In the logistics industry, warehouse and distribution-center safety compliance is key to avoiding unplanned downtime and costly lawsuits.
Consider the recent exposure of Amazon’s rising injury rates. While the industry giant boasts unfettered growth even throughout the months spent in lockdown, its public image has been irreparably harmed by numerous exposés. And it’s not the only organization under the magnifying glass.
Accidents are on the rise among all distribution companies, as demand for shipped goods stays at a constant high. Slips, trips, and falls can take a worker out of commission for several days, yet still rank among the most common accidents in warehousing and logistics. Close seconds include falling objects, shelf collapses, muscle strain, and environmental issues (e.g., heat stroke). Each of these incidents introduces a number of costly factors: lost time on the job, workers’ compensation, potential litigation, and unplanned downtime in the case of damaged assets. The occasional forklift accident can lead to damaged product, which can set processes back multiple days.
In order to avoid these expensive issues, it’s time for a culture change. That means getting back to basics. A safety-first culture is an emerging trend in several industries, and it’s time that it found a home in the supply chain.
The practice involves thinking of safety not as an outlying threshold to overcome, but as a primary objective in tandem with operational goals. Defining and encouraging a safety-first culture is a crucial rung in the evolutionary ladder of logistics. It’s the next step in making things better for workers, customers, stakeholders — in fact, everyone in the supply chain.
Let’s break down the vital elements of how to promote a positive safety-first culture:
Identify and capitalize on the catalyst. The pandemic has acted as an unexpected catalyst for many operational changes in the supply chain, but there’s a silver lining to this disruption:
- It serves as an opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate old processes, particularly in the areas of safety, quality, and compliance.
- We can identify key areas where logistics operations are vulnerable to increased activity brought on by demand. Does safety slip through the cracks when it’s crunch time?
- The pandemic has made change more or less unavoidable. Because there’s no sign of it relenting, organizations need to restabilize for the long haul. That means iterating a safety-first culture.
It’s critical to capitalize on this unique moment in business. There’s a wave of new policies entering the supply chain, such as social distancing rules, that require collective enforcement. Initiating a safety-first culture can neatly piggyback off of these emerging trends.
Make changes to meet an unpredictable environment. The confusing combination of old safety rules and new requirements can be unfamiliar and challenging, but instilling safety-first culture takes some of the burden off management. That’s because safety-first culture means everyone, from the highest executive to the greenest shelf-stocker, is part of keeping the environment and behavior in check. It’s event-agnostic, and no pandemic, recession, or unexpected variable should be able to interrupt this credo.
Consider the look-think-act strategy for instilling safety-first culture:
- Look: Be aware of surroundings and maintain the presence of mind to actively identify safety issues.
- Think: When noticing a safety issue, what are the next steps required to correct it? Should a supervisor be called in, or is it as simple as putting on a lift belt before moving an object?
- Act: Notify the right people or take action if it’s only a minor change.
Look-think-act is a great strategy to empower employees to make meaningful safety changes in the moment. Putting tools into everyone’s hands to be a part of the safety-first culture is a critical element in this process. It helps you drive the sense that everyone is pulling together, and that it’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for one another.
Look-think-act is also as dynamic as you need it to be. If it’s in everyone’s interest to wear masks, socially distance and sanitize frequently touched surfaces, then everyone will look out for these behaviors, even though they might be new. Equipping inspectors or auditors with tools that remind them of these rules can help with training and re-training. Mobile apps in particular can draw on built-in logic to guide workers through traditionally paper-based forms for maximum clarity. This emerging trend of incorporating technology into the adoption of safety-first culture has proven to be highly effective in several industries.
Improving on the methods used to audit or inspect the workplace further reinforces the responsibility that employees have to each other. Typically, safety data regarding workspaces is recorded on paper forms and transplanted into a spreadsheet system or database — if it’s uploaded to a digital system at all.
Logistics companies are increasingly finding that integrated digital systems for managing this safety data put frontline employees in better and more direct control of the environment. By connecting data from inspections with smart analysis tools, it’s possible to draw big-picture conclusions about the status quo. Instead of waiting week or months for a quarterly report, stakeholders will know how safety culture is progressing on a daily basis.
By placing safety data at your managers’ fingertips, you’re providing crucial data touchpoints that can inform their daily decision-making. Is a training session in order? Do trends reveal that certain types of accidents occur more often during the hot season? Answering burning business questions is much easier when digital tools are in play.
Safety-first culture starts with a change in the leadership’s attitude. It’s a paradigm shift from meeting the bare minimum to consistently exceeding requirements. Instilling a safety-first culture in 2021 will dovetail collectivist efforts from within teams and locations with smart technology that reinforces company standards.
Rewarding workers for going the extra mile will pay dividends. Arming inspectors with more powerful tools will save time and contribute to greater clarity. Leading companies will be among the early adopters of this strategy. With enough momentum, 2021 will be a baptism by fire for a new safety-minded culture overhaul.
Alex Brown is the technical editor for Form.com.