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Target zero

July 1, 2010

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Is achieving the ultimate injury goal possible?

By Ashley Johnson, associate editor

Like many organizations, Norwalk, CT-based Arch Chemicals used to set safety goals of no more than “X” injuries. But then customers began to question that goal, essentially asking: “Why are you willing to tolerate hurting your employees?” said Dan Bennewitz, Arch Chemicals’ corporate director of environmental, health and safety. “Because if you have a target other than zero, then you are willing to accept some level and say that was satisfactory.” The biocides company changed its approach in 1998 with an initiative called “Goal is Zero.” The program sets an ambitious objective: zero employee and contractor injuries, zero manufacturing process incidents, zero distribution incidents and zero environmental incidents.

Admirable, but is it achievable? Some safety professionals say no – incidents are bound to happen. However, many employers have developed programs around zero injuries. For them, the question is not “can we reach zero?” but rather, “how do we get employees to believe in the goal?”

Delivering the message

As a member of the Arlington, VA-based American Chemistry Council, Arch Chemical is required to demonstrate continuous improvement of its environmental, health and safety performance under the Responsible Care program. “Goal is Zero” is a tool to help the company achieve that. Worker response varies, Bennewitz said. While some of the organization’s approximately 3,000 employees have embraced the goal, others are skeptical that zero is possible.

Arch’s strategy consists of celebrating successes, enforcing safety rules and demonstrating that management believes in the goal. Bennewitz said constant reinforcement is necessary. “The message is that there is no acceptable level of hurting our people, our employees,” he said. “It’s not about the numbers. The numbers are necessary to track your progress, but it’s about the people.” Arch has yet to hit zero, but Bennewitz pointed to declining injury rates as a sign of improvement. The company has gone from a frequency rate of around 3 injuries for every 100 employees per year in 1999 to 0.97 last year. Arch also has individual facilities that have gone years without a recordable injury, he said.

Bennewitz believes the key to rebounding from an injury is considering it a lesson and shifting focus to the next day – not next year. Carl Potter, a safety consultant in Tulsa, OK, agreed. He said employers tend to think annually because that is how OSHA measures injuries, but zero should be a daily target. Potter promotes a five-point strategy for success, adapted from OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs process: management commitment, employee involvement, job hazard analysis, hazard recognition and control, and training. Potter said the chief argument he hears against targeting zero is that it is not attainable. “It is a learned behavior for [employees] to believe that it can be done,” he said.

An issue of underreporting?

Some people argue that focusing on zero will deter employees from reporting injuries. That is not the case at Pactiv Corp. in Lake Forest, IL, according to Jim McHenry, the company’s director of health and safety. Pactiv, a manufacturer of Hefty brand products, employs roughly 10,000 workers.

Through its “Team Zero” program, Pactiv rewards employees for every month their facility goes injury-free. To qualify, employees also have to participate in a safety activity that month, such as training or safety observation, McHenry said, adding that employees understand they are required to report injuries and accountability is in place to prevent hiding incidents. Although zero is the desired outcome, Pactiv also encourages continuous improvement by setting specific targets for management performance at each plant. “It’s very difficult to achieve zero just like that,” McHenry said. “We strive to improve our safety year after year to achieve our ultimate goal of zero.”

Even when zero is part of the corporate message, success comes down to the individual. “The challenge is getting all of our people mentally embracing the idea and making a conscious decision to come to work and put on their personal protective equipment, take the time to do the job safely, avoid rushing, and avoid taking shortcuts,” McHenry said. He said supervisors set the tone. In fact, his e-mail tagline reads: “People behave in a manner they feel is acceptable to their supervisor.”

Potter advocates approaching zero on the team level so the goal becomes personal. Then employees will begin developing creative solutions to safety problems, he said. As an example, Potter shared the story of a plant manager who approached a welder because he was chipping with his hood flipped up. The manager, a former welder himself, had once hurt his eye chipping with his hood up when an item slipped under his safety goggles. The welder explained he did not have enough light to see, but the manager told him to find a better way. Soon the welder came up with a solution: He mounted an LED light to the hood to improve visibility. Management recognized the worker’s ingenuity in a companywide bulletin.

“When people start focusing on it and say, ‘How can we do better?’ then the innovation process also gets in place,” Potter said. “The employees get involved because management’s giving them the time to do this and showing them the importance of hitting that goal.”

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