Always Try to be Safer Tomorrow

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Always Try to be Safer Tomorrow

Columnist at large shares tips from facility’s 10-year no-lost-time achievement

TULSA, Okla. — Welcome to 2024! I hope everyone had a great holiday season. 

If your laundry is like ours, surviving the delivery changes and more days off has been quite the challenge. 

From Nov. 1, all plans and thoughts are centered around making it to Jan. 8. Well, we are here, and I hope all your plans worked out.

Now it is time to look at what we can improve in 2024. There is probably no better goal than that of improving safety in our facilities. 

Of course, having safety as a goal and figuring out how to get there are two completely different topics.

While I am not the safety manager for our company, I have been here long enough to know what we were like before we started an emphasis on safety and how it has progressed. 

We recently celebrated 10 years without a lost-time accident in one of our facilities, which is incredible to me, even more so because it is not a highly automated facility. 

It is a facility that the management team just decided that it may not be the most efficient laundry facility, but it was going to be the safest facility. They work on this goal every day. 

Since the no-lost-time streak began, it has also evolved into a well-run facility by all metrics that you can judge a facility on.

I thought this month I would share several suggestions based I what I have seen on creating a safer working environment, I hope that you may pick up a few ideas from them.

You can’t buy a safe working environment. Our early safety meetings would always get bogged down in wanting to make some huge change that required quite a capital investment. 

Don’t get me wrong, if you have an unsafe machine it needs to be replaced. But the thinking of “this old facility can never be a safe working environment” just isn’t accurate. 

Just spending money also doesn’t make any place safer if that is the only action you are going to take. Safety is a mindset and no amount of spend can change a mindset on its own.

Your employees are your safety culture. Safety may be organized by management, but it must be driven by the employees. 

Employees watching out for each other is the goal of any safety program. I was working on a machine in one of our facilities the other day. The plant had one of their four ironers turned off due to a high number of call-offs on that day. 

Two production employees came by and performed a safety audit of the machine I was looking at. Worrying about safety even when you are short-staffed truly shows how important safety is in that facility. 

“This is the way we have always performed this task” is the biggest hurdle to gaining a safe work environment.You see this is in every department of a laundry. 

Sometimes it seems we want a merit badge for doing tasks the hardest way possible. Analyzing every job to see how you can make it easier helps both with safety and employee turnover.

Chaos creates accidents. I have been in facilities where it was as if you could feel the chaos. The plant may be cluttered with unnecessary items or there was just a tension in the air. 

We’ve had plants with horrible safety records. We couldn’t go 10 days let alone 10 years without some type of mishap. 

Those plants, at the time of all the safety issues, were plagued with equipment and management issues. Bad safety was just what showed the most. 

A clean, organized facility is a great first step in creating a safe environment.

Teamwork makes all jobs safer. Virtually every accident we have ever had involved an employee performing a task on their own. 

As I stated earlier, employees watching out and helping each other will greatly reduce accidents. 

I know there are quite a few tasks performed by employees when no other employees are around, but these tasks need to be the outlier, not the norm, in your facility. These jobs should be looked at intensely so that everyone knows what the job hazard may be.

Thoroughly investigate every accident to see how it can be prevented. Never chalk up any incident as “accidents happen.” 

The goal is to be safer tomorrow than you are today. I once ran a facility that was coming up on two years without a lost-time accident. I would walk the floor every day looking for any task we could improve on, looking at how every employee performed their task. 

We had an employee get hurt doing something that no one told him to do that had nothing to do with his job. I was devastated; I don’t think I slept for a week. I couldn’t see how I had missed this potential accident, but then I realized I was looking at this whole process wrong. 

Our goal was to make our facility safer, and I believe we had. There is no telling how many potential accidents we had stopped, but I was judging our whole system on one mistake by one employee. 

My final bit of advice is if you do have an incident, don’t get down on your program. Investigate the incident, look at how you can improve and move forward. 

Always try to be safer tomorrow.   


Revisiting Safety with Less Labor, More Automation, Jan. 2, 2024

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].