Welcome to the era of the industrial athlete

Like his counterparts on the gridiron or the diamond, the Industrial Athlete looks for every edge to stay competitive on the job. It’s a term coined by Randy Kates, the manager of safety business for Kimberly-Clark Professional, a leading safety and personal protective equipment provider for manufacturing.

By Patrick Lynch, Staff Intern January 11, 2008

Like his counterparts on the gridiron or the diamond, the Industrial Athlete looks for every edge to stay competitive on the job. It’s a term coined by Randy Kates, the manager of safety business for Kimberly-Clark Professional, a leading safety and personal protective equipment provider for manufacturing.

“The most interesting dynamic in the marketplace is the concept of The Industrial Athlete in the North American workplace, and how he or she is changing behavior on a daily basis. Workers more than ever are taking the profile of a professional athlete, paying more attention to their health, their performance, and being the best at what they do. Otherwise they stand the risk of being relegated to the scout team,” Kates said.

The rising healthcare costs and the trend of diverting medical costs directly to the employee provide incentive to the Industrial Athlete to remain safe both at work and at home. Simple compliance with safety regulations is no longer sufficient.

A proactive company and responsible factory management will implement innovative safety programs that extend protection beyond the outdated standards and into the realm of holistic employee protection.

An ongoing trend is the employee’s desire to wear PPE that is comfortable and stylish. Employees are frequently willing to sacrifice a small level of protection in place of comfort and style. The problem facing PPE suppliers is developing products that not only protect the employee, but the product must be stylish and comfortable to wear throughout their shift. Making a product more comfortable and stylish will lead to increased and proper use of PPE.

Scott Gaddis, global safety capability leader for Georgia-based Kimberly-Clark Professional, believes in a more independent and responsible employee. “We are striving to develop a better system of understanding for our employees,” Gaddis said. “We want employees who have already figured out the equation that safety and PPE matters to them as much as it does to our company.”

Employee involvement

Employees have an interest in the purchasing, selecting and development of PPE, and need to be consulted in the purchasing process. Experts contend this leads to better compliance with PPE. The employees know the dangers of their jobs and before selecting the proper PPE, they should review product data reports that illustrate how the product will protect them.

At Kimberly-Clark, a unique protocol involves the inclusion of employees into to the safety process. The innovative protocol is the adaptation of a safety council, compiled of key line managers, not safety managers. As a result, the employees who make up the safety council are the ones doing the work, leading the safety teams and ultimately holding the power to make the proper changes.

The 14-member safety council at Kimberly-Clark work on a rotating quarterly process. The council members are responsible for the inspection of the mill, the completion of hazard assessments and the written notification of unsafe activities within the plant.

Kates believes at Kimberly-Clark, the responsibility of using three safety questions falls on the shoulders of every employee. “We have three rights and obligations for our employees; First, that they refuse to take part in an unsafe behavior. Second, they are required to confront someone if they see them doing something unsafe. The third obligation is if a fellow employee asks you to stop, you are required to stop what you are doing and talk it over,” Kates added.

PPE in the new year

The issue of PPE will matter more to employers as 2008 begins. OSHA’s final rule on employer payment for PPE will be effective Feb. 13, and must be implemented by May 15. The rule, which took eight years to develop, establishes a uniform requirement that employers pay for all types of PPE required under OSHA standards, except for certain safety-toe shoes and boots, prescription safety eyewear and logging boots.

In the past, some workers disregarded purchasing available PPE on site, which led to safety lapses. Now employers will be solely accountable for providing mandatory PPE in the workplace. OSHA claims that the cost of compliance for companies will be $85.7 million annually. The National Association of Manufacturers opposed the rule, claiming the PPE costs simply were being shifted to employers.

Major labor unions, including the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, filed suit to force the rule’s enactment.

Regardless of who pays for PPE, however, the economic cost of not using PPE is well documented. Even as the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 6% reduction in the rate of lost-time injuries and a 4% reduction in total injuries, businesses still spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational illnesses and injuries. In 2006, OSHA reported there were 200,970 cases of nonfatal occupational injuries or illnesses involving days away from work in the manufacturing industry.

The manufacturing industry had a rate of 141 per 10,000 workers and the most common injury was a result of contact with objects and equipment (76,400). The costs compound when off-the-job injuries are considered. More than 165 million days of lost production time were the result of off-the-job injuries in 2006. While workplace injuries fell, the number of off-the-job injuries is up 11%. Managers also have to take into account the costs of injuries and illnesses to family members, which also can keep a worker off the job.

An emerging trend appearing in hands-on workplaces is the implementation of educational programs for employees and their families that talk about the dangers they can avoid while at home. The goal of extending safety into the employee’s home is that when a worker prepares to cut their grass or trim a tree limb in their own yard, they remember to bring home their proper safety goggles and gloves from work.

Kimberly-Clark extends its safety education to several areas of the domestic lives of its employees. October is safety month at KC-Professional, where employees’ families are brought in to discuss safety measures that can be applied to one’s home. Kimberly-Clark’s domestic safety programs include the distribution of safety information to employees such as teen safe driving videos, inspections of employee’s water heaters for gas leaks, first aid instruction and some even go as far as to provide high gauntlet gloves for protection against diseases encountered by employees who deer hunt.

Safety training is another shared function. Managers are responsible for hazard assessments, which identify and control health hazards, proper training in the use of the PPE, quarterly reviews and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the PPE programs.

The training also needs to account for the more than 70 million Generation Y employees entering the workforce. This group, born after 1981, grew up in the digital age, where information and education absorption varies significantly from the past.

Employers must adapt their safety training to reach this workforce and the communication of the value of safety remains the key challenge for employers. The new workforce learns quickly, but their collective attention span is shorter. Training sessions should be shorter in length, but more in number.

Participatory training sessions, where digital multi-media are used, informs and entertains a younger workforce most effectively. Quantifying the effects that such safety and PPE changes have on a company is a difficult task, but a stronger focus on safety in 2008 will produce a safer, more eager and more productive workforce.

Kimberly-Clark Professional is among several companies that have already begun to demonstrate a change in safety protocol for 2008. DuPont’s recognition and acceptance of major PPE market trends for 2008 represents a new wave of safety conscious companies.

According to Randall Templeton ME, senior technical marketing specialist, DuPont’s market trends include an increased attention to safety guidelines for protection against arc thermal hazards.

Guidelines such as NFPA 70E, which describes methods and PPE guidelines for protecting workers from fire and heat hazards of an electric arc, provide the framework for safety.

The open sharing of safety information and the development of a more educated workforce reveals a stronger commitment to safety and a market trend for 2008. In 2008, the initial costs of PPE will not deter responsible companies from making the change. Clearly defined roles, an upgraded governmental regulation and a shared responsibility by employees and employers alike will all contribute to a safe work environment.

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