Despite all the hype, there really is not much that has changed in safety management over the last 50 to 75 years. What is welcome news is, despite the fact safety management, like history, keeps repeating itself, it is getting better each time around. It is more about an evolution than a revolution.
Most of the progress in safety management has focused on study after study that document what the safest companies are doing to achieve their excellent safety performance. However, they have failed to clearly identify, through direct cause and effect relationships, exactly which specific safety initiatives or best practices are the most effective, and what makes them so efficient. Consequently, the ability of poorly performing companies to apply these safety best practice benchmarks and improve safety performance is still limited to trial and error. Doubts are increasing regarding the ability of regulatory compliance and comprehensive safety management systems being able to generate more than minimal improvement in incident reduction. In the last five to 10 years, the studies and safety professional opinions seem to be favouring a shift to employee-driven safety management and empowerment.
The first step
Over a four-day visit in late October 2003, a review of mill safety management systems was conducted at the Celgar Pulp Company in Castlegar, B. C. One full day of the visit was spent offsite at a local hotel meeting room in a Safety Improvement Workshop with about a dozen members of senior management. The workshop was designed to review the current mill safety program and performance in order to determine why workplace accident/illness reduction had stalled at the mill for the last three or four years, and provide new strategies for improving safety performance. The final morning was spent with management reviewing the week's activity, the results of the workshop, and the management decisions taken with regard to the required course of action to achieve the desired safety improvements.
The workshop essentially determined that future mill overall safety performance outcomes would be measured using what is called Total Recordable Incident Rates (TRIR). TRIR is composed of the sum of the following accident/illness categories: fatalities, lost time cases, restricted work cases, and medical aid cases. The sum is then multiplied by the total number of hours worked for the year, and divided by 200,000 hours to give the equivalent of the number of recordable cases per 100 employees per year. The objective was to be between 1 and 5 within the next five years. This goal, however, would only be determined over the following few weeks after a mill-wide review to establish what could be achieved.
A clear strategy was required to realize the goals. The review indicated the bulk of the considerable success achieved over the 10 years prior to 2004 was due to a focus on the higher severity risks and at-risk mitigation activities. This activity is still considered vital.
An examination of the types of injuries and first aid cases (soft tissue injuries, backs, muscle strains, etc.) then occurring at the mill suggested much of the injury-causing exposures were due to inadequate and unacceptable work methods and operating procedures that provoked overexertion and exposure to at-risk situations. Reducing these types of accidents required focus on how the employees perform their tasks. It called for better hazard recognition and control by employees themselves, with strong support by all line management. Up to this point, there had been no major discussions about the World Class Safety concept; only the possible target of 1 (or less) for a Total Recordable Incident Rate (or frequency).
From January to April 2004, the Celgar Mill took the first steps in the safety improvement process by focusing on goal setting action plan development at all levels, including performance measurement and accountability. Managers and supervisors used checklists to follow up on safety activities. Safety Superintendent Dean Gaudry said the next step was to focus more on pre-task planning and safety reviews for machine operators and maintenance workers.
A major turning point
May 2004 was an important milestone in Celgar's pursuit of safety excellence. A team from the mill attended a Joint Safety Conference hosted by Catalyst Papers Crofton (B. C.) Division. The Celgar team was composed of union members and management. The conference was unique in that it included workshops on World Class Safety, facilitated by Bert Painter, an independent consulting social scientist who was quite familiar with the safety management thinking of consultant J. M. Stewart, author of Managing for World Class Safety. Conference attendees reviewed the World Class Safety opportunities with the Crofton employees. The Celgar team was very impressed by what they saw and heard.
At the Celgar Joint Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) meeting in June 2004, the Crofton conference highlights and the opportunities World Class Safety could offer Celgar employees were assessed. The review was so favourable that an initial steering committee composed of union employees and management contacted Painter, who was brought on to hold two one-day off-site workshops at Castlegar in July and August 2004. Forty Celgar employees consisting of the OHS union executive, union membership and Celgar management attended the workshops, and all endorsed the World Class Safety concept.
The World Class Safety management concept
With J. M. Stewart's Eight Factor Model for Managing Safety as the foundation, Painter presented a process for stepchange improvement in safety. This procedure involves surveying and assessing the existing culture and practice of safety and getting employees and managers involved in creating vision, values and specific improvement initiatives.
Painter felt certain factors in the model for managing outstanding safety were soft at Celgar. Specifically, they needed a more safety-aware, trained and committed workforce. This, in turn, needed improvement in line ownership of safety, and involvement in safety activities and training.
Painter explained that to ultimately achieve World Class Safety, the mill should implement a process for stepchange improvement in safety at the Zellstoff-Celgar mill by surveying and assessing the existing culture and practice of safety with total involvement from employees, unions and managers. The goal was for them to create their own safety vision for the mill, list their own specific safety values, and finally identify, define and implement those specific initiatives necessary to improve the mill's safety performance. This strategy was designed to promote total employee participation and reinforce ownership of safety from day one.
A safety survey was then developed by union and management personnel and distributed to the employees who completed it by mid-October 2004. The survey was specifically designed to assess how people at all levels of the organization perceived safety at the Celgar Mill. With the support and approval of the Joint OHS Committee, the survey results were used to develop a process to achieve World Class Safety at Celgar.
From November 2004 to February 2005, multiple workshops were held with all employees away from the work site to put the whole initiative together.
The framework was then presented to 385 Celgar employees during eight one-day workshops held in January and February 2005.
Participation and input from all employees was considered critical in making this process a success.
The employees then accepted five values be adopted as the foundation for achieving World Class Safety standards:
• Safety has overriding priority
• Safety excellence leads to business success
• All injuries can be prevented
• Safety is "my responsibility" • Involvement, education, and training are essential
The mill posted about 20 aluminum signs throughout the mill, listing these "Five Safety Values."
The action plan
In February 2005, a special meeting involving all members of the Joint OHS Committee was held to develop a strategy for achieving the new values. Initiatives were then developed, leaders and committee members of each initiative were selected, and a process for reporting on progress was adopted.
One of the key initiatives was communication in order to improve transparency. Incident reports would be circulated immediately throughout the mill before rumours, speculation and erroneous morale-damaging accounts spread.
Employees attending the off-the-job-site workshops unanimously cited training in safety and job skills as their top priority in order to achieve safety excellence, and unions fully agreed. Management made a major commitment to providing comprehensive competency in safety, quality, production and the environment.
Another initiative developed during the special meeting was Safety and Toolbox meetings, a key pre-job, pre-shift, and pre-task planning and risk assessment activity to control hazards. Pre-job planning -an important planning and risk assessment activity, especially for maintenance workers and machine room operators -was another.
Leadership was also an initiative deemed important for attaining a high level of safety. The managers' role should be to achieve high visibility and employee perception of management's commitment to safety. Commitment to safety also emphasized everyone's leadership in safety.
At the off-site workshops, Celgar employees determined their own specific definition of World Class Safety and a TRIR of less than 1 goal. This took place in a free exchange of ideas, views, issues and problems between employees, union executives, staff and management. A change in communications occurred at these workshops whereby all the participants learned how to truly listen to each other on safety for the first time. Dean Gaudry felt this transformation was a quantum leap in mutual co-operation for the entire organization.
Each World Class Safety initiative is now being successfully implemented to improve safety performance at the mill site. In 2003, the TRIR was over 5. The goal for 2007 was a TRIR of less than 2. In fact, the actual result was better than that: although 1.90 is still not a World Class TRIR of less than 1, it's getting close.
While workforce perception surveys indicated a low participation level by the line and staff employees in 2004, Gaudry said there is a silver lining. Although the percentage of workers who said they are involved in safety rose from 37% in 2004 to only 55% in 2007, it does represent an increase of almost 50%. The 'very safe' companies achieved no more than 65%.
Gaudry felt the improvements in activities such as Safety Toolbox meetings, pre-job/ pre-task planning, and incident communications had the most direct impact on improving safety performance. Maintenance, the wood room and the fibre line achieved the greatest improvements in recordable incident rate reduction.
In the workshops, employees stressed competency training -probably one of the most critical items of the World Class initiatives adopted by the Celgar mill - as the foundation necessary to achieve improvement in safety. The company viewed this activity as a major piece in the safety improvement action plan.
Rather than focusing on the old buddy- buddy system, where a fellow employee shows a new employee the ropes via an apprenticeship formula, the program concentrates on the development of skill-based training after a proper needs analysis using multiple in-plant experts to establish the required job function, task descriptions, skills and knowledge requirements, as well as follow-up course evaluation criteria. The employees felt they required a higher quality of training to better understand the operation of the equipment/materials they used, the tasks they had to perform, and how to manage hazards on the job. All this is contained in formal training manuals and employee/ student workbooks providing permanent job training packages for every position.
The core content is to provide the necessary total knowledge and skills required to achieve excellence in four key areas of the job: production, quality, safety and the environment.
In the words of Doug Cargill, the Celgar manager of human resources, this has definitely turned out to be an employee driven adventure. The desired participation of all the stakeholders has been achieved involving all employees, union executives, supervisors, middle managers and senior management. The initiatives showing the highest impact on improving safety performance appear to be those that require and encourage active participation by every single employee, such as defining safety values, performing hazard management activities involving detection and control, work planning and risk assessment, incident investigation, and so on.
Line ownership of safety has been introduced and is improving. A form of self-management of safety has also taken root. This is probably best demonstrated by the activities of the safety teams in each department that are composed of a safety captain and employees who perform various proactive hazard management activities, such as Safety Toolbox sessions, pre-job and pre-task planning, and risk assessment. Such activities address both safety and production needs for all jobs and tasks prior to execution because of better competency based planning. World Class Safety at Zellstoff-Celgar is just around the corner.
John E. Little can be reached at jelittle@ videotron.ca