How Safety Became a Competitive Advantage

Over the past five years, recordable injuries at Resolute’s mills have fallen from 307 to 90 per year, resulting in a world-class OSHA rate of 1.02. First aid incidents, which cover everything from light scrapes to minor burns, are down 55% since 2008. And adopting a proactive mindset, employees filed 23,000 “near-miss” reports in 2013 – that means 23,000 potential incidents were prevented.

These figures are anything but accidental.

Five years ago, Resolute’s leadership began creating a “Total Safety Culture”, where employees would be required to think through each step of their days to look for risks, advanced safety management systems would be deployed at every site, and the courage to shut down operations in the face of potential employee safety risks would become the norm.

“Ensuring safety is our responsibility as a company,” explains Richard Garneau, Resolute CEO. “Our management teams set the tone of the primacy of safety, and each of our employees is accountable for their own well-being and that of their co-worker.”

Motivating this change wasn’t easy. “People are people, and changing habits doesn’t happen overnight,” explains Dominic Leroux, Safety and Health Manager for Resolute’s Canadian operations. “They’ll respond only so much to reminders to work safely and to proactive actions that demonstrate the low tolerance level to risk required to achieve an injury free workplace. So we took reminders to the next level. If we see too many injuries within a couple days, we’ll shut down the mill for the time it takes to ensure each employee is truly committed to an injury-free workplace. Some thought we wouldn’t have the guts to do that. They don’t think that anymore. Even more importantly, they no longer think of the safety measures as new. They’re just normal.”

What happened next was a welcome surprise. We found that a “Total Safety Culture” doesn’t just impact employees – it’s also a business advantage.

“We started to see operational gains from the safety measures,” reports Leroux. “It turns out that when people are conditioned to think in 10 steps ahead in detail, they become more future-oriented.”

In going through a pre-job risk analysis for each task, people see their tasks as part of the bigger picture. That opens up the mental space to evaluate exposure to hazards before something happens, to fix things before they break, to make operations more efficient, and in some cases, to realign the entire workflow.

Resolute’s “Total Safety Culture” has been found to deliver other benefits too:

  • The most important one: fewer injuries mean employees are better able to enjoy their time off with their families and tend to their personal lives, resulting in lower absentee rates and higher morale.
  • There is greater stability in staffing. With less turnover and fewer situations in which absences need to be covered, the company can deploy its leaner go-to-market strategy.
  • There are fewer surprises on the mill floor, resulting in faster time-to market. This level of reliability is an important differentiator because so many of the forest products industry’s customers are moving to just-in-time inventory management.
  • Fewer incidents mean fewer post-incident investigations. When moments equal dollars, this adds up.
  • A better track record on safety improves the company’s reputation as an employer, increasing employee retention, lowering the cost of turnover and cutting the cost of recruiting new talent.

“We want to be the benchmark in the forest products industry when it comes to safety performance,” says Leroux. “And I strongly believe that this goal is within our reach.”

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