Sometimes people automatically reject the idea of new safety strategies because they view such strategies as criticism of current processes or as unnecessary additions to already successful systems. That was somewhat the case at Vinings Industries, a plant that produces specialty chemicals for the bulk paper, computer, and agricultural industries. Vinings, located on the Columbia River about 15 miles from Portland, Oregon, has more than doubled its number of employees over the past three years. The plant's four distinct divisions operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The facility has enjoyed an admirably low incident rate, so last year when company management introduced the idea of behavior-based safety (BBS), the reaction of some employees was, "What for?"Behavior-based safety isn't designed as an overhaul of current safety programs. In fact, workplaces aren't ready for BBS technology until their current program first satisfies specific criteria for environmental and operational safety. Behavior-based safety, done in the right way, integrates with an ongoing system and adds that last precision element that many safety processes may neglect-the human performance link to safe results. "We got a mixed reaction initially when we introduced BBS but since we've gotten into the process, some of the people who had the strongest reaction ended up being key people in making the process work," said Mike Amodeo, HS&E specialist. "They now have a great deal of pride in wanting to make the program work and feel it reflects upon them personally." Vinings' plant safety program already included regular meetings, on-the-spot recognition for safety, a quarterly Vinings Cup team safety award, and short- and long-term rewards and recognition for both individuals and teams. "Behavior-based safety fits in with our overall safety program," said Amodeo. "We've folded it into how we conduct our safety program day in and day out."Another ongoing initiative already in place at Vinings prior to BBS was the encouragement, even recognition, for reporting near-miss accidents. This initiative eventually played a part in persuading the facility's management to try BBS.
The Near-Miss Factor'
Everything we do, positively reinforces the safety and health effort. We don't have any kind of recognition at all that's tied to accidents and injuries. That way we can make sure people report the near-miss accidents. Then we can correct problems without anyone fearing a penalty," Amodeo explained.At Vinings, near misses are reported on a regular accident form in the same manner as if an injury had occurred. Employees are strongly encouraged to report such incidents to promote a safer workplace, so Amodeo knew when the number of reported near misses dropped, it had nothing to do with intimidation or fear. "We want people to report near-miss accidents because we know we are having them and we track them on a monthly basis," he said. "We have found that the number of near-miss accident reports has dropped by 50 percent since implementing behavior-based safety. Since we started BBS people are focusing on particular behaviors that they want to develop to habit strength. The near-miss accidents associated with those work activities have probably dropped off because people are focusing on doing those activities correctly and they're not having near misses associated with doing them incorrectly."
Within less than a year the plant wide safety effort has resulted in 101 safe behaviors brought to habit strength, or what the Vinings group calls mastery level. Mastery level is achieved when a work group completes 4-5 consecutive weeks at the set goal for performing a behavior. Every employee at the plant performs daily work group observations for a set of safe behaviors by simply marking a yes or no on a scorecard. The goal of 100 percent is set for any behavior that if performed incorrectly only once - such as improper lifting - could cause injury or accident. Other behaviors, such as health habits and certain ergonomics may be given a lesser goal, usually no lower than 95 percent for the same 4-5 week period before being declared as mastered. A unique feature to the process at Vinings is an interactive master pinpoint list accessible on the organization's shared computer drive. For each of 10 teams, the list includes a column for entering information about safety behaviors and when the group masters the behaviors. "The master listing allows us to track each group's progress on the behaviors they are developing, and it also helps us to help other groups develop the same behavior strengths," Amodeo explained.Vinings is now in the process of revisiting some of the first safe behaviors pinpointed to determine if they have remained at mastery level. "We did start out with relatively easy pinpoints to get everybody into the process," stated Amodeo. "After they developed those behavior strengths they moved on to more specific production related issues that dealt with their day-to-day work environment."
Office Space Can Pose Hazards
The daily environment for the administrative team may appear calm on the surface, but the group has found many ways to improve safety and long-term health in an office setting. Linda Crooks, receptionist and safety coordinator for the administrative team, makes "the best graphs in the whole plant," according to Amodeo. Crooks also designed a budget report for the behavioral safety process that includes the targeted behaviors, when milestones and goals are reached, when a celebration is held, how much it costs and a running total of the team's safety budget. Amodeo likes the spreadsheet so much that he has suggested its use throughout the plant. The administrative team primarily celebrates in the office with one of their favorite rewards-edible goodies, such as root beer floats and Dairy Queen sundaes. Crooks also sends out regular e-mails and e-cards to her teammates to keep them informed about their progress in mastering their safe behaviors and to congratulate them on goals achieved. Each team's budget is based on how many pinpoints the team is working on and how many people are in the group. Crooks and the team applaud management for their continuing support, but at first she admits they perceived management as coming on a bit strong with recognition efforts. "They eased up a bit and now we feel it's sincere and we appreciate that more," she said.She also uses the Internet whenever she gets a spare moment to find safety tips to share with the group. Crooks and her team have targeted pinpoints that range from exercising to sanitizing. The administrative team has worked on areas such as specific postural pinpoints for back and neck health, relaxation exercises that can be done at one's desk, safe lifting procedures, regularly cleaning the telephone receivers to prevent spread of colds and other bugs and the 20/20/20 rule. (The 20/20/20 rule for preventing eye fatigue is that after working on a computer task for 20 minutes, one should take 20 seconds to focus on something 20 feet away.) One of the more difficult behaviors for the group to master was closing drawers immediately after use as collision prevention. "Bless our hearts, our supervisor was in our group at the time and he had a little trouble. It was 26 weeks before we achieved goal on that one!" said Crooks. As Crooks tells the story, the group was in its final week of mastering the close-the-drawers goal when her supervisor walked in and sheepishly confessed he had just left his drawer open, meaning the group had to start over again for that behavior. "I have to give him credit," said Crooks. "He could have just passed it off. We felt like socking him, but he was honest and you have to be honest for this process to work."
Honesty is exactly the approach used by Ernie Johnson, maintenance lead man, a self-described old schooler who admits he was a bit on the hard-sell side when he first heard about behavior-based safety. "I say you go out and do a good job and you get no complaints," Johnson said. He and the rest of the maintenance team may have the most difficult job for staying safe since they work in every single area and aspect of the plant. "Maintenance sees it all," he said. "We're a group that works under safe conditions because we would be in a world of trouble if we didn't. We can't afford to make mistakes here." Because of the nature of his job and that of the rest of the maintenance crew, Johnson had no patience with any process that might trivialize safety. One of his first thoughts concerning the recognition portion of behavior-based safety was, "I'm not into fixing cupcakes and I don't think we're going to find a bunch of guys who are." Yet, he gradually came around to the behavior-based approach when he realized that over the years people develop habits of which they themselves are not aware. "I've been working out of my toolbox for 40 years and if I wanted to leave a drawer open, I left it open. Well, you can't do that now, because especially if the guys catch me doing that, they'll whip out those observation cards," he said with a laugh. Johnson adds that the maintenance crew has mastered safe behaviors such as proper use of grinding equipment, wearing forklift safety belts, wearing hearing protection, and proper forklift operation through positive means. "In our first meeting we dispelled any perception that people could get in trouble for behavior observations. Then the next thing we tried to instill was, 'Let's be as honest as we can with one another,'" he said.Recently the maintenance staff won the plant's quarterly Vinings Cup safety award. "They worked so hard in implementing new procedures in the area of personal safety that I can think of no group that was more deserving," stated Amodeo.One of Johnson's initial concerns with the process was that it might clash with the good aspects of the already in-place safety system and that performing observations and collecting data would be overly time consuming. "It doesn't take a lot of time if you do it the way we do it," he said. The adaptability of the BBS approach is, according to both Johnson and Amodeo an important factor in its success at Vinings. "What works for one person in one environment may not work for somebody else," Amodeo stated. "We've embraced change through all areas of our safety and health program so modifying behavior-based safety to fit in as an integral part of our total program is the key to it surviving versus trying to use it as a stand alone process." Johnson agrees. "Actually this clarified our existing safety program," he said. "We took the good portions of our regular safety system and combined them into a good process. BBS has really enhanced our program and I'm proud to say that. I'd recommend it and I was the biggest skeptic when it came in." Today Johnson still believes that people should be expected to go out and do a good job but he has modified his approach. He explained: "I say, 'Okay this is the idea behind it: Let's do a good job and then we'll celebrate.'"
More News: Celebrating Success at Vinings Industries
Each work team at Vinings Industries decides how to reward team members and celebrate safe behavior mastery. Some prefer the traditional get-together-and-eat approach and others have come up with very creative occasions. One group enjoyed dinner courtesy of the company, then enjoyed the rest of the evening together at a casino. Another work group asked each member to bring a candy bar in a sack to work and then made a game of trading the sacks until each person received the candy bar he or she wanted. One team wrote the names of prizes on small pieces of paper. All the prizes were associated with camping, a shared group interest. They placed the pieces of paper in Easter Eggs and had a hunt, which added to the fun of receiving small items such as can openers and mosquito coils. Another team added a bit of behavior management to their celebration. Each team member received a clay pot in which various types of plant seeds had been planted. They had to water their plants regularly-stated as giving the plants necessary positive reinforcement-in order to find out what kind of plant they had received.
Published April 2, 2002