Feature article - Safety culture & injury rates
Brooke DiDomenico describes how Nation Ford Chemical addressed safety issues during a period of rapid growth
Founded in 1978, Nation Ford Chemical (NFC) is a custom and toll manufacturer of speciality organic chemicals. The company specialises in organic intermediates, polymers and colorants for a broad range of applications. Chemical production is based at the 28-acre (11-hectare) site at Fort Mill, South Carolina, and the products are sold worldwide.
In the mid-2000s, the tolling division of NFC was in a period of high growth. This was great for the company, but it also brought certain unintended consequences that had a negative impact on safety performance. With all of the construction taking place on site, many non-routine job tasks were being performed. As statistics have shown, many workplace injuries happen during non-routine tasks.
In order to complete the construction in a timely manner, the number of contracted workers had quadrupled. NFC simultaneously hired a dozen new operators, resulting in a large percentage of people on-site who were less familiar with its safety policies. Since the management had much of its attention on the expansion, there was less time available for safety awareness.
In 2005 SOCMA established ChemStewards, an environmental, health, safety and security (EHS&S) for speciality chemicals. ChemStewards is more comprehensive than Responsible Care and the managers at NFC immediately decided to implement this, because it was designed for the unique needs of the batch, custom and speciality chemical industry. The structure of the programme was exactly what the company needed to reinvigorate the focus on EHS&S.
NFC became one of 16 certified facilities as part of the inaugural membership class. By following the principles of ChemStewards, the company saw a dramatic improvement in its safety record. Between 2007 and 2011 the recordable incident rate dropped by over 80%.
While everyone was very proud of this accomplishment, the recordable incident rate was still just above the industry average. This meant that, although NFC won several Silver Awards under the ChemStewards Performance Improvement Awards programme, it was not eligible for the prestigious Gold Award. This is only given to the top one or two facilities in the programme.
Unfortunately, after maintaining the reduced rate for two years, NFC experienced a slight uptick in injuries in 2013. The leadership of the company then refocused its efforts to reduce the recordable incident rate again. During the monthly Safety Steering Committee’s brainstorming sessions on ways to improve safety, one common theme was evident. The company began to understand that more you talk about safety, the more it stays at the forefront of employees’ minds.
Management decided to use several tools to increase the communication around safety with all employees. One simple, cost-free change that was implemented was to start every meeting, beginning of each shift or any other worker gatherings with a safety topic. This effort sets the tone for the meeting.
Further emphasis was placed on safety, including increasing the number of safety meetings held within the plant. These meetings were led by the plant manager to emphasise the importance both of safety and of leading from the top down.
The site also began use of digital EHS&S communication monitors that are posted in both the break room and at the time clock. The monitors constantly display current injury statistics and upcoming safety meetings. The screen also has a section dedicated to any relevant information the company would like to share with all employees.
The company posts rotating safety topics here that are specific to recent plant activities. For example, if behaviour-based observations show an uptick in poor lifting technique, the safety topic may focus on proper lifting procedures. If there was a key learning from a recent near miss, these can be posted on the board to promote conversation between employees.
While the EHS&S programme encouraged employee safety suggestions, this aspect of the programme was not very active and the company wanted to encourage employee participation in EHS&S. The Safety Committee therefore decided to highlight the best suggestions on the EHS&S communication monitor each month. By allowing employees to see the suggestions, it allows them to think about improvements in different areas of the plant. Not only has participation increased four-fold, but the quality of the suggestions has also improved.
Health & Safety Day
The company has also implemented an annual ‘Health & Safety Day’. For this event, the company shuts down operations for two days to allow employees from all shifts to participate.
During the first half of the day, the operators work with their managers on pre-approved safety projects in their work areas. Projects could be as simple as adding additional piping labels or they may be a safety improvement to the equipment that requires the process to be shut down for installation.
In the afternoon, health activities began. These include heart screenings, blood donations, and other wellness checks. Safety vendors set up booths displaying the latest products that allow the employees to see the newest technology to make their work environment safer. The company also provides fun activities in the afternoon to promote company unity.
To keep safety on their minds throughout the year, employees earn tickets to be used in the annual Health & Safety Day raffle. Tickets can be earned in many ways, including submitting safety suggestions, completing all safety training on time and participating in the behaviour-based safety observation programme.
Managers can also give raffle tickets to an employee that has gone above-and-beyond normal job responsibilities. By allowing employees to earn tickets throughout the year, it encourages participation in existing safety programmes.
After implementation of the increased communication around safety, NFC saw another drop in the company recordable incident rate. For the past three years, this has been below the industry average, including a stretch of almost 600 days without a recordable incident. NFC also received the ChemStewards Gold Performance Improvement award in both 2018 and 2019.
Without participation in safety from all employees, a programme cannot be fully successful. The management of NFC believes that it has demonstrated dedication to the safety of all employees via communication, action and financial efforts, which, in turn, created a culture of safety in the workplace that is not stagnant or complacent.
Nation Ford Chemical
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