Developing a Brand of Warehouse Safety

Developing a Strategic Approach to Ensuring Health and Productivity within the Warehouse

We recently had a real cause for celebration at Wagner Logistics. The big moment came when we reached the astonishing achievement of one million hours without a lost-time injury.

Consider how unlikely that accomplishment is. Wagner has 26 locations and more than 500 employees. We operate in an environment with elevated racks, lots of equipment moving around and the non-stop flow of goods.

That's a lot that could happen to a lot of people in a lot of different places. And yet, not a single lost-time injury over the course of a million man-hours.

The best part is we don't have to wonder, "How did we do that?" We know exactly how we did it, and we want to share that knowledge with the rest of the industry. Everyone benefits when we master safety across the industry, so we at Wagner are eager to talk about the formula for making it happen.
You might be surprised to know it starts with branding. I'm not talking about logos and taglines here. I'm talking about creating an initiative - and giving it an identity - that interlinks safety with the company as a whole.

We called it WISE, which stands for Wagner's Initiative for Safety Excellence. It was based on the core values of Wagner and supported by a common language we created for how to talk about safety compliance. It's very visible and recognizable. It communicates that there is a right way and a wrong way to pursue safety initiatives at Wagner, and this branding helps our people understand how to express the right way.

With the language established, we created a safety committee throughout the company. Or should I say four safety committees? Three operate onsite at specific locations. A virtual committee covers the other 23 locations. For all committees and their members, the key is to create guidelines and responsibilities for members.

All committee members have jobs to do. It's not enough for them to show up and listen. Their responsibilities are spelled out and clear, and the committees hold them accountable for progress.
Next we created leading indicators designed to get us to the lagging indicators. The leading indicators are the behaviors we need. We made a strategic decision to put 80 percent of our time and focus on eliminating the risk of high-severity injuries. These are the kind that may not happen very often, but they have a major impact on our employees, our company and our customers when they do.

So the leading indicators helped teach, train and encourage people to consistently embrace safety-promoting behaviors. Some of them are simple, but as always, the key is consistency and accountability. If we could get the behaviors right, we were confident we could get the results we wanted as well. That's how the leading indicators would get us to the lagging indicators.

And it worked! The obvious benefit is that our people are here doing their jobs every day - taking care of our customers and enjoying the benefits of healthy, well-functioning bodies. We also know there are quality-of-life benefits that go even further.

The National Institutes of Health reports that workplace safety actually promotes the well-being not only of employees but of those who surround them as well:
Globally, cardiovascular and circulatory diseases at 35 percent and cancers at 29 percent were the top illnesses responsible for two-thirds of deaths from work-related diseases, followed by occupational injuries at 15 percent and infectious diseases at 10 percent. As a result, approximately 6,300 people die every day due to these causes: occupational accidents kill nearly 1,000 people every day and work-related diseases provoke the death of approximately 5,400 more individuals. There were also over 313 million non-fatal occupational accidents (requiring at least four days of absence from work) in 2010, meaning that occupational accidents provoke injury or ill health for approximately 860,000 people every day.
Once you recognize the impact goes that far, you realize how worthwhile these efforts truly are.

Another intangible benefit for Wagner has been the way our employees have embraced the principle of looking out for each other. It's a product of that same safety culture that started with the WISE brand, and it has our workplace morale at an all-time high.

It's also giving us more satisfied customers, which is partly - but not solely - the result of our people not missing time. Another factor was demonstrated in research by the National Safety Council, which studied 821 employees at a midwestern electric utility. It studied the customer-satisfaction outcomes of different groups of employees and showed that those groups with more employee injuries also had customers who were less satisfied with the service they received.

We are also seeing sky-high safety awareness among our employees, who have learned to identify risks not only concerning injury but also concerning product damage, loss control and inventory management.
This effort has been worth undertaking. There is no company in the warehousing industry that would regret doing it.

So here are some key points to get you started:
First, understand that front-line leaders must champion this with total commitment. This is the only way to create a culture of safety. It can't come from reading materials and speeches. If front-line leaders embrace and communicate the values and the vision, the team will follow. If they don't, the effort has no chance of succeeding.

Second, creating a brand that's focused on safety will yield tremendous results. It keeps the issue top-of-mind and helps people understand how to talk and think about the imperative.
We've also implemented a Return-to-Work program that guides the company on how to deal with incidents after they occur. It includes interviewing health care providers to ensure all parties are prioritizing worker health.

Fortunately, we haven't had to utilize it in a while. And hooray to our one million hours without a lost-time injury. Hopefully soon the entire industry will be able to say that.

Joe Oliaro is VP of Sales and Chief Real Estate Officer for Wagner Logistics, a leading supply chain management provider offering comprehensive distribution center, warehousing and transportation services across the U.S. since 1946. Wagner's team provides precise solutions to fit each customer's needs at the speed customers require. Wagner is driving forward by providing exceptional performance as the industry continues to adapt to customer buying habits. For more information about how Wagner continues to Bring it!, visit www.wagnerlogistics.com.

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