to 25 percent of plant employees to better understand the reasons behind daily actions, and to gauge culture and safety attitudes. For example: Why does an employee take a shortcut and circumvent a safety curtain? Why does an employee witness an unsafe action, but fail to report it?

Practitioners also examine current safety processes, policies, and metrics. For example, is there an accident-investigation process following every incident? Is there a structure that enables employees to record and investigate near-miss events.

This assessment allows practitioners to work with plant management in establishing a safety plan that:

  1. Enlists management and supervisors as safety coaches and mentors; they support the new work environment, but they do not lead changes.
  2. Creates an employee safety committee, which requires ownership and management of safety by frontline associates.
  3. Trains management and employees in how to identify and eliminate safety problems using Zero Loss Thinking (zero accidents — and the lives and costs saved).
  4. Establishes a safety program that includes audits and monitoring to ensure commitment to safety principles, such as communication, measurements and reviews, standardization, and education.

With this approach, Performance Solutions has helped numerous companies in a variety of manufacturing industries achieve safety and operational successes:

  • Food and beverage: Working with a food and beverage company with facilities at each stage of the poultry supply chain — from hatchery operations/egg farms to processing and packaging — Performance Solutions helped to reduce hand injuries from knives and cutting machines, as well as strains and sprains due to uncomfortable working positions and lifting requirements. Within a few months of kickoff, one 400-employee plant achieved 100 percent safety subcommittee participation by all plant employees (both managers and hourly), a 63 percent reduction in hand injuries, and employee-led development of “One Point” safety lessons and audits.
  • Paperboard and packaging: A multibillion-dollar, global paperboard and packaging manufacturer relied on Performance Solutions to standardize dozens of facilities with varied histories to a common performance management system. Company leaders had hoped the new system would create sustainable operational excellence, including safety improvements, and drive change throughout the organization. Not only did safety dramatically improve —in some locations eliminating all incidents — but rework was reduced by 50 percent, waste was decreased by 80 percent, and equipment changeover times were decreased by as much as 60 percent.
  • Consumer packaged goods: A multibillion-dollar global provider of consumer packaged goods, with facilities in the United States and Europe, has worked with Performance Solutions since 2012. One unionized plant in Poland — with 1,200 full-time employees, 800 temporary workers, and 1.1 billion products running annually on 60 lines — had tried to implement continuous improvement and lean activities, but had no frontline ownership of operations, and no systems-based approach to delivering sustained improvement. Performance Solutions helped the facility in establishing a performance management system tailored to its culture and focused on safety, health, and environmental fundamentals. Over two years the plant achieved approximately $2 million of annualized savings through improved productivity, fewer temporary workers, and less material consumption, and — best of all — achieved 5 million safe work hours.

Many manufacturing executives learn how they can achieve similar results at Safety Bootcamps conducted by Performance Solutions. Executives can also quickly review the details and benefits of the Milliken Performance System by participating in the AED Program: Accommodate (visit Milliken and Performance Solutions headquarters); Educate (learn about the Milliken Performance System); and Demonstrate (tour high-performance Milliken facilities).

Isn’t your employees’ safety — and your bottom line — worth exploring the opportunities with Performance Solutions? Contact us today and transform your safety culture.

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

[4] Workforce Vitality Report, ADP.