When Paul O’Neill took over as CEO of Alcoa, his first goal was to address worker safety. O’Neill stood before the Alcoa Board of Directors and said, “I intend to go for zero injuries.” The Board was expecting him to address revenue growth and initially seriously doubted their decision to put him in charge. Longer story short, O’Neill’s focus not only transformed Alcoa into a world-class model for safety, but it also brought unbelievable increases to Alcoa’s revenue and production numbers.
Dave Ciarlette also created a legacy of workplace safety as CEO of Sustainable Sourcing LLC. Ciarlette passed away in January 2021, and the following is a testament to his leadership and the profound effect he had on his team and partners.
Their Secret to an Effective Safety Management System
Sustainable Sourcing, LLC processes animal fats that are primarily sold into the pharmaceutical industry. The business was presented with its fourth consecutive Indiana Governor’s Workplace Safety Award this year. Even more impressive is the fact that they have not had an employee injury in more than eight years. They attribute their safety success to constant communication and consistently emphasizing that safety is a priority in their business. They achieved this largely by creating a partnership with Optimum Safety Management®. This partnership was formed during the initial plant construction and continues today.
As their long-time safety partner, Optimum is intimately familiar with how Sustainable achieves such safety success, but we wanted to share the story from their perspective so others may learn from their example. Optimum Safety Pro Tom Bandura, CHST, OHST, sat down with Jodi McCarthy (President, Sustainable Sourcing LLC), and Scott Lewis (Operations Manager, Sustainable Sourcing LLC), to discuss the safety aspect of their business and how it plays a part in their broader success.
The story begins at the Sustainable plant located on the campus of Elanco, a global animal nutrient manufacturer. “We knew we were going to have to up our game when we committed to a plant on the Elanco campus,” said McCarthy. We understood that it was essential that our employees go home safe every day and we realized that translates to a daily commitment to safety. That’s when we got more involved with Optimum.”
A strong commitment by the executive team sets the direction and vision for safety cascading through the organization. As the business enjoys success, there is a higher demand for its product, and this results in running at full capacity which highlights the strain on staffing the plant. Lewis is charged with communicating this reality to McCarthy.
Soon, the plant will be adding more technicians and administrative assistance. Plant to headquarters communication is open and direct. McCarthy says open communication is critical. “If Scott wasn’t telling me ‘I’m seeing my people are tired, we need to do something’ then I wouldn’t know and be able to bring it to the Board for resolution.”
Lewis says. “Quite honestly, it shows that Jodi and the Board understand that we can’t keep pushing and try to get the same out of the pool of workers that we have.” “We work really close with one another. We’re more of a family atmosphere instead of a work atmosphere. We know each other’s families, their kids, and therefore making sure people go home safely is a clear priority.”
Lewis believes that the development of a comprehensive manual is a key component to their success. “One of the biggest tools that we have is our Safety & Health Manual that Optimum developed for us,” Lewis said. “We have each employee review and read the manual and encourage them to read it more than once. Do it several times and refer back to it when you have a question. The manual is amazing because Optimum developed it specifically based on the operations of this site.“
“Our environment here is ever-changing,” McCarthy adds. “We’re adding new equipment every year and every time we do that, it has the potential to pose a safety hazard. Every time we get new staff, that could be a new safety challenge so we have to keep looking and identifying where things might happen.” Optimum assists Sustainable with program developments like lockout/tagout procedures and developing new procedures as equipment and processes change.
“Some of our recently hired employees come from other industries where they would be celebrating if they went 30 days without an accident or injury,” Lewis said. “When you hear eight years plus without an injury, that says a lot about how serious we take safety. And with Optimum’s help, part of our orientation with new employees is to make sure they understand that the safety culture we’re cultivating is very important to us.” Lewis adds that strict procedural adherence is essential to the program “so they can all go home the same way they came in.”
McCarthy shared a story that truly highlights how important safety communication is at all levels of the company. “When we first came to this site, the walking surfaces were stone, roadways, and sidewalks, and I was walking the campus with my Dad [CEO Dave Ciarlette]. We were walking on the stone and a worker called out to us saying ‘Hey, there’s the sidewalk. That’s safer. You should walk over there.’
“Our titles didn’t matter to the worker,” McCarthy continues, “the ability to talk to anyone about a potential safety issue is not being nit-picky or stepping out of line, it’s a behavior we expect and encourage among our employees.
Through an effective training program, workers are informed about their roles and expected behaviors. “Safety culture is a major part of our training process. Whenever we get new employees, we instill that we’re thinking of safety all the time.” Sustainable’s onboarding process includes Optimum conducting 1:1 new hire orientation.
Sustainable’s onboarding process includes a 90-day introduction period. Lewis said that it’s not uncommon for the evaluation period to get extended if the supervisors don’t feel like an employee is ready.
“That tells me that the supervisors are really looking at and supporting these new employees,” said Lewis. “They could just pass everyone through just to get a body in production, but we don’t do that.”
Sustainable leverages Optimum’s OptimumOnline™ Focus3 ToolBox Talk program for continuous training, which Lewis also attributes to their amazing safety record. “I don’t think our record would be where it is without it,” Lewis said. Adding that the team doesn’t view the ToolBox Talks as a monthly assignment, but rather an opportunity to learn something new and add to our awareness of potential risks.
Following two incidents early in the plant’s history, Sustainable started looking at everything more closely and brought in Optimum to help. During the construction phase, safety surveys were conducted to improve the performance of contractors. Optimum was instrumental in identifying conditions and behaviors needing attention.
“From the beginning, those reports showed us a lot of things,” said McCarthy, adding that over time, it became harder to find those safety items. “But I know my Dad [Ciarlette] was always telling the Optimum team, “Don’t go easy on us! You have to find stuff and keep us on our toes.”
McCarthy attributes that consistency and constancy of being proactive about safety as the reason why Sustainable was able to rack up years without an accident. “You can never forget it. It has become pervasive in everything we do. You can never let it go.”
Vital to any functioning program are the constant and never-ending improvements that must be made. With a record of over eight years without an injury, Sustainable doesn’t have the accidents to learn from, but view near-misses as incredibly valuable in adjusting procedures.
“Near-misses are just as important as accidents because fortunately no one gets hurt, but you still have the same potential hazards and the opportunity to learn something from that event,” said McCarthy. “We drive into the minds of all employees to let us know when there is something that almost happened or almost occurred.” McCarthy insists employees should always report near-misses to prevent somebody else getting hurt. Adding, “we don’t want our employees hiding anything or to feel they’ll get in trouble for what almost happened. It’s really a missed learning opportunity if that were to happen.”
McCarthy summarized by saying, “Our safety culture is self-perpetuating in that if you really focus on safety and show your employees you care and treat them well, they will stay longer and then they have more experience and knowledge and that drives the safety culture to be even better.”
Optimum congratulates Sustainable Sourcing LLC and all its employees for demonstrating the effectiveness of their safety management system and the benefits to the people and the business. We wish you continued success and look forward to assisting your safety culture with your latest venture, Pet Food Solutions.
Sustainable Sourcing is focused on striving for “World Class.” They have been chosen as Global Supplier of the Year by Eli Lilly demonstrating their high level of customer service, product quality and safety and environmental record. The highly automated production facility boasts a “zero footprint” in terms of environmental impact. Their products are used in animal health, bio diesel, and animal feed industries and touch millions of lives worldwide. Learn more: https://www.sustainablesourcingllc.com/
Optimum Safety Management partners with clients to achieve best practices in workplace safety management and development of sustainable safety cultures, resulting in significant gains in employee engagement, productivity, and company profitability. Learn more: https://www.optimumsafetymanagement.com/