There’s safety in numbers. This is especially true at a company where an overwhelming number of employees are vested in their own and others’ well-being. Such a company is Kloeckner Metals Corporation, headquartered in Roswell, Ga., with branches throughout the U.S.
Kloeckner Metals has developed a Close Call Program, designed to prevent accidents and injuries by having all employees, regardless of rank, be more engaged in keeping themselves and others safe.
The program’s inception began with less-than-stellar incident numbers, paired with the surprising results of an organization-wide Safety Perception survey. “We recognized that we were not having a very good year from a lagging indicator perspective and OSHA recordables,” says Rick Gruca, Kloeckner’s director of safety, health, environmental and sustainability. “We were just really concerned with the accidents we were having, and we felt there was something we needed to do to drive engagement and participation of our employees.”
“The Safety Perception survey really opened our eyes. Two of the questions were very specific to employee engagement. One question basically asked employees their involvement with safety. That was the lowest scored question. The other question was overall satisfaction with the safety performance of the organization, and that was the second-lowest scored question throughout the entire organization. So we recognized there was a huge issue with employee engagement.”
In 2018, Kloeckner Metals began the Close Call Program, which has continued to this day. The program involves the company financially rewarding employees who report conditions that could result in accidents and injuries. If an employee of any rank is part of a close call or observes others in a close call, he or she completes a Close Call card.
The employee puts his or her name on the card but does not list the staff involved in the close call. “We don’t need to know who the employee was who had the close call, but we do need to know, for payment purposes, who is reporting that close call,” says Gruca. The employee reporting the near miss must also recommend a corrective action on the card, thus fully becoming involved with accident prevention. The company’s database tracks all close calls and is used to pay employees who report a close call.
For example, forklifts can cause a clear and present danger. “A very common close call is with forklifts, such as an employee who’s walking down an aisle, and gets ready to step in front of a forklift as it’s coming down the main aisle,” says Gruca. “Nothing happened, no accident had occurred, but it was a close call; it could have been a lot worse.”
In this particular case, the forklift driver, the employee who was walking, and/or a peer who observed this near miss would recommend a corrective action on the Close Call card. This safety problem could easily be resolved in ways that include the corrective actions of having a stop sign at that particular intersection, putting mirrors up for visibility and/or the forklift operator using the horn upon approaching the intersection.
The Close Call Program “has worked out phenomenally,” says Gruca. “Employees are fully engaged with this process. The results were amazing, and we’ve seen great success. In 2019, we had a record year in regard to [decreasing] OSHA accidents,” he says. “And we’re well on our way to the same this year, as well. From the start of this program in the fourth quarter of 2018, we had over 18,000 Close Call cards submitted. For 2,200 employees, that’s pretty good.”
“From 2018 to this year, we’re down 50 percent in OSHA recordables, which I think is phenomenal, and 62 percent less lost-time accidents,” he adds.
The program was designed to allow employees to take charge of their own and others’ wellness. “It’s putting the onus on the employees; it’s helping them recognize that they are in control of their personal safety,” says Gruca.
In addition to instituting the Close Call Program, Kloeckner Metals has partnered with SafeStart, a company that educates employees on the particularly dangerous states of mind that could lead to injuries. All personnel complete several modules to identify four states of mind: rushing, frustration, fatigue and complacency. “When we are rushing, when we’re in a hurry, we tend to err and cause safety incidents. If we’re frustrated, if we’re tired, that can lead to injuries,” says Gruca. “Complacency is a really big one, being ‘we’ve done it this way for so many years.’ It’s a habit, but it’s not necessarily a good habit.”
In fact, the culture of Kloeckner Metals revolves around safety. “We’re trying to draw safety culture from the top, pushing the methods in regard to the safety culture, but the bottom-up approach is engagement, getting employees to help with the process,” says Gruca, adding that employee active involvement and engagement are key to avoiding near-miss scenarios.
And half-day safety summits contribute to the company’s safety culture. “We had our first ever safety summit in January of this year; all of our general managers, executives and the corporate staff for safety, health, and environmental attended. Basically the purpose of that summit was to define what we want our culture to be.”
“Our safety culture is safety before profit, and there are clear policies and environments that encourage success, that safety is from the beginning, which means that we are providing employees with safety training upon onboarding and continuing that training,” he continues. To reinforce this culture, the company created and distributed safety posters to all the branches.
“We need to look out for one another; we are all our teammates’ keepers,” says Gruca. And this maxim has boded well for Kloeckner Metals. “Because we’ve had 18,000 close calls, we prevented 18,000 injuries,” he says. ?[Sidebar:]
Creating a Safety Culture
Optimum Safety Management, a Lisle, Ill.-based safety consulting company, helps organizations such as service centers create a safety culture.
The most common safety problems Optimum sees are insufficient machine guarding and poorly trained supervisors “who don’t really recognize the hazards of their own industry,” says founder and CEO Steve Yates. Poorly trained supervisors are often created when an employee leaves a workgroup, and someone else – who never received training as a supervisor – is promoted to foreman. “At that point, we’ve lost a good employee, and we’ve gained a bad supervisor,” Yates notes.
To avoid these types of mistakes, among others, businesses must instill an effective safety culture. “We find that most employers look at safety as a compliance need, and they look at their safety systems at a compliance level. The next progression is building safety management systems, where the organization institutionalizes the compliance and begins to adopt safety as a core process within the organization,” he says.
“The next logical progression is a top-down approach,” he continues, “building safety into upper and middle management, and then, the better organizations will move that into their supervisory level.”
“But the absolute best organizations understand that to really have a safe work culture, they need to engage the frontline workers, and that’s what our engagement-based safety processes do. We work simultaneously top-down and bottom-up to build employee steering teams, where the employees are given ownership and, then, more effectively engage in safety.”
Optimum knows that good leadership is essential to setting the expectation of safety within a workplace. Once leadership is established, employees’ behaviors change and, as a result, their attitudes change. And this is how culture change happens. “We’re looking to build that culture of safe production,” says Yates.
Businesses must come up with sustainable solutions, another key to implementing safety success. “Peter Drucker said many years ago, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast,’” says Yates. “So your company has a culture, and when you try to implement strategies that are not sustainable or well-thought-out or implemented well, your culture will eat the strategies alive. We really need to strategize at every level of the organization and build strategies that are sustainable and then institutionalize those in a way that comes all the way through the organization.” He adds that the best safety programs are those that are top to bottom and from the bottom up in the employee hierarchy.
Yates says building sustainable safety programs requires a people, plant and process methodology. “We’re always looking at how the people are interacting with their work environment and the management and the organizational structure, and then we look at the plant, which means we’re looking at the equipment and the facilities to make sure they’re adequate to provide the support for a culture of safe work,” he says. “We are also looking at the processes, so how is the organization asking the employees to work? Do their processes support proper safe work?”
Optimum follows up with clients, from short-term for machine guarding assessment to helping businesses create a safety manual, or to a deep engagement to change the companies’ culture. When the consulting organization does its process checks, it makes sure the safety culture is institutionalized.
However, Yates points out that a company’s safety culture does not happen overnight. In fact, building a safety culture takes three to five years. “When we come into a company and do an implementation over the course of a three-year process,” says Yates, “we’re making sure that it’s a healthy process that’s being institutionalized; we’re looking to build that culture of safe production.”