Safety on the plant floor: How leading manufacturers keep their employees safe on the job

Tuesday November 19, 2013
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Today’s safest manufacturers are those that make safety an integral part of what they do every day; those that engage employees in their safety goals, get leadership commitment, and manage and measure their risks regularly.

Together, these factors are the keys to a successful safety strategy, according to the health and safety professionals that Manufacturing AUTOMATION interviewed for our annual focus on machine safety. This year, we spoke to four safety professionals from two leading manufacturers in Canada — PepsiCo and Molson Coors — about their strategies for keeping their employees safe on the plant floor. The safety experts also shared their tips on improving safety within an organization.

The plant floor at Pepsi
The safety, health and well-being of its employees is a core value for global food and beverage giant PepsiCo.

“At PepsiCo Canada, we believe that all accidents are preventable, and we strive to eliminate all such occurrences,” says Cassandra Coldwell, the director of Health and Safety at PepsiCo Foods Canada. “We believe that health and safety improvement starts by having the highest concern for employee health and safety, and that it is both an individual and a corporate responsibility, with full alignment and ownership across the organization. We strive to create a world-class safety culture to achieve an accident-free, incident-free, and a regulatory-compliant work environment.”

And while the team at PepsiCo knows they can’t fix everything at once, they focus on continuous improvement, and target a five to 10 per cent improvement each year.

To achieve these commitments, the company has a global environmental health and safety management system, which focuses on five key pillars: lead and commit; manage risk; build capability; perform and measure; and engage.

PepsiCo has Global EHS Standards — including Machine Equipment Safety Standards (MESS) — which the company follows to ensure that they are consistent within all of their sites.

“At PepsiCo Canada, we use a risk management approach for all our key management system elements, including machine safety,” explains Bryan Farley, regional HSE senior manager with PepsiCo Beverages Canada. “This cyclical process of risk identification, risk evaluation/prioritization and risk control is designed to reduce the risk of this potential hazard for our workers.”

The keys to this risk management technique are leadership, competence and proper documentation, says Farley.

“Program leadership defines the resources, roles and responsibilities and formal support needed for our locations that have equipment and processes that require machine safety. Once the machine safety program element leader and team have been identified, we ensure that they have the right support and capabilities to execute machine safety risk assessments for all their equipment. This support is a combination of internal HSE resources or external technical experts so that we complete the assessments, identify controls and develop a corrective action plan to close any gaps,” Farley explains.

He adds that the risk assessment methodology used at PepsiCo Canada takes into consideration ANSI, ISO and CSA standards for machine safety. It also looks at the tasks, hazards and affected persons, and determines risk using a scoring system that factors in the potential severity of harm and probability of occurrence of that harm.  

“To control the risk in new, existing and transferred equipment, a hierarchy of controls is considered to determine the most appropriate risk reduction measure,” says Farley.   

Typical solutions or controls that the manufacturer uses to reduce risk and close any identified gaps include the installation of fixed or movable guarding, emergency stops, and presence sensing devices (such as light curtains and safety interlocking and control systems). The company also employs a lock-out, tag-out (LOTO) process as the primary method of control to protect employees from potential hazards when access to the machine is required and where an alternate method to LOTO (i.e., safety-related control systems) is not in place.  

“To continuously improve, we require periodic review of our risk assessment to ensure we’re reducing risk and identifying any additions or modifications that may require additional controls,” says Farley. “We also react quickly when a risk is identified. Rapid response serves to quickly eliminate the risk, while demonstrating our overall commitment to employee safety.”

Coldwell says that the key to OHS success at PepsiCo Canada is leadership commitment and employee engagement.

“Safety is not something that can be effective if only owned by a safety manager,” says Coldwell. “Everyone needs to believe in it and own it every day. Having a vision that has OHS as a core value, and ensuring that everyone is aligned to that is a critical part to this success. Another key to success is the development and implementation of a health and safety management system, which addresses all areas of safety and is applicable across the total business, is verified through both internal and external audits, and embedded within the organization.”

Safety the Molson Coors Way

Molson Coors, North America’s oldest brewer, takes its responsibility to its employees very seriously.

“At Molson Coors, we value every human life, and we believe in the journey to zero harm,” says Paul Lay, director of Environment, Health and Safety for Molson Coors Canada.

The company has a comprehensive health and safety and environmental program, and Lay is responsible for the execution of the program across Canada — including six breweries, 20 distribution centres and all of the sales offices across the country.

How does he accomplish such a massive undertaking? Each brewery has a technical governance team, and then there is a centralized team that Lay manages, all with the responsibility of ensuring safe behaviours and working conditions.

This year, the company rolled out what it calls “Safety the Molson Coors Way” — an approach designed to simplify safety, and ensure safe working conditions and behaviours. This approach has been utilized in the company’s U.K. operations for the last two and a half years, where they have seen a 60 per cent reduction in lost time. And now Molson Coors wants to mirror the results they’ve seen in the U.K. in their other operations globally.

The program has four elements: STEP, SPEAK, CARE and SEARCH.

STEP focuses on ensuring safe working conditions and behaviours. To ensure safe working conditions, all levels of management — from the GM to the supervisor — complete regular workplace inspections. To ensure safe working behaviours, employees are asked to volunteer and are trained using a simplified behavioural safety model to conduct peer observations. What is unique about this element is that 90 per cent of those employee observations are positive — acknowledging when employees are doing something right.

“This drives a positive safety culture,” explains Lay. “If an employee observation identifies an improvement opportunity, the employee is provided with feedback to correct the behaviour and an agreement to change is made. Safety observations are not tied to discipline, as this would not support the behavioural and cultural change aspects.”  

The next element of the program, SPEAK, focuses on professional, two-way communication. It is about speaking to employees on a regular basis about relevant topics and getting feedback, as well. Sessions are conducted in front of a professionally designed SPEAK board and can incorporate learnings from STEP observations and incidents, says Lay.

The third component, CARE, is about ensuring the correct incident response for early and safe return to work following an injury.

The final piece of the program, SEARCH, focuses on conducting effective root cause investigations into loss events to ensure that they understand the underlying direct and root cause of an event.

The program has already been launched at the company’s breweries in Moncton, N.B., St. John’s, Nfld., and Creemore Springs, Ont. It will be launched in Montreal, Que., by the end of November, with Toronto and Vancouver launches to follow in 2014, and then rolled out at the company’s sales offices and distribution centres across the country.

Part of Molson Coors’ approach to safety is an annual audit program to review things like equipment and machinery to make sure that they meet the company’s world-class global standards. This includes conducting GAP assessments, risk assessments and job hazard analysis. Following the annual audit, the safety team develops a three-year plan, and guarding is something that would be included in this plan to ensure that the machines are in the right category and can be operated safely.

The idea is to simplify safety, make it easy to understand, engage employees, and build a critical mass to ensure that managers and employees alike are being safe every day.

“Everyone has a role to play,” says Lay. “Safety is not just the safety team’s job. It’s the whole facility.”

“Safety isn’t a one-person show,” agrees Jeremy Shorthouse, the member of Lay’s central team who is leading the roll out of “Safety the Molson Coors Way” in Canada. “It’s a team buying into the program and ultimately wanting to be better.”

Shorthouse says that employee engagement is the key to any safety program’s success. And he knows a little bit about success. With his previous employers, Shorthouse has been able to reduce lost-time accidents by 90 per cent, and decrease the number of total incidents by 50 to 60 per cent.

“The employees have to be involved in what we’re doing and help come up with the ideas and the solutions,” he says. “There’s lots of different ways to guard machines…Go to the one that they think is going to best let them operate moving forward.”

Tips from the team

How are these safety leaders able to balance safety and productivity to ensure that employees on the plant floor are both safe and productive? It doesn’t have to be one or the other, the experts say.

“We believe safety improves productivity, and that a world-class safety culture can be a competitive advantage,” says PepsiCo’s Farley. “We focus on developing a safety mindset in our leaders and front-line employees where it’s not about safety first and then we move on with our work, but rather that whatever we do, we do it safely. We also educate all of our employees that the cost of an accident can be much greater than the cost of working safely.”

Molson Coors has a similar philosophy.

“When you do safety, quality and environment really well, it actually is a benefit to your overall organization, and your production will therefore increase as a result of it,” says Lay. “We don’t really see them as competing. We see it as the fabric of what we do — embed strong EH&S principles into your approach of everything that you do every day.”

Shorthouse has seen firsthand that safety can actually improve productivity.

“Ninety-five per cent of the time, productivity has improved in the [companies] I’ve been involved with, and five per cent [it] has stayed the same. So never once have I seen it where we’ve actually slowed the production down,” says Shorthouse.  

“Safety just needs to be an integral part of our process, just like quality and everything else,” he adds.

Having a successful health and safety program is not without its challenges. For PepsiCo Canada, the biggest challenge is competing priorities.

“We run a complex business, and our leaders must balance their focus across a number of different areas such as people, quality, service and productivity,” says Coldwell. “This is why we focus on safety being a core value versus a priority. We want to instill in all our managers that safety is not prioritized, because priorities change. Instead, it needs to be with us no matter what we do, so that we do it safely.”

For Molson Coors’ Lay, the biggest challenge is shortcuts and complacency.

“If you’re rushing or you’re fatigued, you might take shortcuts. Or if you’ve been doing the same role for a long time you become complacent, you don’t see the hazards. So part of our ‘Safety the Molson Coors Way’ program is to understand exactly what are the assumptions and the norms behind the behaviours, and what are our people thinking, and how do we counteract and understand that.”

What tips do they have for other manufacturers who are trying to improve safety within their organization?

“Invest in safety leadership training for senior leaders to highlight the employer’s legal expectations and obligations, but also the importance of leadership when it comes to safety,” says Coldwell. “Many serious accidents that occur can be attributed to a leadership decision that was made at some point.”

It is also important to “ensure your organizational structure is designed to support a world-class health and safety culture through adequate staffing of health and safety leadership,” Coldwell adds.

“Safety needs to be owned by all employees,” says Farley. “Demonstrate leadership commitment, build the capability of your employees…prioritize your risks and implement the controls, and measure both leading and lagging metrics.”

“Involve your employees,” says Lay. “They are probably aware of what will work and what won’t work. Talk to them, engage them and involve them. They’ve been running that machine for 10, 20, 30 years. They’ve seen it before and they know what will work and what won’t work.”

“It’s not going to happen over night,” says Shorthouse. “Safety culture doesn’t change over night.”

But when a company has a safety program that engages employees, and has committed leadership that manages and measures risks regularly, everybody wins. Because ultimately, says Shorthouse, everyone wants the same thing.

“Safety is something that everybody wants at the end of the day, whether it’s at work or at home.”

 

SIDE BAR: Food for thought

When Scott Ellinor began his career as an industrial mechanic back in the seventies, workplace safety was not what it is today.

“If a guard bothered us, well it disappeared. If we thought it didn’t fit, we cut it to fit,” recalls the retired health and safety manager.

But the rules on guarding have drastically changed since then, and so has the manufacturing industry.

Before his retirement earlier this year, Ellinor was a health and safety manager at a large food manufacturer in Ontario. For the last 11 years of his career, he was responsible for setting the health and safety direction and goals in the plant.

The key to plant floor safety these days, he says, is worker involvement.

“We always got workers involved in any changes we were making, so when we upgraded some of our older equipment…we got them heavily involved because we needed to know how they interacted with the equipment so that we didn’t guard it to the point where they couldn’t do their job,” he says.

Ellinor also worked diligently with the company’s engineering department.

“I had the engineers trained in ergonomic design so that they could engineer hazards out of the machines where possible. I had worker representatives trained in risk assessments and involved in all new machinery installations before the machine was purchased.”

And, he adds, he worked with the engineering manager to purchase CSA guidelines for guarding and worked with the engineering department to put that level of guarding into the spec sheets for purchasing new equipment.

His key to success was communication.

“Many safety professionals and senior managers get confused with what is happening on the plant floor. I made it my responsibility to be on the plant floor in every department every day I was at work and occasionally going into the plant on weekends. My work hours were from 6 am to 6 pm every day. This meant I was on the shop floor on every shift,” Ellinor explains. “The worker on the floor believes and will follow a manager who is there when they are and answers their questions as best as he can…If the worker knows that he can go to the supervisor with a concern and it will be looked at, the workers are happier as a group, and happier workers are more productive.”

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

 

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