The right formula for safety

Scott Gaddis is the global safety capability leader at Dallas, Texas-based Kimberly Clark Professional, and responsible for ensuring the safety of about 53,000 employees scattered across 157 locations. At last year’s National Safety Council conference in Anaheim, Calif., COS editor Mari-Len De Guzman sat down with Gaddis who discussed his viewpoint on safety management and best practices.
COS: Many of the mills your company operates in Europe and North America have had impressive statistics with regards to employee safety performance. Tell us more.

Scott Gaddis: Kimberly Clark has been a very conservative company. We track all of our illnesses and injuries together. We’ve come down from a 4.5 TIR (total incident rate) and we’ve had five mills that didn’t have a single injury last year (2007). Out of the 13 mills in this particular business sector, we’ve actually had 11 of those 13 that have been below one in total incident rate, which we consider still at world-class. The severity rate has fallen 352 per cent in that same ten-year period. So that certainly dictates to us that we’re saving workers’ compensation dollar.

A couple of reasons, I think, for that is actual commitment from our senior leaders to value the very values that are our workers –care about the physical protection of themselves, better capability, and driving expectation with the workforce. So those are really three things that we continue to really engage our employees on, and actually having them be a part of the solution. We know when we empower teams of people, our product is better, regardless if that’s policy or standard or procedures.

COS: Was there a catalyst that formed this safety principle and the resulting improvements in safety performance?

SG: I think when people talk about “catalyst,” it’s usually following some type of severe catastrophic event. At Kimberly Clark we have a tremendous heritage in occupational safety. We’re one of the very charter members of the National Safety Council. So we go back a long, long way in protecting workers.

What was starting to happen, though, is we started thinking differently about safety. And back in the very early 90s, we were going to build a tissue mill in Owensboro, Kentucky, and at that time paper mills had an incident rate from about five up to 13-14. So we had a couple of folks in senior leadership who said, “I wonder if we could build a paper mill that could literally be safe.” And we presented that out to the market and they laughed at us. We wanted to build a high-performance work space, we wanted to build a workplace where we had few resources – people like me – and more people that were actually dedicated to making products for us. And it worked. I can tell you that I left GE with a staff of about 11 people. I came in to Kimberly Clark with absolutely no one. And a lot of us did. And what happens when you do that and you still have to get the work done, so you push it out to the very people who make product for us and allow them to become risk managers. That changed my role from the guy who was making decisions to building capability in the workforce.

And that is really the success template. If I spend my day coaching and mentoring for the results that I want to see, the employees are more prone to give it to me because they own the process. And we really do talk about it that way – it’s not a program-to-process at Kimberly Clark, it’s continually improving, it doesn’t mean we always make better rates than we did last year, but we know where we are. We know why we could not and then we could push forward from there.

So the catalyst is that when we empower people, our employees give us what we desire and everybody wins.

COS: As a safety professional with such an extensive experience, what best practice approaches can you share with other safety leaders out there?

SG: I certainly can reflect fairly quickly because I was one of these guys. I came away from General Electric in a corporate role back to a facility because that’s where my roots are – a place where we make stuff. And then what happens is you have success so you’re crawling back out of there. And I know exactly what a safety manager is going through. I think if you were to ask any safety manager today, (the challenge) is continuing to see a struggle of senior leaders valuing safety to the level that they do.

I sometimes do this. I travel around a lot and I talk a lot about safety. I always kind of caption a safety leader in any facility almost as a volunteer fireman that’s very technical, very passionate about what he does and he knows what he or she is supposed to do. So how do we elevate that passion, that thinking up to the senior level? One of the things I have learned is you can’t do it, it’s not a grassroots kind of thing. It can come up from the safety manager. But it really does have to be delivered from high and then driven down and out through the organization.

One of the things I spend a lot of time on as safety leader is actually learning how to talk business-speak with your senior leaders. And it is different. It’s very technical at times, driven by a lot of numbers – some of the things that we don’t like to talk about because we like to humanize the approach.

Then the next thing is purely process. We get a lot of stuff in and around the show that we can pick from and put in and install in facilities that would “make us safer,” but it’s the process of how we do that. It’s actually realizing the vision we have for the facilities, for the corporations that we work with, and it’s very basic fundamental management process of actually coming up with tangible objectives that we can deliver through very basic fundamental strategy. And it’s all there in our grasp we just really have to align it and put it in place and then make sure that the obstacles and the barriers are controlled so you can realize it.

So when I look at safety managers, there’s a tremendous amount of capability that that person has to have to be successful and quite honestly, I’ve terminated a lot of safety professionals that can’t get past the office, they can’t get past the rule book. And I can take somebody very passionate and build capability. I rarely can do it the other way around.

COS: Many of your workers work around machinery. We all know that machine safety and safeguarding equipment is only as good as the people using them. How do you get past the human factor issue?

SG: I was quoted – and actually got in trouble with Kimberly Clark on this – in a magazine saying, “my job is as a safety professional is to force the decisions of my employees.” And really what that was all about was actually removing variability from the workplace. And really I do look at workers coming into a manufacturing site, they don’t want to get hurt. The last thing that they want to happen to them is to get hurt. Now, saying that there are different levels of risk that they are willing to take. Some of them will strap into a seatbelt coming to work, some of them will not.

I think as a safety professional our job is to create barriers that would drive a bad decision. And quite honestly, the behavioural-based safety products that are being pushed they literally are being pushed without the very basic fundamentals of protection. So really, if you act right it makes no difference now how dangerous that machine is. That may work one time, it may work a thousand times in your decision-making. But what happens if it’s two o’clock in the morning and you had a really bad night and an argument with your spouse and the machine guards are off? What’s going to drive a decision? I don’t know. And clearly I don’t think either of us do know. So it’s that one time that we’re trying to prevent.

So, I believe it is driving expectations of how you want your employees to act. I think it’s behavioural modification. It’s teaching them some very basic aspects of giving feedback, when they observe behaviour on the floor, which I think is one of the hardest things that we did.

The last one which I think is big is what we call the physical environment and it is machine protection – it’s guarding, it’s electronic control, it’s lighting, it’s how cold the environment is, it’s how hot it is, it’s how luminated it is. So it’s removing bearability. It’s making it harder for them to make a bad decision and really forces them to make the right decision or the decision that you desire and that is really what we work on.

COS: You mentioned that one of the challenges that a safety leader in an organization faces is being able to talk to senior managers, speak their language. How can safety leaders rise above that challenge?

SG: Job safety has become paramount for corporations like Kimberly Clark. When we look at personal medical cases in Kimberly Clark, most of our employees now get hurt outside of work. And they are generating millions and millions of dollars of cost to the corporation. At the end of the day the CEO certainly cares about safety but he also cares about the economic impact, so how do we embrace an employee 24 hours, 7 days a week? How do we make that person a risk manager?

What is starting to be set in place is that as we do things like off-the-job safety with our employees, we start losing less of them. We protect them at home, and we protect their kids, who are also on our insurance policies and their spouses. So we’re actually seeing an understanding of not only the value of our Kimberly Clark’s safety at work but also at home and it’s working for us.

So kind of seeing that and money and the economic impact to the corporation is huge. CEOs understand that and senior leaders understand that. They see real-life circumstances happening, the Imperial Sugar explosion that happened in Georgia in August this year killed 14 folks. It’s not hard to look over the fence and understand that the CEO is being brought up on criminal charges.