By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor at Risk & Insurance®
Where does trust begin and why does it end? What is the value of trust? And what can trust produce?
These are arguably the key questions underlying the management and injury-prevention tenets that have produced the winner of the first-ever award called The PreVent, a national employee injury-prevention award given annually by Risk & Insurance® to companies that demonstrate superior approaches to ensuring worker safety.
Honda Manufacturing of Indiana LLC, based in Greensburg, Ind., is the inaugural winner. Its executives and associates have been selected for their adherence to a core company philosophy and their willingness to embrace cutting-edge worker safety programs and augment them by trusting the opinions of workers on how best to do their jobs safely.
For, after all, Honda's founder Soichiro Honda once said, "Without safety, there can be no production."
Born in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan in 1906, he turned a passion for mechanical things and experience in his father's bicycle repair shop into an industrial giant before leaving this earth in 1991. He also was adamant about protecting the individual in the workplace.
In discussing his team's success, Jeff Burke, manager of corporate audit for Honda North America, can't help but keep coming back to that statement of Mr. Honda's. Burke speaks with conviction when he says that Soichiro Honda's philosophy is a philosophy that he and his other team members truly believe in.
"I have worked for a lot of companies, but Honda they really are different and honestly I feel that they are different when it comes to their approach," Burke said.
And that approach comprises many things. But in achieving success in employee injury prevention for which they are being honored, Burke and his colleagues at the Indiana plant have focused on giving their associates the physical and mental training to prepare them to do their jobs effectively and safely.
Utilizing MoveSMART, a program developed by Portland, Ore.-based Strategic Safety Associates, Honda Indiana has created a training program based on the martial arts that trains workers how to best position their bodies to perform their jobs.
Before starting work on the assembly line, Honda's Indiana workers are given a two-week conditioning program that allows them to perform exercises that simulate the motions they will be required to perform in their duties. Associates who have completed this training have an 80 percent lower injury rate than workers who haven't completed the training, company officials said.
"It was something that was very new to Honda and definitely we had to present our case for what we wanted to do with MoveSMART," said Joe Ladalski, team manager of safety, medical and emergency services for Honda Manufacturing of Indiana.
Maddy Bowling, founder of Wheaton, Ill.-based Maddy Bowling Consulting, a group health and disability management practice, served as lead judge for this first PreVent Award competition.
The award, recognizing safety and prevention efforts, was added to the Theodore Roosevelt Workers' Compensation and Disability Management awards given to employers with outstanding workers' comp programs. The PreVent is sponsored by PreCare Inc., a Sonoma, Calif.-based provider of safety, prevention, treatment, wellness and return-to-work services.
Bowling and the team of judges she served with evaluated more than 35 applications from highly recognizable names in the service and manufacturing industries, as well as the public sector.
For Bowling, the "whole person" approach, as implemented by Honda Manufacturing of Indiana, was eye catching. That combined with the buy-in that the company's safety program has from upper management is what put this company's application over the top, she said.
"This is a program that is really supported from the top on down," Bowling said.
At Honda, MoveSMART is paired with SAFESTART, the brainchild of Larry Wilson, founder of Belleville, Ont.-based SAFESTART-SAFETRACK.
While MoveSMART focuses on the physical approach to work and ergonomics at work, SAFESTART focuses on mental preparation and attitude, Ladalski said.
He said the company encourages workers to use the program outside of the workplace and to learn to monitor themselves on things such as their stress and fatigue levels, and how those irritants can affect their ability to not only work safely but live their lives safely.
"It's realizing that when you are rushing outside of work, on the road for instance, you are putting yourself at an increased risk for injury," Ladalski said.
"The first thing I looked for was that kind of combination, knowing that the way we live our lives affects the way our body functions. And I think they took that to its finest level," Bowling said of the Honda team.
One line in particular in the Honda application caught this writer's attention.
"The close relationship between associate, supervisor and management builds trust and improves associate safety," according to the company's PreVent Award application.
But that begs a chicken and egg question. Is it the concentration on safety that creates more trust between the worker and the organization? Or is it a trusting relationship that allows all members of a team to focus on safety?
Trust the worker first is how Burke put it. It's the worker that knows his or her job better than anyone. They know what stresses and hurts them, they know where the hazards are. Trust them, listen to them, and you are on your way to a relationship that can produce safe working conditions.
"If you don't really listen to them and try to make an effort to help them, then people are going to be less likely to give their opinion in the future," Burke said.
When the company was beginning construction on the more than two million-square-foot assembly plant in Greensburg, Ind. that began production in October of 2008, Burke and Ladalski studied ways to better train workers and install the best systems from an ergonomics standpoint.
"What we were working on was figuring out how we were going to protect people," Burke said.
The Honda company structure is that each plant can have practices that are independent of the other plants. One of the challenges Burke and Ladalski had to overcome was to sell the importance of the safety program they were creating in Greensburg.
"The safety piece is sometimes hard to implement because a lot of the time people think that safety is common sense or that it is pretty simple. But the reality is that there is a lot of complexity in managing safety," Burke said.
In their quest, Burke and Ladalski were aided by Urvi Sutariya, a Torrance, Calif.-based workers' compensation administrator and risk manager for Honda North America.
Burke and Ladalski had the expertise and the passion for safety, but it was Sutariya's depth of experience in return to work and workers' compensation that pulled the whole thing together in Indiana.
Perhaps adding to the bond was the fact that the trio graduated from rival colleges in the Big Ten Conference. Sutariya sports the scarlet and gray of an Ohio State University graduate; Ladalski graduated from Purdue University and wears the Boilermaker's old gold and black on football game days; and Burke cheers for the maize and blue worn by the University of Michigan Wolverines.
"Depends on who is playing who," Burke said of the changing but friendly nature of that chemistry.
Sutariya, a former Crawford & Co. employee, had cut her teeth with Honda at its oldest North American plant in Marysville, Ohio. It was there that she worked on implementing an on-site medical center. When Honda was looking for someone to run a national workers' comp program, Sutariya was tapped for the job.
"It's been a great five years," she said of her current position.
Sutariya said she shares with her safety and compliance colleagues a belief that, once again, echoes the philosophy of the company's founder.
"I try to tell our associates that if somebody gets injured it is our job to take it up," Sutariya said.
"If they weren't making the product we wouldn't be in business. It's not because of me that we are making product, it is really about the people we have," Sutariya said.
November 1, 2011
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