THREE YEARS AGO, Waste Management Inc. (WMI) employee Jimmy Savage was killed during what should have been a routine day at work. Savage was struck by a minivan while crossing the street to retrieve a garbage can in a Knoxville, Tenn., neighborhood. He was a hard-working, conscientious refuse worker who left behind a wife and two sons.
Houston-based WMI has created a safety plan that is repairing worker morale and ensuring accidents like these never happen again. Through a safety program that includes classroom training, route observation, safety data gathering and driver training, on-the-job employee fatalities have dropped by 77 percent since 2001.
WMI's safety department spearheaded “Mission to Zero,” a behavior-modifying campaign for approximately 50,000 employees early in 2000.
“Our first job was to alert our employees to the severity of the situation within the company and to create a sense of urgency to do something about it,” says James Schultz, vice president of health and safety for WMI.
After he had the company's attention, Schultz began implementing Mission to Zero's two-phase safety-certification program. Phase one provides 16 hours of classroom training that shows workers how to safely perform day-to-day tasks while working the route.
These courses standardize the company's safety practices, and they illustrate exemplary everyday operations, such as how to safely operate trucks, compactors and other equipment, and how to pick up garbage safely. Courses are held at WMI locations across the country.
Phase two offers classroom as well as on-site training for drivers and helpers who provide service for WMI customers. Drivers and helpers learn how to safely operate their vehicles, mount and dismount equipment, and move and lift containers. They also learn how to work in hot and cold weather, and even how to handle hostile dogs.
In 2004, Mission to Zero will introduce a training program that addresses the issues of lifting and overexertion, which are leading causes of injury at the company. The training will identify and teach proper lifting techniques for items that refuse workers lift daily. Schultz and his team also have created a campaign using meetings, video testimonials, personal appeals and “road shows” that bring employees face-to-face with coworkers who have suffered serious injuries because of safety failures.
Some of the Mission to Zero safety certification training tools used in the classroom and in the field include:
The “WM Operations and Safety Rules Book for Drivers and Helpers.” The rulebook covers a day in the life of a driver, outlining general safety standards and procedures for frontline employees. All employees are expected to pass a written exam on the rulebook, which covers such topics as how to react in specific traffic situations.
Observational Behavior Assessment. This route-observation program uses a standard form to assess drivers and their performances. Experienced drivers with sharp skills and a good safety record are observed quarterly. New and less-skilled drivers are observed at least once per month.
Safe Driving Practices Training. This four-part interactive video series teaches vehicle-operating concepts including human factors, brakes and braking dynamics, backing up, and intersections. The video series is based on detailed input from WMI drivers and district and senior managers from across the company.
In addition to safety certification training, Safety Operational Assessment Review (SOAR) teams target company sites with a history of sustained, substandard performances. Using assessments, coaching and progress reviews, the teams implement site-specific action plans to improve safety performance. SOAR evaluates a site's safety process using eight principles: communication, discipline, incident investigation, operating practice compliance, training, facilities and equipment, recognition and safety process. The SOAR assessment details a site's current system, determines the future system and develops a plan to eliminate the gaps between the desired state and the current state.
Waste Management has introduced “Alive” and “WasteMaster,” two computer-based tracking systems in WMI's eastern and western groups that assess compliance with federal regulations and enforce transportation safety. The Alive program focuses on WMI employees, while WasteMaster analyzes the performance of third-party hauling companies and their drivers who use company facilities.
Each driver is issued a Smart Card containing a computer chip carrying information, such as a driver's license, insurance contacts, physical examination status and motor vehicle reports. This information ensures the driver and the hauler are valid and in compliance. When a driver arrives at a transfer station or landfill, the Smart Card is swiped through the WasteMaster/Alive unit. Each unit communicates information from the Smart Card to a centralized data system, which immediately determines compliance or noncompliance. Once the driver receives authorization to enter the facility, WasteMaster/Alive tracks the time in and time out of the transfer station and the arrival at the landfill.
Although Schultz says the safety plan is not going to eliminate all work-related accidents, developing consistency in careful operations and raising a company-wide sense of urgency has helped leadership become more focused. More importantly, it has improved the morale of employees on the frontline.