When Cat dealer Wagner Equipment Co. realized in 2007 that its safety performance metrics had flat-lined, its 6 Sigma Team turned to other dealers who seemed to have the formula for continuous improvement. Their secret was S.T.A.R.T. ™, a training course that ties safety to every part of business, gives each employee accountability for safety and replaces criticism with a much more effective tool - recognition.
"Something that works for one Cat® dealer should work for us also," said Curt Siroky, Wagner's Environmental Health and Safety manager. "So beginning in 2008, we started the full training of all managers, supervisors and leads in the S.T.A.R.T. program."
S.T.A.R.T. is a three-module training course that takes the guesswork out of safety management by empowering employees to define tasks that prevent injuries. Rather than focusing on lagging indicators and statistics that reveal only what has gone wrong in safety, S.T.A.R.T. introduces accountability for completing processes that create a safer workplace. The program also illuminates the full range of costs associated with an injury, no matter how severe. The video storyline captures the grief of a worker's family after a fatal accident, while revealing the deep impact any lost-time incident can have on an organization's morale, productivity and ability to meet customer demands. Realizing the domino effect that can result if one worker gets hurt, several Wagner managers experienced "a-ha" moments.
"If you have three technicians in a small shop and one of them gets hurt, all of a sudden now each technician left has 50 percent more work to do while that guy is out," Siroky said. "That really hit home for one of our managers who realized if he can keep that guy on the job, it's going to make his job a lot easier."
After one year of full implementation of S.T.A.R.T., Wagner's Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR) was down by 60 percent. In each year since, TRIR and injury severity have continued to drop. The true improvement in safety culture came from empowering employees to take ownership of safety. After learning from S.T.A.R.T that the formula for safety excellence includes effective communication, accountability for tasks that prevent injuries and positive recognition for good performance, employees took the lead in building processes for weekly and monthly shop inspections, job safety analysis programs and near-miss reporting.
"Now employees know that if there's an issue, it's going to be taken care of, and that's where culture comes into play. That's what S.T.A.R.T. helped do for us," Siroky said.
Fulfilling their own accountability to the safety culture journey, leaders at Wagner are ensuring that employees continue to see evidence of genuine commitment from top management. Siroky visits every site at least once per year to demonstrate his personal engagement in continuous improvement.
"One year after we rolled out the program, I visited a store where an employee had been a vocal skeptic about S.T.A.R.T., figuring it was just a flavor of the month program that would wither and die," Siroky said. "After just one year, this individual couldn't wait to show me the improvements his location had made since my last visit. Once he saw the results, the benefits of the program just kind of clicked."
Wagner continues to see evidence that its employees have embraced safety as a journey, a pursuit that delivers increasingly valuable rewards along the way, but never truly ends. Annual employee opinion survey results demonstrate empirical proof that the culture has improved. For the last three years, employees have rated safety among the top three of all categories surveyed.
"Safety culture isn't something that happens instantaneously, it's something you build on." Siroky said. "This journey never ends, and S.T.A.R.T. will continue to be the foundation of the Wagner culture and our journey."