JACKSON, Tenn.—The best safety program in the world is only ammunition, and company leaders need to be the catalyst.
That is the approach GoldKey Processing Inc. takes. It is also what Lori Smith, a human resource manager with the Hexpol A.B.-owned company, imparted in a speech to participants at the Association of Rubber Products Manufacturers Environmental, Health and Safety summit in Jackson, July 25-26.
"Our top priority in our organization is leadership," Smith said. "Without leadership you can't drive safety at all."
GoldKey embraces the John Maxwell leadership program, a series of classes and webinars that help develop leaders. GoldKey Managing Director Jerry Saxion completed one of the program's year-long processes and became a certified coach. He now can teach employees the program.
Saxion also takes a hands-on approach to management. Every employee who begins working for GoldKey is given a hat, but only after coming into Saxion's office for a 30-minute one-on-one talk. That type of interaction helped GoldKey, based in Middlefield, Ohio, become one of the Cleveland Plain Dealer's top 100 workplaces in Northeast Ohio.
"People don't care about how much you know until they know about how much you care," Smith said. "I feel you need to be out on that floor, and you need to talk to the employees. You need to let them know how much you care about their safety. That makes them care about how safe they work."
Follow through on feedback
An employer can't just listen to its staff; it has to take their suggestions seriously, speakers at the conference said. Following through on suggestions allows the company to inspire employees to take charge of their own safety and stay involved with the program, said Joe Stevens, president of Bridge Safety Consultants Inc.
"It can be as little as telling the employee that they investigated it and it didn't have merit or won't be an improvement for this reason," Stevens said. "To hear a suggestion that might be viable and not take action on it actually has a negative effect."
GoldKey follows through on employee concerns. The company holds safety meetings once a month to give its staff a vehicle to make suggestions for improvement. For example, one issue concerned the plant's grinder shields. Because of their close proximity to the grind-er, the Plexiglas would get scratched and dirty, making it difficult for workers to see. Employees typically raised the shield because of how quickly it got dirty.
No injuries had been reported, but GoldKey recognized the situation as a problem. The company constructed a shield that is adhered to the grinder and placed farther away from the machine than a typical shield. It does not move, and the extra distance provides easy access for the employee and causes less wear on the shield.
The new design is in place throughout the facility.
The company also takes into account employee feedback when deciding what supplies to provide. GoldKey recently wanted to change the fluid used to clean the floors. It let the cleaning crew test a variety of potential new solutions, and Smith said the firm will use the feedback to help select the product.
"We do our due diligence whenever we make a decision to spend a sum of money on a safety item," Smith said. "We don't look at that cost as being a barrier—our first and foremost thought is the safety of our employees.
"It doesn't make sense to save money if the product doesn't do the job," she said.
Cash or gift cards from well-recognized stores or gas stations are the most effective incentives because of the instant gratification they provide. Stevens said putting a bonus into a paycheck isn't as effective, and not just because of the taxes. He said at the time of the award presentation, employees should get something in their hands.
"When folks know that a positive outcome will result in something positive for them, it's a motivating factor," Ste-vens said.
Companies must find the right balance. If an award is too small, the employees won't care, but if it's too big employees, might go so far as not report an injury—which is counter productive. Stevens usually recommends awards to be in the $25 range.
"The purpose of the program is to get people to understand that safety is the highest priority of the company," he said. "It's not to get people to not report injuries."
GoldKey keeps it simple: The company hands out vending machine coupons for free ice cream. For bigger awards, it will take Stevens' approach and hold drawings for $25 gift cards. The supplier also follows a safety cross, and if there are no lost-time accidents in a year, GoldKey will hold a lunch celebration.
The company offers other wellness initiatives.
Smith ran a contest that challenged employees to find safety improvements. For every one they found, the employee would write it on a sticky note and post it to the specific place on the work floor. Smith gathered all the notes, reviewed the safety concerns and placed them into a drawing for a gift card.
"We just try to make whatever we do on a competitive level fun and not truly about being the winner," Smith said. "The idea is not to test these people; rather keep safety in front of them on a regular basis. It's just about making them aware."