Milliken & Company has had a long-held belief that safety is the fundamental building block to creating a high performing sustainable manufacturing operating system. I’ve worked for Milliken & Company for 31 years in various roles throughout the company. I’ve held plant leadership roles in several different manufacturing plants, as well as leadership roles in different businesses within the company. Therefore, I’ve been able to witness what a successful safety process can do for a company from both the manufacturing side and the business side. Safety can and should be used as a strategic lever, and I believe the safety of the workforce should be the top concern for any CEO. A safe work environment not only saves the company money, but it leads to improved morale and increased productivity.
The tone is set from the top! Every organization has a Chief Safety Officer, and ours is our CEO Harold Chandler. This moves safety from just another program to a core value throughout the company. It’s our belief that in order to have a successful and sustainable safety process, everyone in the organization must be involved. This often results in major changes in terms of the roles and responsibilities of everyone in a company. For example, management is still accountable for safety performance, but now they act more as coaches or sponsors. The production and floor associates lead the charge for safety. They head up the central safety steering committees as well as any supporting subcommittees based on the needs of each site. The management team is there to give guidance and remove potential road blocks. Management moves from the front of the room to the back of the room – but they do not leave the room.
One of the COO’s and Presidents used to say, “If you’re not measuring, you’re only practicing.” Of course, that can be said for all aspects of business. The right metrics have to exist at every level in the organization in order to know if you’re winning. However, when it comes to safety, companies too often only measure output metrics or lagging indicators such as TIR (Total Incident Rate) or DART Rate (Days Away, Restrictions and Transfers) which measures severity. In order to prevent safety incidents and work on issues prior to an injury happening, companies should focus on input metrics or leading indicators. Examples of input metrics are: % associate engagement in the safety process, % audits and corrective actions performed, # of risk assessments and reduction efforts, # of safe behavior observations and safety suggestions submitted. Not only is measuring the right things critical for safety, but these measurements must be understood, actionable and reviewed consistently by all levels of the organization.
Most business leaders don’t like to think about the financial impact safety can have on the company’s bottom line. Whether they realize it or not, safety costs companies in 2 ways: (1) investment in training and education upfront before an employee is injured, or (2) financial losses after an injury occurs. We estimate that most companies spend less than 20% of their entire safety budget on preventive measures. At Milliken, the preventive spend is 80% of the total safety budget, but we end up spending significantly less per incident overall. By focusing on preventive measures, Milliken spends half the industry average on safety and our incident rate is one-sixth the industry average.
At Milliken & Company, operation excellence is built upon the safety and well-being of our associates. In the beginning of our journey, safety was recognized as such an integral part of our culture change that it became the foundation for the Milliken Performance System. Our associate-led approach to safety is designed to build integrity, problem-solving, and trust in our employees. This, in turn, leads to an engaged workforce and creates a sustainable, repeatable process. Companies that aspire to be world-class in their industries must have safety as a core value. Safety and health are personal to every human being and can have a profound impact on their motivation and morale. For Milliken, the journey to safety excellence began more than 30 years ago.