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Playing the Right Cards for Safety

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Keith Johanson

“A lot of chemicals, a lot of machinery—this can be a pretty hazardous area if you don’t know what you’re doing.” That’s how Keith Johanson, chair of the department safety committee, describes the sprawling facility of Longview Fibre Paper & Packaging, Inc., based in Longview, Washington. Johanson ought to know. He’s been with the company for almost twenty years and has seen quite a few safety initiatives come and go. His statement holds the key to the plant’s focus on safety—“Know what you’re doing.”

For people to know what they’re doing, they have to be aware of what they’re doing, which is the primary reason Longview Fibre’s safety committee selected the Bill Sims Company’s behavior-based safety process as their top choice. They needed an approach that made a difference in real-time safety behavior, and they required a process that would help them achieve a significant and sustainable change from their safety history.

Longview Fibre began processing pulp for paper products back in 1927 and has since grown to one of the largest pulp-paper mills in North America, producing specialty paper and containers in seven converting plants across four Western states. The plant was family-owned and operated until a few years ago when it was purchased by another organization. “Safety takes a front seat to everything,” says Johanson, “but because of our poor safety record, our new insurance premiums were through the roof.”

So were the negative numbers. In 2007, the facility tallied up 255 incidents, 118 recordables, 41 lost times, and 44 restrictive duties. “That was pretty much the norm,” admits Johanson. At the time, the plant was using a behavior-based process that included observation of specific safe behaviors and positive feedback. “We never really got over the hump with that process,” says Johanson.

So what went wrong? Johanson points out several factors: the program was rewarding trailing indicators (results), departments gave out different rewards, which employees started comparing, and then there was the “bloody pocket” syndrome. “People weren’t turning in the little stuff. Some accidents you can’t hide, but if you smash your thumb or smack your head, you just say, ‘I’m not going to mention anything because I don’t want to screw up everybody getting a VISA gift card,’” explains Johanson.

The plant wanted a system that could be applied mill-wide. Johanson remembered hearing about the Bill Sims program at the Western Pulp & Paper Workers Safety & Health Conference. He invited Sims and two of his competitors to present to the safety committee. “It was pretty unanimous that Bill Sims had the best process,” says Johanson. Why? The SmartCard(tm) training aspect of the program features new safety behaviors every month in an easy-to-learn format with photos of Longview personnel demonstrating those behaviors. Employees simply call a central number to answer the true/false questions on the cards for which they automatically earn points. This activity reinforces the safety lesson and adds some fun and anticipation to the process. The You Did It Right!(tm) Cards, handed out by supervisors or peer-to-peer, provide on-the-spot recognition for performing safely and both the giver and the recipient earn points that can also be redeemed for rewards which employees select from a diverse catalogue. Another plus is the easy administration. While Longview targets the recognition of safe behaviors, the Bill Sims Company does the rest: collects and compiles the data, sends monthly reports to share with employees, and manages the reward point redemptions. Ultimately, for everyone, the process gives safety the time it deserves without taking much time from a person’s daily routine.

The program has made a difference, according to Johanson, and according to the data. When Longview first started the process their latest safety numbers for the previous six months were as follows: 104 incidents, 34 recordables, 12 lost times, and 13 restrictive duties. Within three months of implementing the new initiative, those numbers dropped to 28 incidents, 2 recordables, 2 lost times, and 0 restrictive duties, with conservative estimates placing savings at over $1 million using OSHA cost of injury guidelines.

As Johanson points out, safety is not an optional card to play. When data is shared at this mill, the feedback isn’t just about the numbers, it includes the human factor—“This many of your coworkers were hurt this month. This many people suffered a recordable incident.”

“It is going to affect the company if I get hurt and can’t come to work,” Johanson says, “But it’s hurting me more than anybody else. It’s our own personal safety we’re talking about. The key is people paying attention to what they’re doing, looking at what they’re doing, and watching what others are doing. If you see someone doing something that might not be safe, have the courage to say, ‘Hey, let’s talk a minute, get some help, or think about this.’ And that’s starting to happen.”

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