Fit For Safety

Fit For Safety

Employees help drive safety initiatives at metal processing company.

Worthington Industries Inc. has taken a new approach to purchasing protective equipment. The $3 billion Columbus, Ohio, steel processor asks its plant workers to test personal protective gear samples to gain feedback for future purchasing decisions.

The move was part of its Safe Works program, which began as a safety initiative in 2001 and became the company's official safety management program in June 2006. Since the initial launch six years ago, Worthington Industries has reduced workers' compensation claims by 66%, recordables by 65% and days away from work, transfers and restrictions by 64%, according to company-provided data. The program also enabled the self-insured company to reduce its reserves for workers' compensation claims by several million dollars.

Safety gear at Worthington Industries is selected based on employee feedback.
Prior to implementing Safe Works, most of Worthington Industries' safety measures were strictly for compliance. But the company realized that in order to create a strong safety culture, a centralized safety program would be necessary, says Terry Leberfinger, director of human resource services and environmental, health and safety for Worthington.

"While we succeeded in being OSHA compliant, our numbers showed there was room for improvement," Leberfinger explains. "OSHA compliance addresses workplace conditions, which accounted for about 10% of our injuries. We wanted to take safety one step further to address the other 90% of injuries, which involved reviewing decision-making and activities that put workers at risk."

Safety Compliance:
By The Numbers

A Kimberly-Clark Professional survey of 158 safety professionals from various industries, nearly half of which identify themselves as manufacturers, shows many workers fail to wear protective equipment.

66 Percent of safety professionals who say personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance is an issue within their organization

40 Percent of those who describe a lack of safety compliance as a "major concern" that they are trying to correct.

57 Percent of respondents who say PPE noncompliance in the workplace can be attributed to poor fit or discomfort.

As an example, the company established employee-directed safety councils in which workers discuss safety issues at their facility and determine corrective actions. The safety team members also act as a liaison between their peers and operations managers. The safety council initiative is a corporatewide directive, but each team is encouraged to modify the program to fit their needs.

The company also has established a behavior-based reinforcement program developed by industrial psychologists that gets employees to focus on three safe behaviors at a time. As part of the program, plant workers voluntarily observe their peers to note safe actions, and plant managers then reward employees with small gifts, such as cookouts or gift certificates, for those behaviors, Leberfinger says. Once employees consistently practice the safe behaviors for 30 days, they select another safety target.

As for the personal protective equipment trial, the company made several changes based on employee input, including the purchase of new cut-resistant gloves, according to David Leff, corporate environmental, health and safety manager. Since the trial program began, the company has reduced cut-related injuries by an average of 30 per year.

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