MERRILLVILLE | Workplace safety must become part of the every business’s corporate culture and works best when leaders engage the workforce in achieving that excellence in safety.
The keynote speakers from Cintas Corp. drove that point home at Tuesday’s opening session of the third annual Beyond Safety conference and expo at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza, which concludes Wednesday.
Rick Gerlach senior director of safety & health at the Cintas international headquarters in Cincinnati, and David O’Boyle, senior regional safety coordinator based in Chattanooga, Tenn., reviewed what they called the transformational safety journey Cintas has taken since 2003.
Cintas, with facilities located in Hammond and South Bend, provides uniforms and apparel, restroom supplies, and safety mat service, as well as first aid, document management, and fire protection services to clients.
Unfortunately, Gerlach said when he joined the company in 2003 as a safety expert, the worker’s compensation claims were on the rise.
“Our customers were asking about safety at our facilities. We were dealing with lots of inspections by OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration),” he said. “We were getting about eight citations from every OSHA inspection.”
As a decentralized company focused on business practices at each of its 420 international locations, Cintas “didn’t have one way to do safety,” Gerlach said. “We had to come up with a Cintas way of doing safety.”
To create this transformation, Cintas’ executives from CEO Scott Farmer down had to become leaders in the effort by making safety a top business priority and “absolutely necessary to do business,” he said.
Things went well and the programs resulted in a drop in OSHA citations from eight to less than one per visit.
Then on March 6, 2007, a worker at the Tulsa, OK facility was killed on the job.
“That rocked the company to the core,” Gerlach said. “Our CEO said that day ‘we have to make sure this never happens again.'”
An executive safety council was immediately formed chaired by Farmer and includes 20 operations and staff officers who gather quarterly to address safety concerns and strategies. Cintas brought in three independent advisors to give an external prospective and began asking the employees for ideas on how to improve operations and make the workplace safer.
“Safety is a continuously changing process. The presentations make you more aware of your responsibility,” said conference attendee Gerald Hancock of Walsh & Kelly Inc. of Northwest Indiana.
Hancock said he remembers the days when workers killed or injured on the jobs were termed “acceptable losses.”
“Now that number must be zero,” he said. “The bottom line is that companies have to insure their (workers’) quality of life so they can enjoy their retirement. Everybody goes home to their loved ones at the end of every day.”