Protecting Your Supply Chain
Do you sometimes feel like cushioning your facilities and workers with bubble wrap to keep them safe? Here are five ways to pop that problem.
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Hazards are everywhere in the supply chain. It's the nature of the field. In the warehouse, for instance, workers face dangers related to forklifts, stacking of products, improper equipment use, inadequate fire safety provisions, and even repetitive motion, among many others. Tractor-trailer drivers deal with myriad risks on the road and everywhere else they maneuver their vehicles. Port and rail workers contend with loading and unloading large containers and operating massive machinery.
To adequately confront and mitigate this assortment of dangers, experts emphasize the importance of developing a robust safety program that is integrated into an organization's strategic mission—not as an afterthought, but as an essential component of the company's success.
Safety is not just about the safety of workers, says Kimberly Darby, a spokesperson for OSHA.It also is about competitiveness, business performance, and cost savings.
Here are five keys to developing a safety culture that permeates an organization and helps protect workers and strengthen the overall business.
1. Visible leadership
The positive example and visible engagement of leadership in safety efforts is essential; so is the leaders' willingness to commit financial resources to safety programs, says Mary Dinkel, corporate manager of environment, health, and safety for Legacy Supply Chain Services, a third-party logistics provider.
"A successful safety culture begins at the top of the organization," Dinkel says. "Leadership needs to ensure safety flows down to the associates on the floor."
When the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) launched a new safety initiative, it leveraged management commitment to broadcast the program's importance to its approximately 1,200 employees, says Ed McCarthy, the GPA's chief operating officer.
For instance, Griffin Lynch, the GPA's executive director, plays a prominent role in the program to emphasize safety's strategic importance to the entire organization. "The first step in the program is ensuring management buy-in, from the executive director on down," McCarthy says.
2. Empower workers
In addition to management support, companies must entrust employees with hands-on involvement in developing safety practices. That starts with making sure safety efforts connect with workers and address their everyday working habits.
When workers are successfully engaged, McCarthy says, they can identify safety challenges and help devise the best tactics for alleviating them.
"Working on safety from the ground up is how you empower your employees," he says. "Ask them to identify the safety issues and how best to solve them."
Involving employees encourages their sense of proprietorship of an organization's practices. "The optimal safety team is self-directed and owned mostly by employees," Dinkel says. "Employee-owned safety teams should be empowered to address physical safety concerns, as well as develop a strong communication program."
3. Know your responsibilities
Organizations must be conscientious about recognizing the regulations that apply to them, recommends John Pinckney, vice president of National Transportation Consultants, an Indiana-based firm that helps companies operate motor carrier fleets. Otherwise, they risk not only incurring possible penalties, but also overlooking key safety practices.
For instance, Pinckney sometimes works with clients who use trucks to deliver their own goods and services. But they don't consider themselves trucking companies because they don't carry someone else's freight—though legally they fit the bill.
"When companies don't realize that motor carrier enforcement officials view them as trucking companies, they expose themselves to possible fines and penalties," Pinckney says.
"Also, in the unlikely event of a personal injury collision that results in a civil lawsuit, companies expose themselves to significant civil liabilities," he adds.
"Companies that own trucks and use them to further their business should make time to learn the applicable trucking regulations and safety practices," he recommends. "Train drivers and logistics personnel on motor carrier safety, defensive driving, and complying with trucking regulations."
In a similar vein, Dinkel says warehouse operations and others should be poised to update protocols and stay up to date on key new safety issues when they emerge, whether from new rules or new business pursuits.
"Have a mechanism or process in place to manage changes or issues as the business changes," she advises.
4. Beware and aware of new technology
New technology has helped make work in the supply chain safer, particularly through automation that "separates man and machine" in a way previously impossible, McCarthy says. However, he adds, automated machinery carries risks and requires vigilance.
As an example, McCarthy points to a remotely operated rail-mounted gantry crane, which is used to load and unload freight. The human operator is not located in a cab on the crane, but in a building without a direct view of the area. That makes it critical to prevent humans from being around the machines when they are in operation.
"You have to fence off the area and ensure that whenever anyone moves into that area for maintenance or repair, there's a procedure to keep the machine from being turned on," McCarthy says. "You also need a process to shut down the crane if someone goes into the area while it is already on."
Organizations should seek out small and large technological improvements in material handling equipment that can boost safety efforts, such as blue warning lights that project several feet ahead of equipment to alert others that a machine is moving in that direction.
OSHA's Darby says companies also should be careful to keep progress from accelerating ahead of safety efforts.
"Workplaces are always evolving as new technologies, processes, materials, and workers are introduced," she says. "By adopting a systematic approach to identify and control hazards, businesses can stay on top of emerging dangers that could lead to worker injury or illness."
5. Oversight and intervention
Training and policy will only go so far without action. A key component of building a safe workplace is confirming that workers follow an organization's established practices and policies.
Trucking companies, for instance, must keep close watch on their drivers and respond with purpose when problems emerge.
"Trucking companies that monitor at-risk driving choices, and promptly intervene with appropriate safety training, build a safety culture that identifies acceptable and unacceptable driving behaviors," Pinckney says.
One tool for examining workplace incidents after they occur in certain settings, and striving to prevent them from happening again, is a safety summit, which "involves a joint labor/management task force spending concentrated time at a location that may be seeing unusual accident frequency," Dinkel says.
"Safety summits include a review of the target facility's safety program, a review of accident investigations to understand the root causes, and a safety walk of the facility," she says.
The way companies respond to accidents can dictate their future safety success. Too often, McCarthy says, organizations assume a defensive stance rather than a proactive one geared toward preventing that type of incident from ever occurring again.
"Many companies stop at an accident review and don't get into a root cause analysis," he says. "That's a mistake."