Waste Management Going Back to Basics for Employee Safety

Cheryl McMullen, Freelance writer

March 15, 2015

4 Min Read
Waste Management Going Back to Basics for Employee Safety

Like professional athletes across the country watch practice and game films to build their skills, drivers at Waste Management (WM) engage in similar reviews to recognize successes and continuously improve their safety practices. And as position coaches work to influence and teach success, WM managers work to do the same with the firm’s operations.

Since 2001, when the company launched its (M2Z) Mission to Zero—a zero tolerance initiative for unsafe behavior by employees—incidences have decreased, but there is more to be done, says Jeff Martin, vice president of safety at WM.

The safety programs, which includes thorough training, standardized rulebooks and multiple industry-leading programs like dash cam video event recorders, which are installed in nearly 95 percent of its collection vehicles across the country, result in yearly improvements A little more than a decade post launch, WM is refocussing their safety-led initiative with the launch of M2Z Back to Basics in 2015. The training involves 1,400 managers and is field created and validated, he says, by a “guiding coalition” of field leaders, meaning those who will execute it had a say in its development. Every good safety culture leverages responsibility with recognition, says Martin.

Recognition excites employees into supporting successful and safe operations, he adds. Training covers topics like “coaching effectiveness,” “observation behavioral assessments” and “employee recognition and accountability.” In January and February 2015, as part one of M2Z Back to Basics, the company identified tasks in its operating rules book associated with the top three causes of injuries and collisions. Managers took on online, open-book recertification, says Martin, promoting employee use and understanding of the book.

Effective coaching means trust between the manager and the employee. Trust, obviously, he says, has to be earned. With re-education and implementation of dash cam reviews, employees realize that like an athlete, reviews make them better.

“Every day is game day for us,” Martin says. “And we can’t afford for a single failure.”

Part two is “M2Z Back to the Basics Field Training Day,” which is happening now through September. It’s a one-day intense safety training of operations managers who put into practice those same job tasks from recertification. The work includes manager observations and coaching, with role-playing opportunities, says Martin. An instant investigation piece, he says, that allows employees to recognize the contributing factors with any safety failure.

“So it wasn’t trying to boil the ocean,” Martin says. “It wasn’t trying to sit down and do a 3-hour test. Rather, a 45 minute walk through with their operating rules book at hand.”

From 2000 until 2013, according to the WM Sustainability Report 2014, the company experienced an 86 percent decrease in total recordable injury rate (TRIR), which would include, for example, non-fatal illnesses and injuries. And for 2013, WM had a TRIR of 3.1, which is below the 2012 industry average of 5.4. Additionally, says Martin, in 2014, the company, like the rest of the transportation industry, saw a rise in slips, trips and falls injuries as winter months proved difficult thanks to snow in parts of the extreme south and southeast.

This winter, WM experienced a 30 percent reduction in slips, trips and falls injuries, which Martin attributes, in part, to the rule book recertification and to employees seeing an opportunity to improve. Each year, as a safety measure, WM invests approximately $500 million in the maintenance of collection vehicles and $100 million in maintenance and repairs for heavy equipment. Employees inspect each vehicle twice daily to ensure proper operation.

John Haundenshield, director of safety at the National Waste and Recycling Association, says WM’s among those doing best practices. Safety leadership teams are traveling the country to different training facilities doing hands-on training. Large companies like WM have had incidents in years past and are putting the focus on what their drivers can do to prevent safety incidences, he says.

Because of their size, Haudenshield says, and their dedicated resources, WM goes to great lengths to address driver training and improve the situation. In 2016, says Martin, safety training will continue and include the company’s post collection employees.

“At the end of the day there are no secrets about success,” Martin says. “For us, it’s really about focusing on the fundamentals in creating culture that sets the expectations. That as a company, and within our safety culture, we’re going to do these fundamentals extremely well. It’s nothing more than that. It’s nothing that we haven’t uncovered or some secret approach, but it is focusing on the fundamentals and continuously promoting knowledge and awareness, while constructively coaching and resetting expectations with employees.”

About the Author(s)

Cheryl McMullen

Freelance writer, Waste360

Cheryl McMullen is a freelance journalist from Akron, Ohio, covering solid waste collection and transfer for Waste360.

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