The importance of zero: ITT adopts no-accident goal

Tags: workplace safety

Can 44,000 employees go through an entire year without incurring a single workplace accident? It seems impossible, until the question is rephrased: Can you go through an entire year without incurring a single workplace accident? You probably answered yes – and so did the 43,999 co-workers around ITT. This raises another question: If everybody thinks they can do it as individuals, why does a zero-accident goal seem so daunting for the group?

“It’s about ownership,” says Usha Wright, ITT vice president and director of the company’s environment, safety and health (ESH) organization. “When it’s our own fingers, back, body and health at risk, we take workplace safety very seriously. But when our actions impact other people in our businesses, sometimes we aren’t as vigilant.”

ITT is out to change that. This summer, the company is rolling out a zero-accident program that aims to create a safety culture where everyone feels ownership for their own safety – and the safety of their co-workers. “Getting to Zero” – as the program is called – is getting off to a strong start. Chief executive officer Steve Loranger is a key driver. When he visits ITT plants, his questions often center on employee safety.

“He doesn’t just ask how many widgets a machine can make. He also asks about the accident rate. And then, he asks why it is not at zero, and what are you are doing about it,” says Wright. “He wants this information to be top-of-mind for everyone.”

Following Loranger’s lead, Wright and her team benchmarked premier safety performers like Alcoa and DuPont, and then surveyed ITT businesses about their safety practices. The key questions were:

  • “What are the three most critical things keeping you from setting your accident goal at zero?”
  • “What are the three things that would add the most value to your ability to achieve zero accidents?”

The team got an extraordinary amount of useful feedback from the field.

Obviously, this was an issue that mattered – one that operations, line and ESH employees had been thinking about and working through on their own. The survey data helped the team develop a six-point plan for zero accidents (see sidebar box) that will move the entire organization closer to a zero-accident environment.

There is proof that it can happen on more than just an individual basis. In recent years, ITT’s K&M Electronics surpassed one full year without a recordable workplace accident, and three sites – Conoflow, KONI North America and HydroAir Denmark – achieved zero injuries. Most impressive of all, ITT’s Goulds Pumps factory in Korea has not had an injury in more than five years.

“These sites have made safety a habit,” says Wright. “Soon, that will be true for all our businesses.”

On the fast track to zero

After experiencing unacceptably high levels of workplace accidents, three Fluid Handling Systems plants in northern Michigan unveiled a “Getting to Zero Accidents” program in 2001.

Before the program, these plants in East Tawas, Tawas City and Oscoda couldn’t see zero accidents with a high-powered telescope. Now, the goal is within site – and momentum and motivation among the 557 employees is high.

The most impressive results have occurred in Oscoda, Mich. In 2004, Oscoda employees spent nearly 1,500 fewer days out of the plant because of workplace accidents – a 70 percent improvement from just three years before. In that same time, worker compensation costs dropped more than 80 percent, which translates into a $575,000 savings.

The results began with a united front between the operations, human resources and ESH departments. By working together toward one goal, they were able to effect a culture transformation.

“Our company mission – ‘Do the right things, right the first time’ – also became our driving philosophy in reaching zero accidents,” says Sue Palmer, ESH coordinator for the Oscoda plant.
“Adopting that philosophy helped transform our culture into one in which unsafe behaviors and attitudes are not accepted.”

To support the philosophy, the Michigan plants implemented specific injury and illness reduction initiatives, including an onsite occupational health clinic that offers prompt specialized care for work and non-work-related health issues, and an ergonomic program that identifies risk factors and solutions for improvement.

They also applied Value-Driven Safety – 10 values and 14 attributes that lead to achieving world-class safety performance. The values include reminders such as “Do it for the right reason” and “Put the right person in charge.” The attributes of safety excellence include “Safety professionals have stature” and “Compliance comes naturally.” (For a full list of the values and attributes, contact howard.scholtz@itt.com).

The principles of Value-Driven Safety are elementary, but effective.

Culture can be measured and improved. Culture predicts performance.

“The improvement of an employee safety culture has resulted in dramatic ESH program enhancements and has significantly reduced the number of accidents at our facilities,” says Howard Scholtz, ESH coordinator of the East Tawas plant. “Employee behavior and accountability play a significant role in accident prevention. Our positive results are an example to all ITT companies that the zero-accident initiative is an obtainable goal, with the right plan and the will to make a difference.”

The six-point plan for zero accidents

  • Communicate the zero accident goal throughout ITT. “We need everyone to be on the same page and to understand that this really is not an unreachable goal,” says Usha Wright, ITT’s ESH director.
  • Apply root cause analysis to near-misses. Currently, ITT uses root cause analysis to uncover the true causes of accidents or incidents. Now, it wants employees to report near-miss incidents so the tool can be used to remedy any problems with the process. “Just because you were lucky, maybe the next person won’t be,” says Wright. “We need to fix potential problems when they arise.”
  • Create a job safety/risk analysis for every job. The analyses outline the steps involved in a job, the existing or potential safety and health hazards, and the actions needed to eliminate those risks.
  • Refine elements of injury case management. “If we do have injuries, we want to make sure we have caring, timely follow-up and make sure our employees know they are critical contributors to our businesses,” says Wright.
  • Track progress against the best companies. ITT will continue to benchmark itself against “the best of the best” safety companies.
  • Integrate ESH in key business processes. When a company is purchasing equipment, making changes to the factory floor, bringing in a new product line, etc., the environment, safety and health aspects should be part of the decision-making process.