Improving culture at a food manufacturing plant

Health and Safety Executive

Kettleby Foods in the United Kingdom engaged in a program of improvements to the culture of its organization which helped reduce overall accidents by 77 percent and RIDDORs by 83 percent over a five-year period (2003-2008). The company identified that human error and failures to follow procedures had contributed to the majority of its accidents. Despite putting many managers through the IOSH Managing Safely program, the company realized it was not utilizing the knowledge gained effectively.

Approximately five years ago, Kettleby Foods started looking at various off-the-shelf behavioral safety systems, but after evaluating content, methodology and cost, it felt that these systems didn’t actually provide the fit for which the organization was looking. The company felt a more appropriate way forward would be to develop something themselves which fitted more naturally with the existing culture and values of the organization.
When referring to the initiatives introduced by the company, Kettleby Foods is keen to stress that safety is an integral part of the company’s core business. As such, it does not talk about “safety culture” but the “organizational culture”.

The company now runs a number of different programs, all of which have safety benefits and are helping to continually shape the culture of the business. Three of these initiatives are described below.

  • MaST – inspection and audit of the workplace
  • Behavioral intervention with a poorer-performing shift
  • Continuous improvement

In all three projects, it is important to note that improvements to safety and efficiency in the business are driven forward by the enthusiasm and commitment of the managing director.

Management Safety Tour (MaST)
The MaST system is loosely based on a program adopted in the rail industry. The process is overseen by a steering group. One of the key features of this program of work is the commitment and support offered by the managing director. This person invited members of the senior management team – including the finance director, production director, quality and purchasing managers to become directly involved in an audit process concentrating on health and safety in the workplace. The senior management team – including the MD, FD and PD – actively engage employees in talking about health and safety in the workplace, and visibly demonstrate their commitment (in terms of time and money) to making the workplace safer.

Another key feature is the respect which the directors and senior management team show for their employees. They recognize and value the commitment and contribution of all their employees. It is noticeable that most statements begin with the word “we”.

The company divided the site into 23 areas (including often-forgotten space such as the roof space where maintenance work is carried out), and allocated each to a director or manager of the company. No manager was allocated a department that he or she normally works in.

The managers carry out audits of the department on a three-month cycle. In the first month, they audit the department; and in the following two months, they follow up on the issues raised and make sure that all the actions identified in the audit are closed out. After each three-month cycle, the process is repeated on a different shift (AM, PM, Nights and Weekends) because processes and issues can be very different across the different shifts. After a year, the manager is allocated a different area to audit to ensure a “fresh eyes” approach is maintained.

Each audit is agreed with the person responsible for that department beforehand, and staff is forewarned that it is going to happen. This process is more about auditing procedures (rather than individuals), and the company found that it was paramount to establish an atmosphere of trust. Employees are encouraged to point out any health and safety concerns they may have. The audits are seen as a team process involving the manager carrying out the audit, the manager responsible for the department, and a “guide” (i.e. a shop floor worker with knowledge about the equipment, task and environment being inspected). In addition, other employees might be asked to demonstrate or explain a task they are required to carry out.

Rather than a typical audit approach of identifying issues for departmental managers to resolve, the MaST audit is based on a problem-solving approach where auditors work with the managers and employees to identify solutions. In this way, employees are involved and interact with managers across all departments and shifts in the management of health and safety.

At the end of the audit, the three discuss and agree their findings, which are then documented. For any serious issues which cannot be resolved at the time of the audit, a MaST “non-conformance” is issued. Both immediate and longer-term actions are recorded to confirm what was done at the time to improve matters and to record what additional controls are required to prevent reoccurrence.

On completion of all additional actions, each non-conformance is reviewed by the managing director (MD) and health, safety and environmental (HSE) manager and finally signed off as completed by the MD. The documentation reviews include ensuring that appropriate control measures are being applied (e.g. there is not over-reliance on editing procedures or providing training, and that engineering solutions are properly considered).

Initially, the company found that many of the concerns and issues raised during audits were relatively minor (e.g. a screw missing from a fixed guard held in place by another 11 screws). This led to an initial peak in the workload of the engineering department. However, they found that by acting quickly on these small matters, they gained the trust of their employees, who realized that the audits were not to catch them out, and that managers would take their concerns seriously and act on them.

Over time, as trust was further developed between staff and managers, the company has found that employees are more willing to bring unworkable procedures and unsafe practices to the attention of managers. If employees are seen to be working unsafely, the company investigates whether the procedures are adequate and whether the training is appropriate.

A spreadsheet was set up and posted on the company intranet and notice boards, which are available to all employees, to record when the audits are being carried out.

If audits have been carried out on time, they are colored green. If carried out late, they are colored amber; and if not carried out at all, they are colored red. In the early stages of the project, many of the managers failed to carry out all their audits on time.

Despite providing training for all the managers in the audit process, one of the problems later identified was a lack of confidence on the part of managers in their ability to audit departments. Another was that managers felt they didn’t have sufficient time to give to the process. The MD wrote to all the defaulting managers at their home address, explaining his disappointment that they had not carried out the agreed work. This was found to have a highly motivational effect. He and the HSE manager also spent time explaining to managers that simply spending the time talking to employees about health and safety for a period of time (however short) would have a positive benefit for the company and that confidence would come with experience. Since the start of 2009, all audits have been completed within the required timescale and colored green. This has also had a self-perpetuating effect in that no manager wants to be the first to score a “red” and, therefore, disappoint the MD.

It was found that many of the actions identified in the audit were taking too long to be carried out and that for some matters which required longer to put in place, employees were becoming frustrated that nothing was being done. In addition to the non-conformances being a key performance indicator of the steering group, one manager suggested putting up a notice board in his department, which allowed employees to see what issues had been identified, and what progress was being made against them. This motivated managers to act more quickly on the more easily solved problems and also demonstrated to employees that managers were actively engaged in resolving more complex and difficult issues.

The system has evolved over time with some departments and areas being merged together. This has freed up trained auditors to look more closely at specific safety critical systems, such as permit-to-work and management of contractors, Legionella, etc.

Finally, the company is keen to stress that this is very much a “work in progress” and is a long-term, continuously improving program which needs to be actively managed throughout. The company has been running MaST for three years and says the system is still evolving and it still has some way to go despite the success. The company is keen to learn what other firms and organizations are doing which might add value to its own system. Kettleby Foods has learned a great deal, not just from its own experience of accidents and incidents, but from helpful contacts in other industries and organizations.

Behavioral intervention with a poorer-performing shift
The company observed that one shift in a production area had a significantly higher number of accidents than another shift in the same area. It carried out a four-step intervention to try to discover why this was so, and what could be done about it.

  • Step 1 – The production and HSE managers met with employees to explain the situation and to gain an agreement that something needed to be done to improve. It was felt at this stage that improvements could be effective through the introduction of a few simple “Golden Rules” that all the team would commit to.

  • Step 2 – A safety climate survey was carried out with the employees on the shift to find out their attitudes and beliefs about safety. The results of the survey indicated that staff members believed they behaved safely but the environment was inherently unsafe. The company felt that this was a reversal of the facts given that employees do not necessarily behave safely and that other shifts did not have problems in the same environment. The challenge for the project was to try and change the employees’ perceptions and gain their agreement to behaving more safely.

  • Step 3 – The managers and employees met again to discuss the results of the survey. During the meeting, employees cited a number of unsafe conditions in the area, leading them to feel the area was unsafe.

With the use of a number of photographs and open discussion, employees gradually accepted that it was their own behavior that led to these unsafe conditions (such as leaving trip hazards and not clearing up spillages).

Figure 1. Examples of Photos Shown to Employees

In order to make changes in the area, team members were asked to identify some golden rules that everyone would commit to following. The company felt the right way to proceed was for team members to come up with the golden rules as they were more likely to follow rules of their own making.
After a few ideas and discussion, the employees came up with their own golden rule about how they would behave in future: “I will never carry out an unsafe act OR leave an unsafe condition (hazard) in the workplace.”

This golden rule is not dissimilar to those imposed on employees at other companies, but importantly, at this company, the employees came up with it themselves.

  • Step 4 – After six months, they reviewed progress on improving safety in this department. The accident rate has already been significantly reduced (42 percent).

The company stresses that this intervention worked in the context of the wider, long-running MaST program. A great deal of work had already been done to convince employees of management commitment to their safety and management’s willingness to put things right before they worked with this particular department.

Continuous Improvement
Another of the ongoing initiatives the company is engaged in is “continuous improvement”, which incorporates productivity, quality and efficiency, as well as health and safety. They have a number of programs running including:

  • Kaizen teams
  • 5-S
  • Value stream mapping (VSM)

Although these programs are not necessarily aimed at improving safety, the principles involved are transferable to any specific function of the business, and the company has found that they have provided many health and safety benefits.
The company has used kaizen teams to look at specific issues such as communications and for improving safety on specific tasks. The lean tool of 5-S improves efficiency by keeping everything in its place and is good for controlling housekeeping hazards such as slips and trips.

VSM is a process for streamlining how a product is manufactured. Generally, it is used to improve efficiency and increase the rate of production. From a human factors perspective, people tend to seek the most efficient way to carry out a task. Where this is built in to the process, they are much less likely to deviate from the system of work designed by the company, thus reducing the likelihood of violations.
The company says that the key messages are:

  • To lead from the top;
  • To keep it simple; and,
  • To work within the existing systems and culture of the organization.

This article was first published on the Health and Safety Executive Web site. For more information on these topics, visit www.hse.gov.uk.

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