Encouraging employee engagement.
By Mindi Zissman
Despite modern technology and systems knowledge, more than 10% of concrete manufacturing workers still experience a job-related illness or injury annually.1 This is most often caused by human error, including equipment misuse or improper form. Maintaining safety is the highest priority for any job, including those in the precast concrete industry, and it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Experts say getting employees involved in prevention is key to creating a culture of safety across the precast concrete plant. According to Cal Larson, CSP, SPHR, vice president of environmental, health and safety for Oldcastle Precast in Chandler, Ariz., Oldcastle plants in Newnan, Ga., and Concord, N.C., recipients of the first National Precast Concrete Association 2017 Safety Hall of Fame award for no recordable accidents in five years, are creating a culture of safety when managers give employees ownership of the safety parts of their job.
This means allowing employees to create safety procedures they know work, partner with others who do their job to watch over each other, assume responsibility for the cleanliness of their area, report their near misses and more.
“We need to look at safety as a core business value, not as a priority, because priorities change and can fall by the wayside,” said Michael Cunningham, environmental, health and safety compliance manager for Oldcastle Precast. “Safety is a part of our business. From purchasing equipment to creating standard operating procedures for a specific task, safety needs to be incorporated into it all.”
Tip #1: Write Visible Operable Procedures
The first step in giving employees ownership of their safety is to have them write Visible Operable Procedures for their job. At each plant, gather employees that do the same job and have them work together to write a single job description, detailing the optimal safety procedures and parameters of each expected task. These VOPs should serve as official job descriptions for defining each position and training new employees.
Tip #2: Engage in behavior-based safety observations
Behavior-Based Safety Observations look to identify the positive things each employee is doing right and ensures they’re reliable and repeatable. Again, this is accomplished through active employee engagement. Each day, employees observe the way their peers do the same job. When employees engage in safe behaviors on the job, they are encouraged. When performing their work in an at-risk way, employees conducting BBSOs coach the others to do it the correct, low-risk way. Conducted by peers – not managers – the goal of the BBSO is to open the relationship between employees to have real-time conversations about safety on the job.
Although BBSO isn’t a new concept, Larson said many precast plants aren’t using it. Oldcastle Precast relies on it heavily to identify safe behaviors and encourage them.
“We use the BBSOs to go out and reinforce the behaviors we want employees to replicate day after day, to have employees looking to help each other,” said Larson. “You’re not hearing it from someone who has never done your job; you’re hearing it from someone who does the job just like you.”
According to Larson, 90% of Oldcastle’s 72 U.S. plants are doing BBSO safety observations via tablet on the plant’s floor. This data is then observed, tracked and trended on a company-wide dashboard for all employees to see. Between June 2016 and June 2017, Oldcastle plants completed 19,000 BBSOs.
Tip #3: Maintain a 5S Environment
Keeping any workplace clean and organized will keep it safer. This is never truer than at a precast concrete plant. The 5S methodology is a Japanese workplace organizational method, translated into English as: sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.
Setting up a workplace to be efficient, easy to understand and maneuver around includes:
- Sorting things that aren’t needed in the daily process such as removing items used only monthly.
- Set in Order, or keep each area organized by what’s needed when.
- Shine or scrub paint and keep the area looking like a place employees want to return to daily.
- Standardize means creating a standard flow of doing things in the space that everyone agrees to and abides by consistently.
- Sustained means having employees commit to maintaining the area in these ways daily.
For example, take the 5S functions in a precast plant.
Sort – Each team member will work together to make a list of the tools they use, how often they use them and what they’re used for. If the tool doesn’t have a regular purpose, it’s removed from the area.
Set in Order – The items needed for the area are organized and in good shape.
Shine – The area is cleaned and painted. Employees are assigned to keeping it this way.
Standardize –If there’s a tool used in a particular location, the team ensures it is stored at the point of use. Each gun is labeled. Every morning and night, the team ensures the area looks the same.
Sustain – A 5S owner is established for the area. At the beginning, throughout the day and at the end of the shift, the 5S owner ensures everything is in its proper place.
Tip #4: Activate a near miss reporting network
Research has shown that serious accidents or loss incidents are often preceded by warnings, or near miss incidents where an injury, damage or loss was very near. Recognizing and reporting these events can significantly improve workplace safety. Precast concrete plants can engage in near miss reporting by creating call-in, in-person or online network reporting policies and procedures.
The reporting network should be non-punitive, have the potential to be anonymous and reported events should be investigated to identify root cause and system or equipment weaknesses. But don’t stop there. Next, analyze these events to determine what could have been prevented. Follow through and create new safety rules or systems and hazard control to reduce the same risk down the road. Most importantly, publicize the success of the changes implemented as a direct result of the near miss reporting with all employees. This will reinforce the process and employees will see firsthand that their near miss was taken seriously.
Tip #5: Hold daily huddle meetings
Each shift or team should start and end its day with a huddle. If there are five different departments in a plant, there should be five different huddles. If there are three shifts over a day, there will be three shifts of five huddles.
The purpose of a morning huddle is to see that everyone is set for work, discuss non-routine jobs that might have increased elements of risk, any new forms, jobs or new pieces of equipment. Should an employee come to work under the weather or injured, the supervisor will know they need to make accommodations. Discussing safety in each morning huddle can get everyone engaged in preventing risk from the start. The morning huddle could last as few as 10 minutes or as long as an hour, depending on the situation.
At the end of the day, the afternoon huddle can serve as a time to wrap up, discuss who is staying late to finish up a job, determine if anyone was injured and if the team accomplished its goals.
One day at a time
Creating a culture of safety won’t happen overnight, but is possible through strategic planning that includes writing VOPs, conducting BBSOs, maintaining a 5S environment, instituting a near miss reporting network and holding huddles twice daily.
While these initiatives are sure to cost time and money, keep in mind the ultimate goal is ensuring safety on the job for current and future employees as well as achieving the greater goal of minimizing risk company-wide.
“If you’re just looking to be in compliance with OSHA, state or local regulations, you’re missing the boat,” Cunningham said. “Try to implement a continuous process of improvement based on risks and hazards your employees are dealing with on a regular basis. OSHA might say we’re required to implement fall procedures at 4 feet, but can our employees still get hurt if they’re working on a platform that’s 3 feet, 11 inches?
“The answer is yes. We have to put controls in place so they can still perform their job in a safe manner.”
Mindi Zissman is a Chicago, Ill.-based freelance writer who has covered the AEC industry, commercial liability and health care for more than 15 years.
1 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), https://www.osha.gov/Publications/concrete_manufacturing.html