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Talking Medical Waste Safety Best Practices with Stericycle

In April, Stericycle’s Parkersburg, W.Va., plant was recognized as the first medical waste treatment facility awarded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star Status for its achievement of excellence in worker safety and health. The VPP recognizes effective workplace safety and health management and Star participants are considered top of the VPP recognition ladder. 

The company is holding the achievement at Parkersburg as a model to increase awareness and recognition of its safety and health management processes across the Stericycle network, says Matt Marra, senior vice president of safety health and compliance excellence. Stericycle is working to keep team members focused on best practices for safety in the workplace.

"All elements of Stericycle's safety and health management programs met the high quality expected of VPP participants," Prentice Cline, area director for the Charleston, W.Va. OSHA area office, said in a statement. "This company's commitment to a safe and healthful work environment makes it most deserving of this honor."

Waste360 spoke with Stericycle’s Marra about health and safety at the Parkersburg plant and how the company works to build best practices across its network of facilities.

Waste360: Let’s talk about the OSHA VPP Star Award earned by Stericycle’s medical waste facility in Parkersburg. What is the designation and how does a facility qualify?

Matt Marra: It’s a couple years in the making and it involves making sure you have programs in place to establish the proper relationships between the workforce and management and basically, the health and safety programs—high-quality health and safety programs in OSHA’s eyes.

You have all the basics down, plus are you going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that you have a very good workplace for your team members and that they’re going home safe to their families each and every day. So it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s my understanding that it’s about two-and-a-half years in the making.

It’s one of those things that it takes time to not only get your programs and procedures locked down, but there’s also capital improvements involved to make your facility a safe place for your team members. So it’s a combination of things—it’s a real commitment and a real team-oriented approach amongst the members who are actually doing the work every day and their management team.

Waste360: How does that gel with what Stericycle is doing across its network of facilities in terms of health and safety?

Matt Marra: Basically, what we’re doing right now is, we are in the midst of a 2016 safety campaign. [W]e are on a continuous improvement program where we are looking at best practices and shared learnings across the company.

For example, we are producing videos internally of lessons learned and best practices that we share enterprise-wide. Its various success stories where a facility has gone from maybe having a lot of injuries to having very few injuries.... Also, every Monday morning, we’re doing Safety Minutes, where we’re doing a conference call where some type of safety issue is talked about that is germane and relevant to their facility to heighten awareness and keep it on everybody’s radar. The more you talk about it, the more it becomes ingrained in the culture.

We have an upcoming ‘Accident-Free’ Day on June 1st. We’re very excited about that.  Everyone is going to be asked to really have their situational awareness caps on that day and just be abundantly aware of their circumstances. [We're asking them to make] sure they’re wearing the right protective equipment as they’re doing their jobs. It’s nothing necessarily out of the ordinary. It’s just that we’re asking them to really stop, take a deep breath, think about what they’re doing, enjoy the day and have a safe day. Then we can celebrate shortly thereafter after we get the results in.

So we can tie that to what’s been going on in Parkersburg, by doing a lot of what they’ve been doing [there] and trying to leverage that program in other parts of Stericycle.

Waste360: What types of things are happening in Parkersburg that Stericycle would like to see happening company-wide?

Matt Marra: Well, for example, Parkersburg has had very, very good success at not have any injuries for the last three years. That’s pretty impressive in light of what they do there. The guys move some pretty heavy containers and of course, they’re also involved in containers that contain sharps or needles.

In our industry, it can be somewhat routine for guys to, unfortunately, get stuck with needles here and there, so the Parkersburg team has gone about three years without any injuries at all.

So what are they doing? Well, they have safety on the radar every day. They were going through the VPP program, and they knew that the day would come that OSHA would come in and say "yea" or "nay" to whether or not they would receive star status. They had their eyes on the prize. And talk about situational awareness: the fact that they haven’t had any injuries in three years—that’s a huge accomplishment. And so, looking at Parkersburg—if it can be done at one facility, and it can be ingrained in the culture at that facility, it can be ingrained in the culture of the company.

Waste360: Many companies have received this status, but Stericycle is the first medical waste facility to be awarded OSHAs star status. What additional health and safety issues are a concern at a medical waste facility over other types of operations?

Matt Marra: There’s plenty of ways to be injured at a medical waste facility, whether it’s moving heavy containers, lifting heavy containers, getting stuck with needles, there’s just a lot of different things that team members need to be aware of and cautious of as they do their work every day. It’s not an overly complex operation, but it’s complex enough that you really have to have your eye on the ball all day long.

Waste360: How easy is it to get complacent in that type of environment and how do you keep workers motivated to keep up that hyper awareness?

Matt Marra: You know, when you’ve been doing a job for a long time, you kind of get into a groove or a routine where you think you have it all down pat, but one of my favorite sayings is, ‘An unattended minute has an accident in it.’ So, you can’t let your guard down.

Waste360: Talk then about health and safety best practices at Stericycle.

Matt Marra: One thing we’re doing is have a monthly incident review call, with all the operations personnel and safety managers and we will get on the phone together and we will go through the previous month’s accidents. Each person or supervisor involved in that accident will speak about what happened.

They will walk the entire team through the root cause, and the corrective actions and any shared learnings that came out of it that can be leveraged across the company. You know a lot of our facilities are very similar.

And so if there’s a shared learning lesson learned at one facility, typically you can apply that—almost universally—across the company as a best practice. So each month, we’re on the calls. When a best practices or shared learning is mentioned, we will send out a shared learning alert, and or we have on Monday mornings a shared learnings forum that goes out to the entire company about best practices to share with the rest of the company. We’ll say, hey, XYZ facility has implemented this best practice. We’ll show pictures. Here’s an idea for your facility and it probably applies to your facility as well.

That is one way of getting best practices shared across the company. It’s getting everyone on the phone, A  and B, to discuss their incidents, root causes, corrective actions and shared learnings and then any best practices that come out of that, we will share that across the board in an email, do a little write up about and some pictures.

Waste360: What has the response been to those calls and shared learnings overall?

Matt Marra: It’s really been taking off and it’s been very well received. More and more are jumping on board with hey, I want to know what they did at their facility and it’s just really taking off.

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