How good safety practices foster good product quality.
By Alex Morales
Time and time again we hear about how a corporate safety culture contributes to the financial success of a precast business. By now, you already know that fewer accidents mean fewer days away from work, higher employee productivity and lower insurance premiums. But is there also a correlation between safe working environments and product quality? Yes, say NPCA Safety, Health & Environ-mental Committee members. Safety has a huge impact on product quality, and safety professionals are hoping that this will further motivate precasters to bring safety to the forefront every day.
But you can’t just post a sign about workplace safety and expect quality to increase. The major component of a safety program that impacts product quality is attitude. Employees who work in an environment that values safety consciousness pay particular attention to detail when approaching their work. They are aware of their workspace and others around them and take into consideration their own safety and that of others.
This attention to detail spills over into their workmanship and the end result is a quality precast concrete product – every time. Safety and quality cultures go together.
“Organizations that are efficient and profitable typically are not just production-oriented companies,” says Steve Wolszczenski, director of safety and human resources at Terre Hill Concrete Products Inc., Terre Hill, Pa. “They place equal emphasis on all major business components such as safety, quality and production practices.”
Greg Daugherty, southeast region safety and health manager for Hanson Pipe & Products Inc., Green Cove Springs, Fla., agrees. “Safe production areas allow employees to concentrate on the quality of the project,” says Daugherty. “Safe equipment is well-maintained equipment. Well-maintained equipment produces better-quality products,” he says.
“It’s all about culture. Safety and quality do go hand-in-hand,” says Steve Kingsland, plant manager at Chase Precast (Division of Oldcastle), North Brookfield, Mass. “Housekeeping, as another example, is an important component of any safety program. If your housekeeping is lousy, you have a culture of letting things slide,” he says. “Your forms are probably not in good shape. The little things like product finish are not what they could be. It all ties together.”
This is an important concept since the production of precast concrete products is a multistep process. Raw material delivery and storage, batching and mixing, placement and consolidation, curing and finishing, and product stripping and handling are just some of the steps. There are many “little things” that could potentially go wrong in an environment where personnel aren’t paying close attention to detail. Consequently, everyone must be on board. If one laborer using a vibrator uses the stinger to move concrete laterally or fails to allow the stinger to penetrate into the previously poured layer, it doesn’t much matter that everyone else at your plant is detail-oriented. Quality issues (honeycombing, sand streaking, water leakage, etc.) will eventually arise.
And so it is with safety. One accident or injury will impact your incidence rate, overall employee morale and undoubtedly your insurance rates. The success of a safety program hinges on complete buy-in from all employees. Likewise, an effective focus on product quality is unattainable without 100 percent commitment from 100 percent of your employees.
The dip in morale that is typical following a safety-related incident can impact the safety and quality commitment of the remainder of the workforce. Joan Shirikian, northeast regional safety manager for Oldcastle Precast Inc., South Bethlehem, N.Y., confirms that attaining 100 percent commitment is especially difficult after an accident. “Injuries are costly on every level,” says Shirikian. “Aside from the direct and indirect costs to the injured employee, there will be a slowdown in production. When a co-worker is injured, those who are still working tend to lose concentration affecting their own safety, the safety of those around them, the production process and, in the end, the product quality.” Obviously, a consistent focus on safety can prevent dips in quality that stem from a negative post-accident atmosphere.
Changing a culture or value system is not always easy. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things to change in business. But it’s not impossible, according to Joe Glowaski, director of operations development at Atlantic Precast Concrete Inc., Tullytown, Pa. “In order to tie safety and quality into production, standard work processes must be developed that include safety procedures and quality measures at every step of the process,” he says. “It must appear and be designed so that there is no other way to do a job other than having these components completed throughout the production process.” This requires some investment of capital, according to Glowaski, but can easily pay for itself over time in reduced insurance premiums, higher productivity and improved product quality.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for creating this cultural shift in an organization. As Glowaski points out, “This is a living project. You integrate what you can in the first go-around and keep on improving it as your knowledge increases and people become better at execution.”
He does, however, acknowledge that the best place to start is at the top – with ownership and senior management. “They must honestly ask themselves, ‘What type of company do I want to have?’ and seriously mean it,” says Glowaski. “Once a firm direction is established and the corporate culture supports it, integration of safety and quality can begin. The goal should be that there is no other way to perform a job or manufacture a product in any other way than by using the procedure that will produce a high-quality product, produce no injuries and be profitable.”
Safety is simply not an entity that can be held in isolation from other work processes. It needs to be an integrated component of the workplace; it needs to be valued. It is not enough to say that safety is a priority – because priorities change as needs change. Company values are constant and, consequently, safety must become a company value. It is as important to product quality as it is to the bottom line.