Zero Accident Culture

Achieving Zero

If you’re not planning to prevent work related injuries, you’re planning to have them.

John Wayhart

A business’ greatest asset is its employees who “bring to life” the brand, product or service that an organization represents to its customers. Oftentimes, organizations forget that the very backbone of their business model is its people and how well they respond to production, quality and customer service at various times within the workday. When the focus is placed elsewhere, companies lose their edge and their ability to truly compete at a higher level. In fact, a lack of specific attention and focus on the wellbeing, safety and happiness of your employees can cost you more than lost opportunities and revenue. In order to protect your bottom line, you need to create a respectful, employee-centric work environment focused on protecting your employees.

As a business in the solid waste and recycling industry, you can make a positive impact on your employees and your company as a whole by addressing your safety beliefs and processes and developing a Zero Accident Culture® (ZAC). This concept will introduced shortly, but first, let’s set the stage by addressing the current safety conditions within the waste industry.

Injury Rates

According to the 2011 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Waste Haulers/Refuse Collectors is the 7th most dangerous occupation, based off of incidence rates of injury and death, in the U.S. This industry has fluctuated in the unfavorable top 10 category for some time. With an increasing number of businesses, dwellings, and vehicles in America, drivers and material movers are at increased risk of traffic-related accidents and/or being injured by their machinery.

What’s most unfortunate is that these injuries or deaths within the waste industry are completely unnecessary and are preventable through focused safety efforts. Something must be done—one waste hauler at a time—to create a safety culture that best represents your industry, your company, your employees and the families you go home to.

So what would it mean if waste industry businesses were no longer identified as one of the “Top Ten Most Dangerous”, but instead reduced the number of injuries and deaths year after year through a focus on safety?

  • Lower Workers’ Compensation costs

  • More competitive insurance rates and options

  • Reduced labor costs and increased profit margins

  • Improved productivity

  • Employer of choice and industry and organizational pride

It’s time to commit to creating a Zero Accident Culture within your business. Over the next few months, ideas will be offered as well as techniques and tactical implementation of the fundamental tenets of ZAC. To begin introducing you to process, ZAC will be broken down to what it represents word for word.

Zero: It’s More than Meets the Eye

Zero means the absence of, zip, zilch, nada, nil, nothing. In other words, no accidents. And while I realize, this may sound impossible, I encourage you to try your best to create a culture that embraces prevention. Zero can be achieved one step at a time. The first step is to visualize when and where accidents may occur in your workplace and put preventative measures in place. I’ll dive deeper into this concept in the next issue. The second step is to put processes in place to eliminate an accident after it occurs to ensure no one gets injured in the same way again. Eliminate the possibility of the same accident occurring twice, one accident at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be at zero.

Setting goals in business is characteristic of great companies. In accident prevention, a 50 percent reduction is a big number. However, if you had 40 work-related injuries last year, 20 is better, yet, 20 employees still were injured. A 100 percent reduction is what all businesses should strive for, which, of course, equates to zero accidents. Have you ever heard the phrase “shoot for the stars”? Even if you miss, you’re at a better place than you were before. Why not shoot for zero?

Accident: “That Ugly Middle Word”

By definition, an accident is an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance. Typically, when someone gets injured, we call it an accident. I beg to differ. Some safety professionals like to use the term “incident” to refer to a situation in which an individual is injured or a loss occurs, and that’s okay. The reason I use the term “accident” instead of incident is mostly because I want to call attention to the misuse of the word and eliminate it in general. Let’s dissect what the term accident refers to in the following scenarios:

  • A waste hauler/driver is knowingly speeding because they are late, behind in their route or have a chronic heavy foot and can’t stop fast enough to avoid rear-ending another vehicle. This is considered an accident. But was it?

  • A refuse collector picks up a garbage bag without first checking how heavy it was and simply throws it over his shoulder and injures his back, shoulder or hip. Could this have been prevented? Is this considered an accident?

  • A driver doesn’t honor the preventive maintenance schedule of his truck or discloses that something is wrong with his vehicle and the malfunction causes a wreck. Is this really an accident?

  • A new employee is hired without any new employee orientation or close monitoring of their skill set. While on the job, they get injured. Who is at fault for allowing the employee to injure themselves?

The phrase, “It was an accident” should be removed from every company’s vocabulary when using it to refer to a loss. These incidents aren’t accidents. They are injuries that occur because of a lack of effort to create processes, procedures and education to eliminate them.

Culture: Bringing it All Together

Culture refers to the behaviors, beliefs and characteristics of a particular group. Like most things in an organization, the type of culture a company adheres to begins at the very top. How the owner, CEO or President reaches out and approaches situations, relationships with businesses, clients, employees and other constituents sets the stage for what is expected. I often say to my clients that the very best Risk Manager or Safety Director in every company is always the CEO of the company. Leading by example, is key to developing a culture that lives and breathes safety.

Imagine if the CEO of a waste company drove around with a driver for a morning shift and another for an afternoon shift once a month. What would this communicate to the employee population? What about a CEO who meets with every injured worker who has a lost time injury to evaluate what can be done better at his or her workplace to avoid the injury happening again, or to anyone else? How would this make the injured employee feel?

When someone is injured, make it your mission to evaluate the loss to its fullest extent (root causation) to prevent reoccurrence, find the solution to eliminate it and communicate the lesson learned to all employees. This shows respect for your employee, their family and reinforces the commitment you have to the wellbeing of your other employees and the organization as a whole. Who wouldn’t have pride for and want to work hard for a company with a culture like that?

Predict. Prevent. Prosper.

I hope by dissecting each word of ZAC, you have a better understanding of the philosophy. By bringing a ZAC mindset to work every day you will immediately help reduce the severity and frequency of accidents. Investing time in visualizing and identifying possible safety hazards and putting practices in place to prevent them will create an effective prevention-focused culture, which will ultimately impact your bottom line. Stay tuned for next month’s article which will go into more detail on building a Zero Accident Culture from the top down and how leadership can get involved and get employees motivated.

John Wayhart is a Senior Vice President at Assurance Agency, Ltd. (Schaumburg, IL). With more than 29 years in the insurance and risk management industry, his expertise lies in providing solutions for a wide range of businesses including the waste and recycling industry. In 1989, John trademarked the Zero Accident Culture® and continues to teach, coach and mentor this process to help drive down the cost of risk to improve operational effectiveness and financial results. This successful approach to insurance and risk advocacy is indeed a market differentiator. John can be reached at (847) 463-7161 or via e-mail at [email protected].

Zero Accident Culture® is a registered trademark.