How Kimberly-Clark Transformed One Plant’s Safety Culture
At the Kimberly-Clark Professional Belmont facility in Michigan, about 214 employees make safety products such as welding helmets, hard hats and work zone signage. The plant has operated for 30 years, but became a part of Kimberly-Clark Professional as part of the acquisition of Jackson Safety in 2009.
At the time of the acquisition, the Belmont facility plant had opportunities to enhance its safety culture. It was averaging one injury per month, and safety staff had identified more than 1,500 hazards within the plant, but struggled to prioritize and address them. Incident prevention is an important challenge for many manufacturing companies. In fact, it is the only industry sector to experience a recent increase in injuries and illnesses (1). In 2010, for every 100 manufacturing workers, 4.4 experienced an on-the-job injury (2).
|To encourage employees to become active partners in making plants safer, management should consider the following best practices:|
|1. Lead by Example: An engaged leadership team will help inspire and set an example for employees to commit to safety as part of the work culture.|
|2. Inspire Employees: Set a goal, even it seems like a stretch. At the Belmont plant, our goal is ambitious but clear-cut: create and maintain an injury-free workplace. Then, management should continuously provide positive reinforcement as motivation.|
|3. Connect Emotionally: To transform employee behavior around safety, it is important to connect on an emotional level. At the Belmont plant we ask our staff to post family photos and show videos in the work space in order to remind everyone who is counting on them to come home safely.|
|4. Focus on Why Rather than How: Traditionally, many plant leaders do not take the time to explain why they initiate certain safety practices. Instead of taking the top-down approach, management should involve employees in the changes that are intended to prevent injuries, and explain to them how to continuously improve safety.|
|5. Preventive Conditioning Approaches: Proactive approaches to ergonomics and employee conditioning are critical. At the Belmont plant, a group stretching period at the beginning of each shift helps prevent injuries. In addition, we invested in an employee conditioning program to parallel our hazard elimination and engineering control efforts.|
To solve these challenges, the Kimberly-Clark Professional leadership team immediately reframed the safety issue to make it an all-employee responsibility, rather than compartmentalizing it with a few safety staff members. This approach allowed the company to develop a solid safety function at the facility, to build a sustainable safety culture and to help support its mission of creating an injury-free workplace.
Fostering a safety culture was a challenge. At the time Kimberly-Clark Professional acquired Jackson Safety, the Belmont facility averaged nine to 15 injuries per year, and management and staff had simply resolved that “accidents happen.” For the sustainability of the plant and employee safety, it was imperative to overcome these challenges. Additionally, Kimberly-Clark Professional believes that a safer workplace translates into a more satisfied workplace and supports a profitable business. In 2009, U.S. industries alone spent more than $70 billion in direct costs such as medical and wage indemnity related to injuries (3).
I became plant manager shortly after the Kimberly-Clark Professional acquisition, and my team quickly realized we had an opportunity to establish safety as a value. After all, we made safety products, so safety should permeate every part of our business.
The Belmont facility leadership team was committed to creating a safe workplace to drive performance and alleviate injury cost. We wanted to replicate efforts conducted across Kimberly-Clark, which have helped the company reduce workers’ compensation costs from more than $10 million to $1 million in over seven years.
It became clear to the leadership team that we would need to address safety quickly when, during an initial safety strategy deployment session, a floor supervisor interrupted the meeting to inform us that another injury had just occurred. We knew then that we needed to underscore that our commitment to safety was going to change, so in an aggressive move, I made the decision to shut down the plant to address the new expectations for safety. At that initial meeting with the entire staff, we communicated that injuries were no longer an accepted part of our culture and presented plant safety as a responsibility and core value of all employees, not solely the safety staff.
Engaging the Entire Workforce in Safety
Plant leadership knew it would take a concerted effort to secure the buy-in of all employees. It was simply not enough to describe safety as a priority because priorities often change. We wanted to instill a long-term passion and commitment to safety. That begins with leadership. All leaders must clearly demonstrate safety as a value before we can inspire an organization to achieve the strong safety culture that we desire.
To achieve that goal, we applied change management and behavioral principles to help propagate a safety culture. Our work included the following elements:
- Maintain consistent communication and messaging: At the Belmont plant, safety became a subject of every meeting – that is how important a value it became to the company. For instance, at all shift changes, employees would discuss safety items specific to the facility or lessons they could learn from sister facilities, such as any serious near-misses or accidents. Safety was also the first topic of every escalation meeting as well as part of our standard work.
- Involve everyone in documenting hazards: Every Belmont employee was expected to identify and document potential hazards. To set the example, the leadership team was visible and documenting hazards in the facility as a part of our leader standard work.
- Create visual management systems: Giant boards in common areas such as the break rooms presented visual reminders for all employees of the goals and metrics of the safety program. The boards were designed to demonstrate, in real-time, how the facility was faring in comparison to the site’s overall safety goals. This type of transparency serves as motivation for all employees, from the front office to production-line staff, to be accountable for taking a proactive approach to eliminating safety hazards on the floor.
- Develop safety solutions from floor employees up: Kimberly-Clark Professional believes production-line staff who deal with the safety issues directly and on a daily basis are best equipped to determine how to manage the problems, or even to eliminate the hazards altogether. While the leadership team took an active role in working with floor employees, we encouraged them to participate in safety committees themselves to problem-solve issues directly.
- Incorporate safety into job reviews: Once we ensured each employee was accountable for injury prevention, safety became a part of each employee’s job performance review. Kimberly-Clark Professional wanted to be sure all safety goals were being met through routine safety walks and hazard identification. Such safety metrics became a part of each employee’s standard job performance review.
- Communicate three obligations: To reiterate the importance of employees being accountable for their own safety and for that of their coworkers, Kimberly-Clark Professional has established three key obligations:
- Refuse to take any action you consider unsafe: Even if an executive asks employees to do something they felt was unsafe, they have an obligation to say that they are not comfortable doing so and this request must be respected.
- Speak with anyone performing an unsafe act.
- Stop doing what you are doing if confronted by someone for performing an unsafe act and resolve the concern.
Significant Workplace Safety Impact
Since applying these change management principles, the Kimberly-Clark Professional Belmont plant has achieved measurable employee behavior and injury prevention results:
- We have achieved an injury-free workplace for 12 straight months.
- Forty-two members of our staff, or 20 percent of the plant workforce, are currently volunteering for safety committees.
- For many years, fork trucks were driven near pedestrian traffic within the operations facility, which could cause an accident. The Safety Committee took the challenge head on by completing a problem-solving session and implementing a solution that eliminated fork trucks within a vast majority of the manufacturing area, with plans to totally separate them from pedestrian walkways by year end.
- There was an 86 percent participation in a voluntary employee conditioning program, which helped decrease back injury risks from 36 to three percent among participating staff in just eight weeks.
- The facility safety team had identified and documented more than 1,500 hazards. Since that time, the plant management and staff has prioritized and mitigated all these risks, and added many more to the EHS management system for further action. As of May 23, 2012 there was one hazard in the system over 30 days old.
- We have reduced direct and indirect costs associated with plant injuries, which had previously translated to $650,000 annually.
These rapid results demonstrate how manufacturing facilities can leverage change-management practices to transform a workplace culture. In a matter of months, the entire Belmont facility became committed to creating an incident-free workplace. Now, not only do our Belmont plant employees make safety products, they also value safety as part of everything they do at the plant.
I fervently believe that when employees embrace safety, it can serve as a catalyst for productivity, employee morale and ultimately the bottom line. Committing to safety demonstrates how we value people as our most important company asset and are dedicated to providing exceptional workplaces where they can thrive. Safety is essential to the overall sustainability and success of the plant.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, “ Workplace Injury and Illness Summary.”
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, “ Workplace Injury and Illness Summary.”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “ Traumatic Occupational Injuries.”