By Diana J. Schwerha, PhD, guest blogger and Associate Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University
As the New Year begins it may be time to re-evaluate your safety training program and performance. You may examine last year’s performance metrics and develop a strategy to improve upon past accomplishments or challenges. While many companies use standard lagging indicators (e.g., injury rate) many more are now looking to leading indicators that may not only prevent injuries but also contribute to the economic strength of the company (e.g., number of employee suggestions that were acted upon and contributed to process improvement). One way to increase the number of leading indicators is to establish processes that engage the workforce and produce a consistent flow of ideas.
Engaging the workforce, however, is not always the easiest task. When considering improvement one question that I have frequently been asked is how to engage an age-diverse workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2024 millennials (age 16-34) will make up 34% of the workforce while the 55+ age group will increase to nearly 22% of the workforce.1 We have been bombarded in the press about this bi-furcation about the differences between baby boomers and millennials. The differences between these age cohorts are often emphasized when considering ways to retain your employees. Although differences exist between these groups, what I would like to suggest in this blog is that there are a lot of similarities between the groups. If you can look to the similarities and engage based on what groups have in common, you are one step closer to having a safe, engaged, and sustainable workforce.
So, what are those similarities? The main one that I see is that no matter what their age, employees want to contribute to the success of the company, be engaged in the process and understand how often conflicting demands can be resolved in a successful way. One method to getting employees involved is by using a recently developed training program on integrating safety with process improvement. This program was developed by researchers at Ohio University with funding from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. It can be found at https://www.ohio.edu/engineering/safety-training/.
The purpose of this training is to engage a group of individuals who will look at safety challenges from three perspectives: safety, quality and productivity. The program has four basic components: identification, prioritization, improvement, and documentation. These processes can be completed through the four tools: Process Map, Prioritization, Modular Value Stream Safety Mapping, and Process training. The online training program provides for the practitioner videos, instructions, templates and examples of each of these tools.
The overall goal of the program is to develop solutions to safety challenges through the contribution of cross-functional teams. The teams should include employees from different areas as well as employees with different levels of expertise. By ensuring this diversity, you will automatically include both newer hires and more experienced personnel. This is essential to ensure that you obtain the engagement from your millennials as well as baby boomers. Your goal is to create committee where you can investigate the challenge from multiple perspectives.
For example, several companies with whom I’ve worked have chosen to implement this program through their safety committee. They chose their employees so that different departments as well as different levels of experience are represented. Then, the committee should also have representatives from quality and productivity. Ideally, these individuals should have the authority to approve interventions at the site so that suggestions can be assured to be funded.
The first step in the program is to map the site and determine areas that are in need of improvement. These could be areas where you’ve had an injury or areas that are in a constant flux and have a lot of variability to them in terms of quality, safety or productivity. Once the areas are identified, then the group prioritizes them based on a red/yellow/green system that incorporates safety, productivity, and quality risks. Following that improvements to the individual areas are explored, processes worked out, analyses completed and improvements are implemented. The modular value stream safety mapping allows you to rank the before and after and also document the sustainability and communication plan. Finally, the program has a training document to allow you to record the new processes for future employees.
The training is simple and adaptable. It can be used as a stand-alone system or within your existing proprietary system or a lean or six sigma approach. My experience has shown that because the system greatly improves communication, barriers that may have existed can be broken down. Breaking down barriers, whether those are between different age groups or just between different constituencies within the company, will increase trust, create better solutions and foster sustainable improvements. It may not happen overnight, but through a thoughtful and systematic process where improvements are realized, companies can improve their safety performance and engage their age-diverse workforce.