In our previous post, we outlined the nine unchanging components of a successful safety system. If your company focuses on these timeless “keys”, as we call them at Milliken, your safety program will be successful for the long term. They aren’t Band-Aids or quick fixes, though, and will require everyone – from production floor to c-suite – to be involved.

Let’s take a closer look at the first five keys:

Leadership Expectations & Communications

CommunicationMany companies talk about getting their workforce engaged in the safety process, but it’s important to remember that means corporate level leaders need to lead safety involvement by example. Just as senior level leadership set business goals and objectives, they should set safety goals and objectives for the company to work towards. When these goals are set by senior leaders, the importance of the office underlines the importance that safety is to the company. The involvement of leaders at the senior level emphasizes that safety is as critical as any financial goal, and that 100% involvement begins at the top.

Besides setting the expectations, leaders need to regularly communicate how important a positive safety culture is to the company. This demonstrates to employees that the elements of a successful safety process are a part of daily work and not just a brief, passing initiative. Communication come in many forms; top leaders should take advantage of this variety to maintain a consistent message.


Growth ChartWhen we talk about safety metrics, most people can point out a myriad of charts and data points that they’re making, tracking or reading. However, before jumping right into the final output, let’s first consider a key question: what are the right things to measure? Answering this question will guide you to measure the things that matter and truly affect your safety performance instead of just charting data for the sake of making charts.

At Milliken, we measure both leading indicators and lagging indicators. Leading indicators are the things that show where an incident is most likely to happen next. Examples of leading indicator metrics are:

  • number of near misses
  • number of first aids
  • number of audits performed
  • number of people attending safety meetings
  • number of open safety action items

Leading indicators help you work proactively to eliminate safety incidents. For example, if there’s a decline in the number of safety audits being performed each month, that could mean there’s an increase in opportunities to bypass safety procedures, which in turn means an increased possibility of a preventable injury. Using leading indicator metrics addresses the unsafe behaviors and conditions before an incident occurs.

Lagging indicators, or output metrics, are what most of us consider traditional safety measurements:

  • total incident rate
  • recordable incident rate
  • lost time case rate
  • severity rate
  • dart rate

It’s important to understand these, because it shows how well your proactive efforts are working. If you increase the number of audits you’re performing yet your recordable incident rate continues to rise, perhaps you need to reexamine the audits themselves. Using both leading and lagging indicators will give you a well-rounded view of your safety process using data.

Organizational Structure

Organizational HierarchyOne of the first things that visitors notice when they come to Milliken is that everyone is involved in safety – from top corporate leadership to the first day new hire. Many companies will proclaim that safety is important but then relegate it to the EH&S department to maintain. To create a safety system that works long-term, everyone in the organization must be involved. The involvement should be appropriate to each employee’s skills, abilities, and interests. Changed roles and responsibilities in the safety process transform each level of a company: corporate leaders set the tone and expectations, managers provide resources and coaching, and production associates lead the safety teams.

Dividing leadership responsibilities among associate-led teams also helps to focus safety efforts on issues unique to the company or plant site. At the largest Milliken plants, there are over 12 safety subcommittee teams, while at the smallest only 5. The number of teams are dependent on the projects and concerns each plant has. The make-up of the team can also vary widely. However, there is usually at least one management sponsor or coach on each safety subcommittee. As the name implies, the manager becomes the resource person for the safety team and not its leader. The other team members don’t wait for the management sponsor to tell them what to do. The manager is there to provide what’s needed to make the subcommittee and its projects successful. For example, if the PPE subcommittee wants to try a new type of ear plug because the current ones aren’t comfortable, the manager would help write the PO, make a business case, talk to the controller or complete those tasks that the hourly employees may not be able to do.

The management sponsor would also help handle anything that would reflect on associates employment record, such as reprimands or incentives. The manager moves to the back of the room – but doesn’t leave the room. This is another misconception people have about associate-led safety. The safety organizational structure should be designed to fully utilize employees’ skills and knowledge, not frustrate or overwhelm them.


ReportingSafety subcommittee teams have been set up, audits are happening, measurements are being taken – so what? All of the positive activity around safety in your company can stall if the learnings aren’t being shared. Regular reporting about safety maintains it as a key company value. For example, Milliken meetings always start off with safety. Depending on the meeting, it could be directions for evacuation routes, a report on regional safety performance, or a presentation on a timely safety topic.

This agenda starter wasn’t always a given. Time is always too brief and meetings too long, so the idea of adding another discussion or report was unheard of. Sales, costs, production, quality, supply chain – these were the important topics to cover. However, when the CEO declared that he was also the Chief Safety Officer, the visibility of safety in the company culture skyrocketed. He made safety the first item on every agenda for every meeting he participated in, and the rest of Milliken followed suit. As discussed in the previous keys, leadership expectations are critical. The key of measurements is also important for gathering the data that is in the reports. Reporting is the key that reminds companies, without sharing and communicating regularly about safety, the best intentions will not help create positive safety improvements.


HandshakeA large part of the safety journey at Milliken was testing various methods to find best practices. We also benchmarked many companies around the world to learn what their best practices were. This knowledge gathering helped discover tested ways to implement safety and then replicate it in all of our manufacturing and corporate sites. Standardizing the methods for auditing, reporting, training, etc. allows for efficient use of resources and time. It also helps spot inaccuracies and aids with continuous improvement efforts. Doing a safety audit can be overwhelming for hourly employees who aren’t used to giving constructive feedback to peers. Having standardization in both the audit and the feedback methods can boost confidence in auditing correctly as well as add to a positive safety culture.

Standardization can be applied at the site level and upwards. Manufacturing plants using the same processes or technologies could share standard safety subcommittee team set-ups. Company-wide safety standardization, where applicable, helps transfer efficiencies even broader. Managers and directors who lead multiple sites can maintain consistent safety communication through standardization.

As you can see, these five safety keys don’t work alone but in concert with all of the other keys. Safety initiatives that fail usually try to improve a single key without remembering that they’re all connected. Sustaining the gains made in safety comes from approaching improvement in a holistic method. In the next post, we’ll cover the remaining 4 timeless keys for safety success and let you evaluate how well your organization has implemented these fundamentals.

Read part 3 for an in-depth look at the remaining keys.

For more information about how Performance Solutions can work with you to improve your company’s safety performance, please contact us.

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