High hazard manufacturing, organisational challenges and a multinational workforce may seem like an intractable combination when it comes to establishing a strong safety culture and maintaining a successful business presence. This was the profile of a family-run paint company acquired by a leading organisation in the chemical industry. Shortly after the acquisition, an incident occurred at the plant seriously injuring two workers. In response, the organisation turned to a trusted advisor and safety expert to transform the company’s organisational culture, which led to gains in efficiency as well.
Obstacles to safety
The manufacture of paints and coatings is inherently hazardous. The substances involved in the process may be toxic, flammable or explosive. Workers can also be exposed to excessive noise from equipment or to dangers resulting from faulty or insufficient safety barriers around machinery. When facilities are not fully mechanised there is the added risk of manual handling: dropped objects, improper lifting, slips, falls and the like. It is an industry prone to incidents in the absence of a strong safety culture.
Another obstacle to safety in this particular industry is related to the size of most paint manufacturers. Statistics gathered by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report that “about 60% of paint manufacturers employed fewer than 20 workers, and only about 3% had more than 250…These statistics would be expected to be representative of paint manufacturers worldwide. This indicates a predominance of small shops, most of which would not have in-house health and safety expertise.”
In our case, the international leader in the paint and coatings industry acquired a family run business that fits this profile. With 123 employees, the company was well known regionally and was experiencing financial success--but there were no safety professionals on site. Shortly after the acquisition, an incident occurred during hot work activities on a solvent tank, seriously injuring two employees.
The most successful tools for organisational transformation are customisable, interactive and holistic. They include a mechanism for collecting data so that consultants and leaders fully understand the company’s strengths and weaknesses. These tools also incorporate ways of putting data to use towards improvements. They demand the input and participation of everyone involved, from leadership to front line workers. And they address safety broadly, not narrowly as a compliance issue focused on PPE, for example, but as an issue intertwined with elements like communication, engagement and productivity.
As a result of the solvent tank accident coupled with the paint manufacturer’s influence and support, a safety intervention led by DEKRA Organizational Reliability was initiated at the plant to instil a more robust safety culture at all levels of the company. There were challenges at the start. Management decisions had been guided nearly exclusively by process metrics such as productivity and unit price, which had yielded good results on the financial front, while safety performance was not being measured. The multinational workforce included speakers of Hindi, Arabic and Urdu as well as English, complicating communication efforts.
Uniting around a shared vision
DEKRA’s on-site consultant deployed a combination of instruments to invigorate the company’s safety culture, beginning with an initial design workshop that invited employees to create a collective vision for the organization. The result was an agreed focus on prioritising people, no matter what their position in the company; safety, so that anyone arriving at the plant could be sure of leaving in the same condition; and success, becoming both the safest and most successful paint manufacturer and distributor in the country.
DEKRA’s Organisational Culture Diagnostic Instrument (OCDI), which measures factors predictive of performance through surveys, interviews and focus groups, was then used to gather crucial data about current conditions. It allowed the company to pinpoint issues that were preventing it from realising its vision, namely communication and transparency issues, compensation problems, especially for the largely expatriate workforce and aging equipment that impacted both safety and production.
Simultaneously, DEKRA’s Behavioral Accident Prevention Process (BAPP®) was implemented. This behaviour-based tool requires the participation of the whole organisation. A steering committee was selected first, which used the company’s own incident reports and other information to identify an Inventory of Critical Behaviors (ICB) necessary for safety in their plant. Next, employees received training on how to become effective observers, able to spot risk exposure in their work environment. Once observations began, so did the feedback phase, where colleagues discussed what was observed and strategies for safer behaviour. Although personnel had virtually no previous experience with observations and feedback, the overwhelming majority found the process helpful and welcomed discussions around safety.
Safety brings success
Through the intervention, the company was able to realise most of its vision for itself. People reported much better interlevel communication, and leadership was more visible and approachable through the newly instituted walk-arounds, toolbox talks and town halls. Safety had become a topic of conversation even outside work hours.
Safety behaviours showed unequivocal improvement. Eight months after the start of the intervention no recordable incidents had taken place. 40% of behaviours from the ICB saw reductions in risk exposure, and most significantly all “body use” behaviours were reduced. This was a result of both increased awareness of the dangers and improvements to equipment and processes identified in the OCDI that were causing employees to work manually.
Finally, along with these significant signs of progress around communication and employee behaviour, the already successful production and efficiency profile was improved. The metrics that were important to the organization’s leadership prior to the intervention continued to improve: the “out of specification” rate dropped from 8% to less than 1%; delivery “on time and in full” increased from 92% to 98%; the packaging department was able to maintain productivity while reducing the number of workers from 19 to 9.
Safety and success are within reach
The gains made by this plant are not an anomaly, or specific to the region or the industry, but rather proof of what can be achieved by recognising the unique features of an organisation and applying proven methods to engage people in the transformation process. This company overcame difficulties both specific to it and typical for its industry. Other organisations with similarly dangerous conditions and their own set of challenges can also integrate safety into their company culture while achieving the goals they set for themselves in other areas as well. Safety and success are inherently compatible, but sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to see the possibilities.
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