How a Successful Safety Process Impacts your Business

Milliken & Company has a long-held belief that safety is a fundamental building block in creating a high-performing, sustainable manufacturing operating system. I’ve worked for Milliken 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 units within the company. Therefore, I’ve witnessed what a successful safety process can do for a company from both manufacturing and business perspectives. Safety can and should be used as a strategic lever, and I believe that workforce safety 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 should have a Chief Safety Officer (CSO).  At Milliken, our CSO is our CEO, Harold Chandler. This turns safety from being just another program into a core company value. It’s our belief that in order to have a successful and sustainable safety process, everyone in the organization must be involved. This usually means the safety roles and responsibilities must change. The production and frontline associates now lead the charge. They head the central safety steering committees and supporting subcommittees based on the needs of each site. Management is still held accountable for preventing incidents, but now they serve more as a coach or a sponsor.   The management team is there to give guidance and remove potential road blocks.  Managers move 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 at Milliken used to say, “If you’re not measuring, you’re only practicing.” Of course, that could 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 work on issues prior to an injury happening and focus on incident prevention, companies should focus on input metrics or leading indicators. Examples of input metrics include: % associate engagement in the safety process, % audits and corrective actions performed, # risk assessments and reduction efforts, # safe behavior observations, and # safety suggestions submitted. Not only is measuring the right things critical, 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 companies realize it or not, you pay for safety in 2 ways:

(1)  invest in the training and education upfront – before someone is injured
(2) after an injury occurs.

We estimate that many 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 spend much less per incident overall. By focusing on preventive measures, what Milliken spends in total is half of the industry average, and the incident rate is one-sixth.

At Milliken & Company, the safety and well-being of our associates serve as the foundation for operational excellence. Safety is such an integral part of our culture, that it also became the foundation for the Milliken Performance System. Our associate-led approach to safety is designed to build integrity, alignment, and trust in our associates and managers. This leads to an engaged workforce and a sustainable, repeatable process. Companies that aspire to be world-class in their industries must have safety as a core corporate value. Safety and health are personal to every human being, and they can have a profound impact on motivation and morale. For Milliken, the journey to safety excellence began more than 30 years ago. The Milliken Safety Way makes the journey significantly shorter yet just as transformative. Let us help you start your journey, contact us today.

About the author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.