Despite high turnover and a rapidly growing workforce, Caterpillar Work Tools Waco cut its recordable incident frequency rate by more than 65 percent in just one year. Behind the impressive data is an invigorated, dedicated workforce paying greater attention to hazards, communicating more openly and building workable, flexible solutions that error-proof processes.
A Fresh Start-Up
Georgie Meyer, a quality technician at Caterpillar Work Tools Waco, has a difficult time remembering what start-up meetings were like a year ago. That’s because early last year Meyer was on a continuous improvement (CI) team that transformed the way the entire facility approaches daily start-up meetings.
The meetings went from dull, check-the-box activities to informative, interactive engagements that incorporate safety into every conversation. “Before, it was all about production, getting numbers out the door, and everyone just kind of stood around and listened,” Meyer said.
The improvements, which included adding visual tools, ice-breaker activities and peer-to-peer shout-outs, were all driven by Meyer and other front-line employees and supervisors in a Rapid Improvement Workshop (RIW) facilitated by Caterpillar Safety Services.
Improving start-up meetings has been one leg of a journey to develop a culture of safety excellence through the Zero-Incident Performance (ZIP™) Process. A Caterpillar continuous improvement tool, the ZIP Process is a management model similar to 6 Sigma that engages all levels of an organization in safety accountability. Leaders are motivated to elevate safety to a core value, middle managers and supervisors are trained to champion safety activities and hourly employees are empowered to build systems that make the entire work environment safer and more productive.
Between 2009 and 2012 the facility’s employee base rose nearly 450 percent, from 54 employees to 237, and its recordable injury frequency (RIF) grew at an even faster clip. Going into 2013 with the challenge of reducing a 9.51 RIF rate, leaders decided it was time to take a different approach to safety management, a journey to zero-incident performance.
A safety steering team (SST) was formed and tasked with being the guiding coalition of the improvement process. The team had representation from management, the safety department and front-line leadership. The members were trained in Safety Culture Excellence Workshops to recognize the indicators of a weak safety culture and learn how to develop the drivers of a strong culture. The team designated three areas for improvement to focus on in 2013: start-up meetings, peer observations and incident investigation.
“We had been using a shotgun approach to safety improvement, trying to implement dozens of initiatives without seeing improvements in our metrics,“ said John Vizner, the facility manager. “Caterpillar Safety Services helped us step back and focus on the few critical items and ultimately get better results.“
Adrian Cashaw, the only EHS professional on the SST, found the involvement from operations and production leaders an encouraging sign that everyone in the facility was committed to safety improvement. The systematic approach to integrating safety into every daily process complemented Cashaw’s goals and helped position him for success.
“Being a part of the steering team helped me set priorities in my action plan for the year and feel supported in those efforts,“ Cashaw said. “Before I came to Caterpillar, I thought you had to get compliance right, then deal with culture, but I’ve learned that culture and compliance go hand in hand and, with commitment and employee involvement, we can improve both at the same time.“
Another member of the SST is Randy McLaughlin, a working foreman on first shift, who brought to the team insights into shop floor reality. McLaughlin is on the floor every day, making sure employees have the resources needed to operate safely and efficiently. His from-the-trenches perspective helped the other steering team members understand the motivations behind risky behaviors that lead to incidents.
“We just like to get stuff done as fast as we can, like we do at home,“ McLaughlin said. “Now we’re encouraging people to slow down, think about what could happen if you don’t do things the right way. It might take a little longer, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.“
The SST agreed Cashaw, McLaughlin, Meyer and six of their peers would comprise CI Team 1, focused on improving start-up meetings. After an RIW which concluded with a reportout to leadership, the team communicated its improved process to the entire facility and began training every work group to effectively deploy the action plan.
“The interaction in meetings went from zero to very frequent, positive comments among hourly workers, shout-outs to one another and lots of ideas being voiced,“ Vizner said. “We had well over a thousand safety ideas implemented within the first three quarters – as opposed to maybe 200 the year before.“
Success Breeds Success
With immediate improvement recognized in start-up meetings, a Safety Services consultant returned to the facility to guide an RIW focused on improving peer safety observations. CI Team 2, a new group of volunteers, improved the current process by increasing employee engagement and communication through the recognition and reinforcement of safe work behaviors.
The team established five key principles of quality observations and communicated them to all employees with an easy-to-remember acronym, COBRA (See Figure 1).
The COBRA Safety Contact Program has five key principles:
Safety Contact Program has five key principles
A core objective of the Safety Services improvement model is to empower customers with the training to effectively facilitate their continuous improvement efforts, using internal trainers for CI teams. Work Tools Waco reached that point in less than one year. With experience from the SST training and participation on the first two CI teams, Cashaw co-led CI Team 3 with a Caterpillar Production System Blackbelt. The team charter was to develop an improved incident investigation process, bolstering initial response, developing root cause analysis and strengthening corrective action follow-up.
“We also came up with a Stop to Fix Board, or root cause corrective action board because we wanted to show everyone on the floor that whenever there is a near miss or an injury – we’re stopping what we’re doing and going to fix it,“ Cashaw said. “And we designed it so that it can be used for quality incidents, as well, integrating safety with our other core values.“
By the end of 2013, the facility’s RIF had dropped from 9.51 to 3.37, an astounding achievement. The numbers only tell part of the story, however. Behind the impressive data is an invigorated, dedicated workforce paying greater attention to hazards, communicating more openly and building workable, flexible solutions that error-proof processes.
“I won’t be satisfied until we get to zero, but with a rapidly growing workforce and 30 percent turnover, I recognize that we’ve made solid improvement,“ Vizner said.
The Next Level
High turnover and a growing employee base, elements that led to an uptick in incidents and injuries in the past, continue at the Waco facility. Vizner and his team will work this year to keep the first three CI projects on track and identify additional areas for improvement, all the while ensuring that newly hired employees are integrated into the strengthened culture from the start.
“They’ve sometimes worked in places where they just hound you and hound you about your production numbers, that’s where the focus is,“ McLaughlin said. “We don’t have that problem here, but it’s already ingrained in the new hires, so we have to change their mindset.“
Helping new employees understand that the Caterpillar Work Tools Waco culture dictates that no job is worth doing if it cannot be done safely and training them to fulfill personal accountabilities within the new and improved processes is critical to sustaining upward momentum. Vizner is sharply focused on the challenge as he prepares to bring on even more employees in 2014. He no longer has to agonize over which program or initiative will fix the issue – he knows from experience the best formula for quick wins and sustainable solutions.
“We’ll be running an RIW on new employee orientation,“ Vizner said. “We need to take that next step to be more effective with new employees coming on board.“