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Spreading Safety

Wednesday, April 15, 2020  
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Spreading Safety

Engaging your warehouse employees and leaders

By Brenda Stoltz and Michael Wohlwend, Alpine Supply Chain Solutions


Staying Safe During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Top 10 Practical responses to COVID-19 include:

     Over-communicate to keep staff informed (text, email, internal systems)

     Limit visitors

     Limit staff contact (stagger breaks, more time between shifts)

     Require non-essential employees to work from home

     Increase pay for essential workers

     Provide sanitizer and wipes to all staff

     Establish COVID-19 cleaning protocols, including increased cleaning frequency

     Develop a plan for government-mandated facility closure, such as a phone tree.

     Develop a protocol for when an employee tests positive for COVID-19, such as a 48-hour facility shutdown and cleaning.


What to do when an employee tests positive for COVID-19

Drawing from the WERC Pandemic Response Calls, Stoltz offered some resources and direction about how to make your facility safe for staff after a colleague tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC provides both general and detailed directions on Cleaning and Disinfecting Facilities, and she encouraged listeners to take advantage of these official resources.

Beyond this, Stoltz said current best practice requires closing all areas used or visited by the infected person, opening doors and windows to increase circulation, and then waiting for 24 hours before starting the cleaning and disinfection process. Cleaning staff should then be instructed to disinfect all areas with a specific focus on frequently touched areas including:



     Common areas


     Touch screens


     Remote controls

     ATM machines

Finally, Stoltz encouraged all organizations dealing with an outbreak to work with their local and state health departments to make sure they are following any additional local guidelines. Additional reading includes the OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, the CDC’s online resources, and WERC’s own COVID-19 resources page.


The benefits of engaged employees

When it comes to safety, it pays to have engaged employees, Stoltz said. Engaged employees not only follow rules, but they also help create them by providing meaningful feedback and suggestions. They are also active in supporting your efforts to create a safer work environment, which is critical to success.

The importance of engaged employees is borne out in several studies conducted by the Queen’s School of Business and the Gallup Organization, which found that disengaged workers have 49% more accidents on the job, not to mention 37% higher absenteeism and 60% more errors and defects in their work.

So, how can you work to foster safety-related engagement on your warehousing team?

Step 1: Create Awareness

“The first thing that you need to do is make sure everyone in the warehouse knows why (safety) is important to you,” Stoltz said. To achieve this, it’s important to clearly communicate the organization’s stance on safety, explain how you’ll measure success, and choose a location in the warehouse where you’ll regularly share safety updates. These updates should include guidelines, changes and incident reports, along with recognition for safety leaders in the warehouse community. Be sure to recognize efforts and safe behavior, and not just results. Make it fun.

“Make it a priority by making it about them,” Stoltz said. “At the end of the day, we all care about safety because it means that everyone gets to go home.” While it’s important to share safety metrics, the focus should be on why each member of your team should personally commit to working safely. Encourage them to fill in the blank: “I work safe for _________.”

Another way to make it clear that you’re committed to safety is to take whatever steps are necessary to keep your team safe -- even if that means stopping production. Do this, and show your team that your organization is truly committed to workplace safety, and not just to the bottom line.

Step 2: Educate Your Team

It’s not enough to post safety rules and tell people to follow them. Workers who understand why they’re being asked to turn off their electronic devices are far more likely to actually follow the rule, Stoltz said. Again, it’s important to tie this request back to their own, personal reasons for staying safe. Give your employees plenty of venues and platforms to provide feedback or raise safety concerns: even an anonymous tip box can be helpful in surfacing safety concerns.

Make sure your team is aware of safety incidents and the conditions that gave rise to them, and be sure to share any learnings from serious incidents and near-misses. The entire team should get regular updates on incident investigations, safety planning, upcoming changes, Emergency Response Team updates and positive safety achievements.

“All of this helps educate your team about the fact that safety is a priority ... and this is what we’re going to do as a team to ensure that we keep each other safe,” Stoltz said.

Step 3: Compliance

“At the end of the day, we all have to follow these rules,” Stoltz said. She share several steps to help ensure compliance, including:

     Mandatory annual safety training

     Pre-use safety inspection checklists for work equipment

     Preventive safety behaviors, such as warm up before work

     Reporting of unsafe behavior

     Following safety rules and guidelines

     Safety incident reviews

Step 4: Commitment

“Compliant employees only do what they’re told,” Stoltz said. “Committed employees, on the other hand, are the ones that see what needs to be done and they do it no matter what it takes. This is ultimately where you want to get to. You’re not going to get there overnight, but here are some tips to help you get your employees truly committed and not just compliant.”

Ask them to write down why they want to work safely, as the act of writing down their own reasons will help them realize that they’re not working safely because the boss told them to, but rather because they want to make it home to their children, family or friends. Make safety a priority, even when it’s inconvenient or costly. Lead by example. Get your team involved -- and celebrate success together.


Safety team best practices

Enlisting safety ambassadors in your warehouse is an important step toward improving your organizational safety record. Stoltz share some best practices for the creation of a safety team.

Make It Representative

The safety team should be led by both hourly employees and by leaders, and should include representation from all shifts and departments. If your organization is diverse -- as most modern warehouses are -- be absolutely certain to include representatives from all backgrounds and ethnicities. This is particularly important if your team members speak different languages.

Make It Voluntary

Safety team members should join the group of their own volition, and should not be conscripted into service. Only those who are truly committed to safety will be effective safety ambassadors inside your organization.

Make It Empowering

Members of the safety team should be apprised of all safety initiatives and fully empowered to lead their peers. Part of empowering your safety team is making sure they’re fully informed about all of the safety initiatives underway. Another important step is to delegate, by making each member responsible for keeping the rest of the team informed about the safety issues that matter to their colleagues. Finally, empowering your safety team members means investing in them, by providing opportunities for growth like Emergency Response, CPR and leadership training.

If you don’t immediately get the level of interest you’re looking for, be patient. Be sure that your team members see the value of working with the safety team -- advancement and promotion opportunities, for example -- and have some “encouraging conversations” with your best prospects, but don’t force.

Those in upper management must continue to lead by example. Set aside some budgetary resources to invest in the safety team -- training, t-shirts -- and always listen to their input. Recognize, reinforce and communicate thoughtfully with the team. Finally, continue with benchmarking and measuring your safety achievements.


Key Safety Routines

“As you’re really starting to build that safety team and safety culture within your warehouse, (safety routines) are really important,” Stoltz said. “This is not a list of all possible routines, but these are the ones that I think are most important.”

     Monthly safety meetings - Review incidents, near misses, new processes, and plan pro-active measures.

     Post-incident reviews - These should take place immediately after the incident and should involve employees, safety committee leaders, safety committee team members, and human resources. Focus on the facts and don’t lay blame. Look to identify root causes. Share learnings with the rest of the team as soon as possible. For more information see:

     All team member meetings -- share updates, trends, new initiatives, and recognize hourly employee and leader involvement.

In the final analysis, Stoltz said change can be challenging and it’s doesn’t always happen fast. “Understand that going from compliance to commitment is a behavioral, emotional change,” Stoltz said. “That means it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time. Not a single bullet point on this presentation is going to get you there.

“It’s really a combination of doing a lot of these strategies, day in and day out, and being consistent,” she said. ●


To view a recording of this webinar, visit WERC's Online Learning Center