One of the most important safety aspects of the food supply chain relates to the activity that occurs inside the four walls, and that includes the safety of employees. Labor makes up a significant cost for most companies’ warehouse operations, particularly in the food and beverage industry.
Not surprisingly, economic pressures, higher numbers of temporary workers, and unrelenting customer demands for higher productivity and performance can make it difficult to maintain a rigorous safety program. But, despite the challenges, safety doesn’t have to suffer.
Adapting to new workforce realities
Marty Gordon, director of risk management, Americas, for APL Ltd., says an increasing number of temporary workers make up today’s warehouse laborers. “This is largely the result of recent economic conditions. At the same time, our customers are pushing us to keep costs down so that they can deliver value pricing to the end consumer.”
Temporary workers can help an organization more quickly scale up or down to meet changing demands. It also represents a variable expense, as opposed to a fixed expense associated with full-time employees, which offers some flexibility as well.
The skill level of temporary warehouse workers is typically quite high, points out Dixie Brock, manager of safety & claims and risk management, Americas, for APL Ltd. “They are trained to work with a variety of industrial equipment,” she says. APL’s contracts for temporary workers specify that they are physically capable and adequately trained.
However, Gordon admits that more temporary workers obviously means a higher turnover rate, “which puts more of an onus on us to constantly provide training, while the local APL managers have the added burden of more monitoring to make sure safety standards aren’t compromised.”
APL’s response has been to implement vigorous training, couple it with thorough analysis, and make it consistent throughout their global organization. Both Gordon and Brock are big fans of OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) too, and use the agency’s injury frequency rates to help benchmark APL’s standing in the marketplace, which is currently about one-third of what the industry average is in terms of accident frequency rates.
Gordon says when it comes to accidents, “The ultimate goal is zero, of course. We try to focus our program, our training, and our supervisory emphasis on bringing down total injuries, which brings down the OSHA frequency. We use the Pareto principle to analyze where our incidents are happening, what types of incidents they are, and then discuss it with a number of people—our brokers, our underwriters, external safety people, and various industry professionals—to come up with new strategies in order to impact those critical areas.”
Applying the Pareto principle, which essentially states that 20 percent of the hazards will account for 80 percent of the injuries, is very effective, considering that most of the injuries tend to fall within three categories, says Brock. “Ergonomic risk factors, industrial equipment accidents, and slips, trips, and falls are where most of the injuries occur,” she says. “For the 20 years that I’ve been doing this, it has remained unchanged. We keep driving our risk down with better tools, but these three categories are still where the injuries take place.”
One of the “better tools” that APL utilizes is comprehensive data and robust analysis, which really help reveal what’s happening with injuries in the workplace, says Brock. “I really like it when you can look at the data and analyze the causal factors to help determine what processes are showing higher rates or risk and where the injuries are occurring. By contrast, if I only had data on the number of injuries, that doesn’t really tell me the whole story such as what the worker was doing when he or she was injured.”