June 1986 will be forever etched in my mind as I walked through the front doors of a supply chain warehouse. I was greeted by the Human Resource Manager, who appeared disheveled, confused and somewhat in a panic. I was quickly ushered through the office area into the main warehouse. The temperature change was approximately 20 degrees cooler and as we got deeper into the 50,000 square foot cold storage building the temperature continued to get cooler. We stopped at a collapsed racking structure, immediately I noticed a pair of legs protruding from the wreckage. I asked the Human Resource Manager our exact location. A voice yelled out, “Aisle 14, door number 5”. With my radio in one hand and my other hand feeling for pulse; I informed my partner to enter through “Door Number 5” and informed the HR Manager to meet the incoming rescue personnel. The fallen structure was unstable and working as a team, a nearby forklift was used to stabilize the remainder of product from crushing the entrapped worker. Assessment revealed, a 24 year old female with severe chest trauma, with bilateral femur fractures. Her vitals were fading quickly and we knew this would be a load and go situation to the closest trauma center as there was no time to airlift the patient. Coordinating her extraction would take all of the responding companies’ effort. In one swift motion, the fully immobilized employee was placed on the receiving stretcher. She now laid unconscious, with two large bore IV’s as we quickly rolled past the visually upset co-workers who formed a line towards our exit. Once in the ambulance, my partner and I continued advanced life support as our driver negotiated heavy traffic conditions to the awaiting emergency room. Twenty minutes after her arrival, this 24 year old mother of two children succumbed to her injuries, making her another statistic of a work related fatality.
Fast forward 27 years later, I have retired from my role as a fire medic officer and now have taken a position of Corporate Safety Manager with a major supply chain solutions company. As I walked through the doors of Associated, that tragic day in June resonated in my mind, committing to create a safety culture that would prevent a repeat loss of life or further tragic events. I was a newbie to corporate America; an adjustment from the public sector to the private sector was a huge change in my daily tasks of providing and implementing safety. My shift schedule of 53 hours per week consisting of 24 hours on with 2 days off was now replaced by a straight 40 hour work week.
My family quickly acclimated to me being home every night and took comfort knowing that my life was no longer in danger while at work. One major balance was traveling on a daily basis. However, it was nice to know that each night I would be home for dinner and my sleep would no longer be interrupted.
My work days now were focused on preventive measures rather than emergent reactive solutions. I now learned that the protection of lives, safety and security in the supply chain industry would come through understanding industry metrics as well as policy and procedure implementation. These metrics involved a deep dive into workers compensations claims, auto accident trending, and experience modification rates all which impact insurance rates and operational needs. Training, communication, employee involvement, and committed managerial support would be key in creating a strong safety culture to any organization.
Approaching my third year with my Associated family, together we have reduced our workers compensation incidents by 54%. Total claim dollars decreased by 63% with total lost time rate decreasing by 44%. Our experienced modification rate was reduced 23% over the past 3 years. These accomplishments were possible through increased training to all staff, employee participation in safety committees, safety directives, strong managerial support and most importantly a companywide commitment and passion towards customer service and safe work ethics.
We are only as strong as our weakest link.