Oregon OSHA consultants work with companies large and small to assist with safety and health improvement. Below they share some stories of how Oregon companies have overcome obstacles to achieve safety success.
In 2009, I worked with Jasen Winters, safety coordinator at Bend Surgery Center, who had a vision and goal to be the first surgery center to join the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). He knew it would not be easy. At that time, their DART rate was 6.9, compared to the industry average of 1.1. The center, which employs over 90 people, consisted of a number of specialists and nursing staff with a primary goal of ensuring patient safety and wellbeing at a medical facility on the cutting edge. Because their focus was on patient safety, not employee safety, their staff suffered a number of ergonomic injuries and unnecessary needle sticks.
Once Winters received management commitment to pursue SHARP, the company began to work diligently to develop the required programs and procedures to address the most prevalent issues: strains, sprains, and needle sticks. They saw immediate results with the implementation of these policies, and their DART rate dropped to 1.6. Soon after, caseloads at the surgery center picked up. With the increased workloads, work practices slipped back and the center's DART rate crept up to 4.4, above the state and federal average, making the center not eligible for SHARP. The company was granted a year of conditional status.
Frustration set in and after some soul searching, Winters stepped back and joined the safety committee to refocus efforts on employee involvement and a culture shift. They needed to move from patient safety first to patient safety equaling employee safety. The focus of the safety program changed from, "You need to be safe because we say so" to "Please be safe because we want to send you home in at least as good a condition as when you came to work, if not better." The goal was not about achieving some award or hitting a certain number, it was about accountability to the friends and family members of the employees. Instead of the employees making the safe choice because they were told they had to, staff was making the safe choice for themselves. Once they established that foundation, the surgery center's safety and health program and employee involvement has continually increased. Bend Surgery Center has been in SHARP for four years and is on track to graduate the program in 2016.
In 2000, I started working with a food processing company in eastern Oregon that had a fatality. From that day forward, the management stated this would not happen again. The tragedy impacted employees and owners at the firm dramatically. While the company wanted workers to be safe and healthful, most of management's efforts around safety were based on food safety.
The company has a large Hispanic workforce and realized that one of the elements essential to an effective safety and health program was adequate training and communication. Employees helped with translations, training was conducted in Spanish, and Oregon OSHA's training section was also used to help fill in the blanks. These efforts greatly helped the employees understand their role in safety and health.
The company also enhanced its safety committee and insured managers had the knowledge to identify and correct hazards. They created two teams – the safety action and safety awareness team (focus on awareness of safety policies). Generally, employers work for years to be at a level where they can perform their own audit. But this company was determined to be in the SHARP program and was strongly committed to being self-sufficient.
While there were challenges during the process (the firm had two significant injury events), the company and staff always found a way to identify and correct the areas in their safety and health program that needed improvement, even if it meant the dismissal of staff. As the process moved forward, they began to get more involvement from the employees. The employees began to recognize safety and health was their responsibility, too. With the company's graduation from the SHARP program in 2014, they did not stop working to be the best food processing facility in the state. The growth in the management and safety team has been exciting to watch.
The biggest and most lasting culture changes I have seen over the years come when employees take ownership of workplace safety. For that to happen, employers must be able to show enough leadership to allow it. For years, I have maintained that if you get your employees meaningfully and actively involved in safety, they will buy into it. When they buy into it, they commit to it. When they commit to it, they drive it, and when employees drive safety, they own it. Employee ownership of a safety program invariably transforms the workplace culture.
In my nearly two decades of working with SHARP and VPP companies, I have seen numerous employers start out by tentatively allowing employee involvement, then watched as they began to see success as employees take ownership of their workplace safety. Invariably, these employers get to a point where employee involvement is not only expected, it isactually embraced. At this point, it has become management and employees working together to ensure the work gets done the safest way they can do it. That is a safety culture in action.
A lumber remanufacturer was experiencing a rash of injuries for a number of years that seemed to be preventable, but for all the changes company officials made, the numbers stayed the same or got worse. At the time of my initial visit, there were close to 20 serious injures per year, many of those being amputations. The plant manager was really at the point of questioning if any of those serious injures were acceptable. He expressed his reluctance at inviting Oregon OSHA in to his facility, but also knew something drastic needed to happen.
Although there was a corporate safety program, in the company's scramble to try to rein in the injury rate, company officials kept introducing new tactics, kind of the "flavor-of-the-month" approach and hoping something would work.
Upon our initial SHARP evaluation, we could see the core of the company's safety program was there, but with the multitude of safety campaigns or program changes that never really seemed to stand the test of time, the perception of management leadership was waning.
Building off the core of the company's safety program and linking it to a systems approach of their existing quality control and lean efforts, the plant manager committed to stick with the basic program. He assigned a responsible person to ensure consistent follow-through. Within only six months, the change in culture on the plant floor was evident as employees started to believe management did care. The company even instituted a program called "Making Good on Our Promises." This was a method of communicating the status of open quality and safety action plans, injuries, claims, safety procedures, and other plant issues. This helped with accountability and increased the trust between the various hierarchies in the mill. ▉
To request assistance from Oregon OSHA consultation, go to osha.oregon.gov/consult/ or call 800-922-2689 (toll-free).
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