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Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

May 22, 2013

Companies Who Focus On Safety Are More Productive & Profitable

It's Important to Understand that Workplace Safety is Everybody’s Business!

According to a report posted in Workers’ Compensation on behalf of Bredell & Bredell, Attorneys at Law, in September of last year employees walked out of two distribution centers in California and one in Illinois. While there was a list of grievances provided to management citing unfair wages and irregular hours, the unsafe working conditions was at the top of the list. Workers at all three DCs said that they work in shipping containers that are dangerously hot; they are forced to use broken and unsafe equipment; and, they work irregular schedules. When they speak out about their right to work in a safe environment, they are reportedly retaliated against.

The above referenced report also stated that (according to the Huffington Post) the accused company did investigate the claims, and found them to be untrue. The company stated that conditions at the DCs are similar to those of other warehouses. However, it is important to note that in many states, when someone is injured in the workplace, he or she is entitled to workers’ compensation whether the employer subjected the worker to unsafe working conditions or not.


Holste Says:

In order for an organization to truly achieve optimal workplace safety, everyone at the company must believe in its importance and be held accountable for supporting it.
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What Are The Basic Steps A Company Can Take To Create A Safer DC?

According to Dixie Brock, Manager of Safety & Claims for APL Logistics, get started by first examining the location, tools, people and processes involved in previous accidents. Look for the contributing factors that can be addressed to prevent future accidents.

Brock points out that for new accidents, an effective investigation is crucial. That means going beyond simply reporting that someone was cut and needed stitches. It is just as important to document where, when and how the accident occurred, including re-enactments wherever possible. Logically, if you know that someone was cut picking a certain SKU from a certain rack location when they were cut, you can find out if it was just chance or if there is a sharp and unsafe protrusion at that rack location

Once it’s known why an accident occurred, it’s important to take corrective action to prevent it from happening again. This can be done by breaking a process down into the component steps to see if there’s another way to perform the task and minimize risk.

Brock believes that accountability is essential. In order for an organization to truly achieve optimal workplace safety, everyone at the company must believe in its importance and be held accountable for supporting it. Top management has to hold supervisors accountable, and supervisors have to hold employees accountable for what happens on the floor. Companies should seriously consider discharging supervisors and employees who do not report accidents in their areas, or who do not address unsafe conditions or behavior they know about.

It’s also important to be consistent in how the safety rules are applied. The company can’t let things go one day and hold people accountable the next – you need the same approach day in and day out.

Another important step is education and training. In addition to training employees on how to do a job, they need to be trained on all the safety aspects of doing the job in the DC environment. It’s easy to assume that all forklift injuries happen to operators. But forklift pedestrian injuries are common, and sometimes it’s the pedestrian rather than the forklift operator who’s to blame.

And finally, Brock emphasizes that a company should never let DC employees forget that they have an obligation to take some responsibility for their own protection. It means constantly reminding people that safety is not just a safety committee member’s job – it’s everyone’s job. It could make the difference between them going home from work or going to the hospital.

The Following Are Typical High Risk Practices

  • Unsafe conditions: These include spills on the floor, sharp protruding edged and unprotected machinery, as well as pallets and other obstructions in the aisles.


  • Unsafe processes: DC tasks, like loading and unloading trailers, are inherently risky. But managers can create safe processes for those tasks. For example; some facilities don’t have dock locks on trailers – by giving every lift truck operator an orange cone to put out front of a trailer he/she is loading or unloading and a lock for the trailer air hose, a driver can’t pull away with the trailer.


  • Unsafe behaviors: Speeding lift truck drivers, improper handling of box cutters and horse play around the loading docks all lead to accidents. Yet unsafe behavior is the least likely behavior to be policed. Supervisors are busy, and it’s easy to let something slide because they’re busy doing something else when it happens. But they have to recognize a risk when it happens and take action so it doesn’t happen again.

Companies who are focused on safety are bound to be more productive and profitable than those who are not. This becomes obvious when you consider the financial impact on the bottom line; for every 1% of profit margin the company needs an additional $1 million in revenue to offset every $10,000 spent on workers’ compensation claims.

While it’s not hard to get top management’s attention when presented with this reality, it’s often hard to get buy-in from line supervisors and employees who are focused and compensated on productivity. On occasion, this may mean that the company has to educate some management level employees about the value that greater safety brings to the table. Perhaps, putting some “skin-in-the-game”, i.e. a safety related bonus or incentive packages, will get their attention.

Final Thoughts

Over the years we have noticed that one of the characteristics that companies with excellent safety records seem to have in common is that they celebrate their safety successes. In their facilities you will probably find, displayed in a prominent place, a huge banner indicating the number of concessive production hours without an injury. And, they will occasionally have a pizza party or barbeque to celebrate reaching an important safety milestone – demonstrating that safety is everybody’s business.

Recent Feedback

I appreciated your thoughts.   My view is as follows:

Safety at workplace is product (in the order of) of  the involvement of top management, nature of work, and mental health & attitude of the workers.   Management of the concerned workers should be empowered to make  spending towards safety measures (some companies do not have a 'budget' when it comes to 'safety') that it takes to ensure the facility is well insulated from incidents.   The reward system should be linked to number of incidents and their severity into account - in fact, a facility would get qualified for reward considerations only when there are no critical incidents.   Safety procedures should be built around the work processes that takes to handle raw/packaging material, in-process work steps, finished good distribution till the product is sold and returns on account of warranty calls and/or product recall.    When I say mental health and attitude, the work environment that empowers workers to take ownership of their work without any fears.   When the management is a part of work culture and acts like a facilitator, magic happens.   If one has to give simple PDCA perspective, its a continuous process.

G Sudheendra
VP-Supply Chain
GTL Infrastructure Limited
May, 27 2013