Safety: Right to the bottom line

When it comes to safety, some companies take a traditional approach: do no more than finding out what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines are and try to meet them. Spending on safety often means little more than some new machine guards or a few extra stripes on the floor leading to emergency exits.

By Kevin Campbell, Senior Editor October 1, 2006

When it comes to safety, some companies take a traditional approach: do no more than finding out what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines are and try to meet them. Spending on safety often means little more than some new machine guards or a few extra stripes on the floor leading to emergency exits. Safety expenditures are an after-thought, and why not? If there are no injuries, OSHA won’t come calling. If there is a major injury, insurance covers the employee costs, and any OSHA fines are likely less expensive than the safety equipment it would require to fix the problem.

To such companies, implementing safety devices or practices is just an additional burden — an additional expense that takes away from their bottom line.

Today, safety attitudes and practices are changing. Manufacturers realize that having a safe working environment is beneficial — in many ways. Once considered a barrier to profits, safety today is seen as one more way to add value to a manufacturing process and improve productivity and profitability.

More than just guarding and stripes

“I think the notion of safety as good business is catching on, more than when I started doing this,” said George “Don” Tolbert, product director, Liberty Mutual Safety Solutions, Boston, who has been a safety consultant for almost 27 years. “It’s a little surprising that more companies have not recognized that a culture of involvement in keeping people from getting hurt is good business, but what’s encouraging is that we see a growing interest in making safe work the way work is done.”

“Many executives acknowledge the benefits of a properly developed and implemented safety and risk management program,” added Todd Ravazza, co-chair of ASSE’s Manufacturing Branch and safety director, Air Systems, Inc., San Jose, CA.

“A lot of them are starting to see wellness as being critical. Besides lost work time, somebody coming in not working 100%, temps and moving people around to cover other roles that maybe they’re not as efficient at affect bottom-line productivity and direct and indirect costs,” Ravazza said.

Then there’s the always-pervasive aspect of competition. It may not be the first thing you think of in terms of safety, but it certainly applies.

“Many organizations actually view safety as a competitive advantage. Many organizations, unless they have strong evidence of a strong safety culture, lose out on some of the jobs,” said Don Ostrander, director of consulting services for the National Safety Council, Itasca, IL. The council will have the nation’s largest safety event, National Safety Congress, on Nov. 3 through Nov. 8 in San Diego.

Like most things in business, it really does come down to the bottom line.

“I think a lot of employers now realize that health and safety is a key to them doing business,” said Richard Fairfax, director for enforcement programs for OSHA. “I think there’s a cultural change that’s been going on probably for the last 15 or 20 years. A lot of companies are realizing that having a health and safety program, ensuring health and safety in the workplace, has a direct impact on their bottom line.”

Make safety your culture

“An effective safety culture in an organization starts at the top and is met in the middle by engaging managers and employees to work together,” said Tolbert.

Fairfax echoes that sentiment. “I’ve seen a lot of situations where the management, the CEO of the company, the plant manager, is truly committed to it, but the mid-level managers aren’t sold on it. You can have commitment right up at the top, but if the ones that are supposed to carry it out aren’t sold, it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said.

Building the culture requires communication at all levels and between all levels.

“If the supervisors care about safety and they talk to the employees about safety and safe work practices, then the employees will follow,” said Allen Hajian, senior manager for safety and environment, Schneider Electric/Square D, Palatine, IL. “The way you get the supervisors to talk about them is if their managers talk about them, and the way you get the managers to talk about them is if the CEO or the vice presidents are talking about them.”

“What ultimately is important is valuing employees, and they have to have a sense of that,” said Ostrander. “Management sets that direction and they establish the culture, and a safety culture can either be a positive culture or a negative culture. It’s really up to the leadership. When you commit to safety, you’re actually committing to your employees and recognizing them as individuals.”

However, something else to keep in mind when building a culture of safety is that understanding cultural change is sometimes not quite what it’s cracked up to be, according to Marc Wendell, director of safety and health and environmental at UNICCO Service Company, Newton, MA. He indicated that understanding culture is a lot more complex than simply analyzing attitudes.

“It involves all of the mechanisms that are used by an organization to keep the culture in place, which has to do with everything from storytelling to the way that people organize their work.”

Safety in manufacturing

Many considerations have to be made when conceptualizing a safety program for a manufacturing environment. What’s eminently clear is that it requires commitment from all parties, from the CEO’s office at the top and working all the way down to the workers on the floor.

Establishing safety starts with a declaration from the CEO that states that the organization will have a safer workplace, according to Hajian.

“Whether it’s a CEO of a 100,000-employee company or the CEO of a 15-employee operation, if the CEO doesn’t care about safety, the supervisors won’t care about safety. And the employees won’t care,” he said.

Once the CEO and upper management are behind the safety program, they have to show the employees that the program is for real, that it’s not a just a new procedure that’s going to be scrapped after a short trial period. This is best done by involving the employees.

“Employees have to feel that the management is indeed committed to doing it, that it’s not just the flavor of the month,” Fairfax said. “They have to feel that they are going to be involved in it and that it’s a joint effort.

“I’ve seen time and again instances where employers would come out and say, ‘We’re going to have a health and safety program and these are the 10 things that we’re going to work on.’ They post it on a bulletin board and it never succeeds,” he continued.

Fairfax said that when management sits down with the employees and talks about trying to implement new programs, the employees feel that they’re contributing to it and that they’re being listened to. And, more importantly, they feel that management is indeed committed to it, he said.

“Letting them know that it’s personal and that they’re cared about really helps build credibility and trust,” added Ravazza. “The implementation of (the program) goes back to that credibility and trust.”

Once the organization’s commitment to the program is established, the next step is to establish a vision of what is needed.

“You have to look at the whole environment. You can’t just focus on one thing, like a lot of people like to look at machine guarding as the only thing when you talk about safety,” said Hajian. “Some companies, when you talk about safety, only talk about machine guarding. Well, that’s only one part of safety. You have the whole employee and the whole facility to worry about.”

Safety in today’s manufacturing environment is best when integrated within an operation’s processes. Similar to techniques such as Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, safety in the manufacturing environment shouldn’t be treated as an independent process. If it is treated as such, like Lean or Six Sigma, it’s bound to fail.

“If it’s riding on top, it’s not part of the process, and if it’s not part of the process it’s not going to get done,” said Hajian. “It has to be something we do everyday. Manufacturers really have to look at their processes, as they do in Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing. Those go hand-in-hand with safe work practices.”

“It’s a function of operations. It’s not a staff position,” said Wendell. “It’s not an outside thing that gets added to after the fact. It’s something that’s an intimate part of the workplace and that gets integrated into everybody’s work activities everyday.”

Putting it together

A strong safety program goes beyond common sense and good intentions. It really requires resources to implement the proper hazard controls, Ostrander said.

“(Manufacturers) need to do a self-evaluation. They need to look internally and see where they’re at and do a strong assessment of where they’re at,” he said. “I think management needs to get educated in what roles they should play, what roles they’re currently playing and what they should be playing.”

“Part of setting up any health and safety program is a hazard assessment,” said Fairfax. “They need to look at their past history. If they had a program before and it broke down, why did it break down? Where have their injuries and illnesses occurred? Why have their problems taken place? They should look at their insurance forms or their first reports on injuries to find out where their problems are.”

Once the hazard assessments are complete and the company has a handle on where it stands, they can identify what aspects they need and implement their program. They should check on any compliance issues they have and address them accordingly. Here’s where worker training comes into play.

“When an engineering change is made in the workplace, a training need is created. In other words, when you introduce a new method, a new tool or a new piece of equipment, or you’ve rearranged something, you create a new procedure,” said Tolbert. “The people that do it need to be trained in what those critical behaviors are.”

After training is complete, employers need to ensure that the critical behaviors that they trained people to do are actually being carried out, Tolbert continued. He encourages behavioral observation and feedback for this.

“Once one or two leaders on the floor — and it doesn’t matter what kind of environment, union or non-union, even more so with a union environment — once you have a couple people buy-in, that tends to have a trickle effect on the floor,” said Ravazza.

Keeping it together

“The best observational feedback is peer-to-peer,” Tolbert said. “One of the marks of a culture of safety is when a co-worker points out, ‘you’re doing something unsafe, and here’s how you do it safely.’

“There are no magic pills, but if there is a silver bullet, it is in giving people feedback on the value and extent of what they’re doing to support the safety effort,” he continued. “If your supervisor periodically catches you doing things safely or doing things productively and says, ‘I saw what you did; here’s the value of what you did, and I just want to recognize and thank you for it,’ one-on-one, it doesn’t cost anything, it takes less than a minute to do and it’s imminently powerful in building that cohesiveness.”

Other ways to help ensure the effectiveness of the program is by allocating the cost of worker injuries to the facilities in which those injuries occur, Tolbert said. This provides plant managers and supervisors ownership in the process, both from the physical standpoint and through their own individual contribution to the bottom line.

Others offer other rewards for successful timeframes without incident.

“If we don’t have any injuries for a quarter or for six months or for however many hours, we have a popcorn or ice cream social. Or if we do it for an extended time, we’ll have a barbecue for all of our employees,” said Hajian. “We continually feed back to them how important safety is. We have safety drawings that involve their families and give them a gift certificate for the best safety picture. We give out t-shirts with slogans on them. We try to do a lot of different things so that it keeps it fresh in their minds.”

Additionally, companies have ways of measuring the effectiveness of their safety programs.

“Most people use lagging indicators, looking at what their experience modification rate is, or what their employee injury rate is, whether it’s frequency or severity,” said Ravazza. “It’s kind of like driving and looking into the rearview mirror the whole time. It’s definitely a good check and balance.”

Others use leading indicators, which allow them to forecast what their safety needs may be and make adjustments to avoid future incidents.

“Things like doing inspections. Things like rolling out certain procedures, like rolling out training. How many training sessions did we perform this month? How many inspections did they perform at each one of these sites? What kinds of inspections? Were there audits that were performed?” said Wendell.

Overcoming obstacles

One of the problems that many companies find when they begin a safety program is an issue shared in Lean. They try to tackle too much at once, and it can cause numerous breakdowns in a safety process.

“Everyone’s excited and they want to go in there and tackle every single problem,” Fairfax said. “If you try to do everything at once, everyone gets frustrated and things break down. If you start with the easy stuff and fix those, and then work towards the harder stuff and keep progressing, that in itself, I think, changes the culture.”

Other times it may be that the commitment from the top isn’t as whole-hearted as it needs to be for the program to succeed. And this is an issue that tends to be more common than one might think.

“I’ve worked for six different CEOs, and one out of six has been real supportive,” said Hajian. Some CEOs will actually block a safety program or part of a program from being implemented simply because they see it as a negative because of the time off-task it requires, he said.

In many cases, employees are simply resistant to change.

“Whenever you’re proposing a change, you initially, inevitably meet resistance. And it may be resistance is strongest from the people that it’s going to benefit the most,” Ostrander chuckled. “The employees on the floor who are exposed to the hazards a lot of times are the ones that are most resistive of it.”

Keeping it in perspective

“I think the cultural change is happening. Like anything that you’re changing, it’s slow,” said Fairfax. “I’d certainly like it to go faster, but injury and illness rates are dropping. Fatality rates have dropped. I think the change is taking place.”

With these programs in place and by working diligently to protect worker health and safety, they have less out-of-pocket expense in training new workers. There are fewer absences from the workplace, and they have a steady and consistent workforce that knows what it’s doing.

“They have fewer injuries and illnesses, their workers compensation costs go down, or if they’re self insured, those insurance costs go down,” he said. “That’s just money they can put back into their business or into their profits.”

Hajian adds that he hears excuses from some manufacturers that don’t have a safety program. “The smaller companies always think they can’t afford it, which is wrong,” he said. “They can’t afford not to do it, but they just can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Clearly, safety has become more than just a compliance issue, for various reasons. First, compliance with regulations does not guarantee that an organization is going to have a safe operation, Ostrander said. Second, companies are beginning to realize that safety actually does add value to the organization, that it isn’t just something that you have to do because OSHA says so.

“I think what really captures business’ attention is improvements in safety, quality, cost and employee morale. As safety improves, there’s a positive correlation between those other business issues. Safety is finally becoming a business issue more than just a regulatory compliance issue,” said Ostrander.

The Bottom Line…

Like Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, safety requires commitments from all parties, but particularly from the CEO on down. It should also involve input from all levels of the company.

Safety should be integrated into a manufacturer’s processes. Just having it or letting it ‘run on top’ accomplishes little.

Implementing a safety program and ensuring a safe work environment can add value to your company and your products.

Leading and lagging indicators combined provide the best view of how the safety program is working and where adjustments are needed.

Use caution when implementing a safety program. Don’t try to fix everything at once. “Start with the low-hanging fruit.”

Establishing and maintaining an electrical safety program

If a company has employees working in areas where there are potential electrical hazards, it must establish and maintain an electrical safety program. Companies that do not comply with this requirement run the risk of prosecution and penalties.

“It is not optional,” said Joseph Weigel, product manager, Square D Services Marketing. “It must be a written program created and published by the employer and available to all employees. It must address each specific electrical hazard that exists on the work site to which an employee might be exposed.”

This requirement is established by NFPA 70E 2004, article 110.7. “While NFPA 70E is a consensus standard and has no direct mechanism for enforcement, OSHA recognizes NFPA 70E as a published safety standard available to the industry, and OSHA always cites to NFPA 70E for electrical safety,” Weigel said. “OSHA references the requirement for an electrical safety program in many places within 29 CFR 1910 Subpart S.”

Failure to establish and maintain an electrical safety program can have dire consequences. “Facilities can be cited by OSHA for failure to provide this, and other things required in the ‘NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,’” Weigel added. “Citations usually involve fines, which can be fairly high. However, if an electrical injury or fatality occurs in the workplace, the financial consequences for the employer can be extremely damaging. In litigation, it is not unusual for a single serious but survived injury case, to ultimately cost $8 million to $10 million.”

Getting started

To get started, Weigel recommends a publication that is available to order directly from NFPA titled “The Electrical Safety Program Book.” “(It) contains all of the elements of a comprehensive plan covering all of the required aspects of a proper facility electrical safety program. There is even a CD in the back of the book that contains electronic files, such as forms and checklists that can be copied directly into the facility’s electrical safety program. This greatly facilitates and simplifies the process,” Weigel said.

“To create an electrical safety program, the employer, along with the employees, need to develop the program,” said Darrell Bell, Environment, Health and Safety manager at Eaton Electrical. “The first step is to provide safety training to qualify employees — including management — to work in an environment influenced by the presence of electrical energy.”

According to Eaton Electrical advisory engineer Michael Hodder, the next steps should include:

Identify the hazards and develop plans to eliminate/control them

Provide appropriate personal protective equipment to employees

Encourage and assist the employees to avoid hazards, follow procedures, use appropriate PPE and continually educate employees about electrical safety

Re-test on an annual (or more frequent) basis to ensure that employees are electrically qualified as defined by OSHA standards.

The plant should be examined to investigate key focus areas. “Have (a) qualified person(s) survey the work environment and identify the hazards that employees have the potential to be exposed to,” said Walt Hazelwood, director of Health and Safety, Siemens Energy & Automation, Alpharetta, GA. “Provide engineering solutions to remove the hazard, provide PPE to the employees that are exposed to such hazards and make sure they are trained to use the equipment, tools and PPE properly.”

The following list includes the main elements of a typical electrical safety program (from Chapter 3, page 15 of “The Electrical Safety Program Book”):

Policies and procedures

Site assessment

Task assessment

Personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements

Hazardous boundaries and hazard/risk analysis




Auditing and recordkeeping


These elements should be present and adequately addressed regardless of the workplace conditions.

Electrical safety program must be ongoing

Creating a good electrical safety program is just the beginning. Electrical safety standards have undergone very significant changes just in the past few years. This is especially true of NFPA 70E and the National Electric Code (NFPA 70). “I would think a prudent decision would involve reviewing any existing electrical safety programs to make sure that they conform to and include the latest information in the standards and in the NEC,” Weigel said. “Unless the existing plan was created or modified very recently, it is unlikely that it will conform to the latest safety standards.”

Once the electrical safety program is completed, the best way to ensure its effectiveness and maintain it is through auditing and recordkeeping, according to Weigel. “A new program might contain defects, and the only way to identify the potential defect (before an incident occurs), is to audit each procedure and process thoroughly. There are many audit checklists and other process recommendations in The Electrical Safety Program Book that will help to identify weaknesses in the program before the defect can cause an incident.

Auditing the electrical safety program should be an ongoing process,” he said.

Jack Smith, Senior Editor


The “Electrical Safety Program Book” is available to order on the NFPA website at

“Avoid devastating electrical arc flash accidents by following these safety standards” (which Weigel calls “Electrical Safety Compliance Cliff Notes”), lists the major elements required for an employer to comply with the NFPA 70E, OSHA and the NEC. It is available for download at

Schneider’s Dave Petratis: Clear safety policy ensures success

David Petratis joined Schneider Electric in 1981 and was the company’s youngest plant manager ever. He was vice president of a Schneider subsidiary that ultimately became MGE UPS Systems, where he was president from 1996 to 2002. In 2003, Petratis was named president and chief operating officer of Schneider’s U.S. business, and was named president and chief executive officer of the North American Operating Division in 2004. He holds a BA in industrial management from the University of Northern Iowa and an MBA from Pepperdine University. He is also a graduate of Schneider Electric’s Professional Management Development Program. Petratis spoke exclusively with PLANT ENGINEERING editor Bob Vavra about safety, a subject he has championed both for Schneider’s employees and for its customers:

Q: Safety is a cornerstone at Schneider Electric, both because of the products you make and the culture you instill in your workers. Let’s start with culture: How do you empower your employees to work safely every day?

Petratis : In order to instill a passion for safety in all Schneider Electric employees, I always try to recognize, reinforce and reward safe behavior and encourage all employees to do the same. Safety is part of every message I send to employees, and every plant manager, general manager and line supervisor is also expected to put safety at the beginning of every employee communication.

Additionally, they are required to spend time every day making their plant — and the overall organization — a safer place to work, as managers’ commitment to safety is a significant part of their annual review process. This visible dedication to safety has cascaded down from our managers to our employees.

In addition, all of our employees, whether they work in an office-based job or in manufacturing, receive safety training. Office-based employees complete a minimum of two online safety courses annually, while field sales and services employees complete a minimum of three courses. All of our manufacturing employees receive more than 12 hours of safety training per year.

This safety education gives employees the knowledge, skills and resources to be safe in every aspect of their lives — whether on the job, at home, in the car or on vacation.

Q: What does it take to build a successful safety culture? How much of it is top-down and how much is bottom-up? How do you measure that success?

Petratis : Building a successful safety culture has to start at the top. Executives need to set the tone and lead by example before employees are going to buy into the idea. I have made safety my number one business priority since my first day at the Schneider Electric North American Division and I am truly committed to making the company one of the safest places to work in the world. Once our top executives rallied around the importance of safety and set related business goals, we then put programs and initiatives in place to achieve those goals.

But our approach is more than top-down. All of our people have a responsibility to themselves and their co-workers to create and maintain a safe work environment. As employees, we all take this responsibility very seriously.

Once key procedures are in place, measuring safety success is not too difficult. Key indicators of a successful safety culture include a declining medical incidence rate, as well as reductions in the overall number of medical cases, lost-time accidents and lost days from accidents in our plant environments. Additionally, safety improvements are reflected in significant savings each year in workers’ compensation costs.

Q: Where do you start to create a culture of safety in manufacturing? What steps should manufacturers take to create a safer workplace?

Petratis : Once management is onboard, a good safety program begins with a clearly articulated policy based on industry standards, governmental regulations and best practices. Then a company should establish and document step-by-step procedures, which are tailored to specific locations and activities. These procedures should always receive continual evaluation and routine audits by designated Safety Committees and/or management. Finally, in addition to mandatory safety training for all employees, communication and recognition are both indispensable parts of the process in order to keep safety top-of-mind in the workplace.

Q: Arc flash has become a major issue in manufacturing. Why has it gained so much visibility over the past few years?

Petratis : Arc flash incidents have always created the potential for injury to those who work on electrical equipment, but in recent years, awareness of the problem has increased considerably within the industry. This can partially be attributed to organizations’ increasing commitment to safety in the workplace, as well as significant increase in the research about these incidents.

A report released by CapSchell, Inc., a Chicago-based research and consulting firm that specializes in preventing workplace injuries and deaths, indicates that five to 10 arc flash explosions occur in electrical equipment every day in the United States, resulting in severe injuries and even death among workers.

Not only is a company’s strongest asset, its workforce, in danger, but costs associated with arc flash incidents are significant — potentially exceeding $15 million per occurrence.

I believe we have the winning combination of employees who practice safety every day bringing safe products and services to our customers.

FYI Online…

There are a series of Websites that deliver tremendous knowledge of safety. The best place to start is with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at

Another place to begin is the National Safety Council, which will mark its 94th National Safety Congress Nov. 3 to Nov. 8 in San Diego. For a complete rundown of programs, white papers and training programs for on and off the job, go to

Other white papers now available at

American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) November 16-17