Best Practices -- Rapid Recovery

Core Systems shores up safety program in response to an alarming injury rate.

Five years ago, when Maggine Fuentes joined Core Systems as HR manager, she knew she would have to make injury reduction her top priority. Accidents at the 500-plus-employee plastic injection molding and manufacturing company based in Painesville, Ohio, were "through the roof," she says. "They were above the industry average. My first initiative was to get them under control."

The relatively high frequency and severity of Core's injury rates didn't just affect morale and result in lost work days, it also impacted the bottom line. Fuentes explains that in Ohio, companies get benefits and discounts on workers' compensation if they have few accidents. In 2000, when Core suffered a couple of high claims from serious injuries, the company lost its group rate and was forced to pay a higher penalty-rate for its workers' compensation.

Ironically, Core's injury problems may have stemmed from its own success. Fuentes says the company has grown 10% to 15% for the past five years, with the biggest growth spurt coming in 2000. "We needed a whole bunch of new people, and we just didn't have the safety programs established and publicized to our employees that we needed to have."

Assessing Your Injury Rate

Frank Pagnatta, vice president at RHS Solutions, says it's up to management to decide whether injury rates and their associated costs are unacceptable. To make that determination, he suggests management:

  • Identify a set of essential injury-related metrics -- injury frequency and severity rates, claim costs, work days lost due to injury, etc.
  • Examine the company's past and current performance against those metrics.
  • Compare the company's performance against industry benchmarks using national, regional and state-specific industry data from OSHA (www.osha.gov), the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) and the insurance industry.
  • Create internal benchmarks to set reasonable performance goals and improvement expectations in order to obtain cooperation from front-line supervisors and employees.
  • In July 2002, Core brought in RHS Solutions, a risk management consulting firm. "We found that injury frequency and severity rates -- cost drivers -- were well above the industry norms. This put them into a situation where they were paying higher-than-average workers' compensation premiums," recalls Frank Pagnatta, vice president at RHS.

    RHS and Core's cooperation brought results. At the plant with the most costly safety record, the overall injury rate dropped 50%. The severity of the injuries at that plant dropped by 85%. The improved safety record generated collateral benefits. According to Pagnatta, employee surveys and discussion sessions revealed improved levels of employee morale and greater feelings of empowerment.

    Whereas before, Fuentes says, employees would make do with the procedures and equipment on hand, now safety is a priority and the company actively solicits employee suggestions on reducing injury risks on the shop floor. "If an employee has a feasible suggestion on how to make a part more safely, we will go out and use that idea," says Fuentes.

    For employees who are especially eager to improve plant safety, Core has created a volunteer committee that meets bi-weekly to review accidents, conduct plant audits and discuss ways to improve safety conditions.

    Fuentes cites the distribution and accessibility of safety guidelines as being key to the success of the injury reduction program. "Our safety guidelines are in a handbook that we pass out to all employees, and they reside in a binder in the supervisor's office. Employees have access to that office 24 hours per day. We also post various safety guidelines and policies throughout the plant wherever appropriate," says Fuentes. For example, Core posts lock-out/tag-out procedures on every press because it knows that if the shut-down and start-up sequence isn't performed correctly, it can result in employee injuries.

    In addition to the focus on developing, disseminating and refining safety processes, Fuentes acknowledges that changes to Core's physical plant may have played a major role in the company's injury rate improvements. In 2002, Core merged three older manufacturing facilities into one new facility stocked with the latest equipment.

    Today, Fuentes is still working with RHS on reducing injury rates even further. Whereas Core had 25 recorded injuries in 2004, Fuentes aims for a 30% to 50% reduction this year. Ultimately, she believes the Painesville plant should be able to reduce the injury rate to below five per year, the state's best-practice level.

    Fuentes is also in the process of extending the Painesville plant's safety guidelines to Core's other manufacturing facilities in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, and Greensboro, N. C.

    In Ohio, Core is on its way back to group-rated status. By lowering the frequency and severity of its injury rates every year, the company gets discounts from the state that have resulted in more than $277,000 in savings to date.

    Still, Fuentes knows that Core needs to be vigilant, because just one serious accident could derail years of hard work. It's easy to sense her frustration when she looks back at one serious accident in 2000 that cost the company its group-rated status. "It was a silly accident that never should have happened. We didn't have the proper safety procedures or checklists," she says. "That accident could have been prevented if we had only had the safety plans in place that we do now."

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