Manufacturing firm takes deep action at troubled facility for dramatic outcomes
The program, dubbed trailblazing, entailed dissecting every workers' comp-related process and procedure to bring about a new culture and thinking at the plant. In fact, the plant became the location for test-piloting various programs.
"The first full year [of the program] they cut their losses in half," said Julia Sfurm, corporate risk operations manager for Oak Brook, Ill.-based Elkay Manufacturing Company. "The second full year in place, this location went 348 days with no lost time injuries."
The plumbing facility employed between 250 and 300 people in 2007. At the time it was performing poorly on many levels.
"Claims were not being reported or, when they were, reported late and were not being managed appropriately. [Injured workers] were not coming back to work. On the safety side, people were not really being held accountable; accidents were not investigated," Sfurm said. "It was a poster child for bad behavior on every realm you could think of."
Medical expenses were "out the roof," Sfurm said. About 95 percent of Elkay's workers' comp/risk management dollars were going to the one facility.
"We put together a program," Sfurm said. "We said, 'OK, this has got to change.'"
The process of turning things around at the Elkay plumbing facility began with a reality check for the facility's leaders. "We brought in the vice president of operations and the plant manager and had a discussion about what we were seeing, that if it continued we anticipated financially what would occur," Sfurm said.
Sfurm and the director of treasury and risk team explained that the initial phase would be a fact-fnding mission involving written surveys of the plant's employees and then on-site surveys. The team wanted carte blanche to be able to talk to whomever they wanted during any of the three shifts.
"We would pick and choose people randomly," she said. "It was not as if the plant would be able to choose who we would talk with."
Management support was key to the program's success. "We were fortunate in that the plant manager agreed there needed to be changes," Sfurm said. "We got unlimited access, 24 hours a day. They were told the expectation was we would be given the opportunity to go wherever we wanted and to go to any meeting. We didn't need to check in with him."
The team also looked at every policy and process, including return-to-work and safety programs. They also attended safety meetings.
"Then we wanted a committee to be formed, and the plant manager to be the sponsor of everything," Sfurm sad. "Ultimately, the vice president of operations became the sponsor with the plant manager but the plant manager participated in everything. He formulated a group."
The committee represented a cross section of employees. Line people, supervisors, and HR personnel were included, as well as a union steward.
The newly formed committee met weekly to discuss various processes being used. "Like what happens when a person reports a claim?" Sfurm said. "We would go through the process to see if it could be streamlined; what minutia was in it."
Over several months, the committee came to understand how the plant functioned -- its culture, management, and what things were considered important. It was an extensive exercise that even included flow charts to understand each course of action during the claims process.
"We sent them to folks and said 'this is the process.' [Many] had a lot of extra steps they didn't need to have," she explained. "We looked at everything and said, 'why are you doing this? Is there a benefit? A cost value? Is it needed or just something someone else was doing?'"
With newly streamlined processes in place, the inefficiencies started to disappear. "They were so proud they had cut in half [the injuries] they were also of the opinion that they could do better, working cohesively as a group," Sfurm said.
During the second full year of the program, the first lost time injury occurred 348 days later. It was handled differently than it would have been before the program's implementation.
"I gave them a lot of credit," Sfurm said. "They could have very easily tried to hide this, and they didn't. They did the right thing for the employees. They changed the culture. It was about a safe culture."
The second part of the trailblazer program included putting more onus on supervisors and HR personnel to continue the streamlining process. It became part of their performance evaluations.
"They've continued to maintain a very good performance record," Sfurm said, six years after the program started. "Injuries have remained very minimal."
By Nancy Grover
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May 6, 2013
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