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Ensuring Safety in a Dangerous Industry

February 28, 2008
Related Topics: Career Development, The HR Profession, Employee Career Development
An employee is more likely to be injured working at an office supply store or assembling circuit boards than working at Butterball LLC, the nation’s largest turkey producer, where a workforce of 6,000 includes 2,000 employees who spend their days eviscerating and processing giant birds. Butterball has reduced its injury incident rate to 2.45 per 100 full-time equivalent employees, 63 percent below the poultry industry average of 6.6, with a set of best practices designed to produce results in an adverse setting.

Based in Mt. Olive, North Carolina, Butterball has achieved OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs designation, which recognizes exemplary safety and health efforts, in four out of its six plants. A fifth plant is scheduled to receive the designation in early 2008. “When we achieve VPP status in the fifth plant, we will have 4,400 of our 5,100 manufacturing employees working in a VPP environment,” says Mike Bliss, vice president of operations. “For our industry, that’s an outstanding achievement.”

Following Carolina Turkeys’ $325 million acquisition of the Butterball brand in 2006, the newly formed Butterball LLC adopted an integrated companywide approach to safety with nine deliverables. These include goal setting and performance tracking at every facility, detailed planning for safe conditions, a professionally staffed health facility and ergonomics teams at each plant, 20 to 30 hours of safety training annually for every manufacturing employee, and safe work practice standards that document the risks for every job.

A standards deliverable hinges on an annual audit process at each plant and all company-owned live operations facilities—feed mills and brooding and growing-out operations. The audit requires the safety managers at each location to provide answers to 545 questions, which then become the basis for safety improvement action plans.

The plans outline specific objectives and set a time frame that requires immediate action on some points or a 30-, 60- or 90-day window for others. “The 545-question audit is the foundation on which we build safety initiatives for the year,” Bliss says. “It is a very demanding process that consumes a full week at each location.”

Another critical deliverable is behavior observation. Based on DuPont’s STOP, which stands for Safety Training Observation Program, this approach puts all Butterball managers, including safety, operational and HR managers, out on the floor, observing how employees work, coaching them in safe practices and recognizing employees who do a good job.

Butterball meticulously tracks the results of its safety programs through its assessment of key performance indicators. “Each plant operates under a set of KPIs that are reported weekly, and the incident rate is one of those KPIs,” Bliss says. “If a plant is not below half of the industry rate, that location will be managed more tightly and must submit a safety plan in addition to the 545 audit plan.”

“We have strategically moved our safety pro­cess to focus on leading indicators, such as training completed, instead of lagging indicators, such as incident rates,” says Brian Rodgers, director of safety and risk management. “Two of the most important leading indicators are near misses and our hazard recognition log. We take a proactive approach though these leading indicators.”

Butterball also uses unsafe-condition reports that allow employees to identify potential problems. “The company’s response to these reports is closely monitored,” Bliss says. At the largest plant, the company logs 1,500 to 1,800 change requests from employees annually.

Butterball draws a direct correlation between its safety programs and its workers’ compensation premiums. In the policy that expires in August 2008, the company cut its casualty insurance costs by $1 million. “We are the low-cost producer in the industry, and our safety achievements are an integral part of being the low-cost producer,” Bliss says.

Workforce Management, February 18, 2008, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!

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