Urge workers to spot, report hidden hazards

'Who's counting on you?'

Often, safety hazards are "hiding in plain sight" in workplaces and not reported, acted on or corrected. One reason is that employees are inundated on a daily basis with all kinds of information, both at work and at home.

"We are trying to carve out a little bit of bandwidth in every person for safety," says Gregg Clark, director of global occupational safety and hygiene for Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark Corporation.

The organization's "Who's counting on you?" campaign accomplishes this by reminding workers that somebody at home, or an activity they enjoy, is a reason for them to return home safely.

"When you're walking to the break room from your work station and you identify a hazard that has the potential for a fatal or catastrophic loss and correct it, you have potentially saved a life," he says. "This is the answer to the question, 'Why should I take time out of my day?'"

If a stressed, overworked employee does not have an answer to that question, he may take the attitude that it's not worth taking a few minutes to report a concern.

"Offering workers incentives for reporting hazards — such as a gift card — sort of belittles what we are trying to do," says Clark. "We believe that safety is a core value and one can't place a monetary value on that."

In a recent quarter, one of Kimberly-Clark's businesses reported more than 150 sentinel events, which are potentially loss events, near misses or substandard conditions with the potential for a fatal or catastrophic loss.

"That means that somebody is seeing the good in taking the time to report these," says Clark.

Workers may tell themselves, "It's been there forever and nobody's ever died, so why should I report it?" or may not even realize the specific types of hazards that can kill them.

For example, a worker may look at a large pallet loaded with material going up a conveyor near a fixed object such as a beam every day, yet never realize that the pallet could potentially pin a worker against the pole.

"Those are the kinds of things that people may look right over," he says. "The thing about fatalities is that they are rare events — infrequent but devastating if they occur, so people tend to say, 'That could never happen.' It's true that the probability is pretty low, but it only has to happen once."

Kimberly Clark's employees are getting used to the fact that a high number of reported hazards is actually a good thing. "It's a different mindset," Clark says. "When we first introduced this, senior leaders said, 'Don't we want fewer hazards? Don't we want the number to go down?'"

The number of reports will go way up initially, but will eventually go down as the identified hazards are corrected. Thus, instead of rewarding businesses with the fewest reported hazards, the company is considering finding a way to reward the one with the most reports.

"Yes, it is kind of displaying your dirty laundry. But would you rather not do it and have somebody die?" he asks.

Putting it into practice

Do you want to send a very strong message that employees' input on safety is valued? Do so by getting the word out any way you can, with newsletters, posters, web sites, advises Sean Revels, an occupational health professional at RoyOMartin, an Alexandria, LA-based lumber company. Here are some good approaches:

1. Simply ask workers for ideas.

"Create a forum or program where ideas can be shared," he says. "Designate a time frame to solicit ideas before or after safety meetings."

2. Offer recognition, possibly including monetary incentives.

If an employee's idea is implemented, consider giving a monetary incentive based on a metric or scale that is internally developed by the company. "These should be based on an appropriate scale, proportionate to the benefits that would be gained," Revels says.

Even if a suggestion isn't implemented, employees should be recognized in some way for making an effort. "A simple thank you, or an article in the employee newsletter, could encourage other employees to be engaged in the process," he says.

3. Tell the workplace about success stories.

"We've had Safety Week for the umpteenth year, like all companies do. But this year, for the first time, we have a communication plan," Clark says. A marketing professional is helping to get the message out about the "Who's Counting on You?" campaign and the fatality elimination strategy, with banners hung picturing stamp-sized photos of more than 1000 family members of employees.

Dozens of employees have offered their own safety success stories, some of which will be used in future articles in company publications. Each year, two facilities are featured in the company's safety video, to demonstrate successful approaches in reducing hazards such as combustible dust.

4. Show the workforce that you will take action.

At RoyOMartin, a screen was installed along an area where flying debris often landed after a worker suggested this, and another employee suggested that a conveyor be lowered to reduce the reach distance for shorter employees. "The solution resulted in a happy medium for shorter and taller employees that worked at that conveyor," says Revels.


For more information on getting safety feedback from employees, contact:

Gregg Clark, Director, Global Occupational Safety and Hygiene, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Dallas, TX. E-mail: Gregg.L.Clark@kcc.com.

Sean Revels, RoyOMartin, Alexandria, LA. E-mail: Sean.Revels@royomartin.com.