Safety First

Posted on Aug 1, 2010 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

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The 540 employees at McCain Foods in Appleton know how the company is doing on safety the minute they walk into work – they’re greeted by a signal with either green, yellow or red lights lit up. If there were no accidents that day, it’s green; if there was an incident, but it’s not reportable to OSHA the color is yellow; and if there was a reportable accident, the color is red.

“Everything we do is about safety. From the time they walk in, through their shifts to the time they go home, we focus on safety,” says McCain HR Manager Wayne LaMont.

Signs and displays touting safety are commonplace at McCain’s Appleton plant, which manufactures jalapeno poppers, cheese sticks, cheese curds, dessert bites and a wide assortment of other menu options.

The company’s focus on safety has paid off for McCain. Since 2008, the company has had a total incidents reporting rate of 1.5, which is far better than the industry average and a long way from the 13.5 the company had back in the early 2000s.

“We were just at a place where from the top down, we needed a safety mantra that nothing we do is worth getting hurt for. We’re just making appetizers and if we need to stop or slow down to make sure something is right, then we’ll do it,” says LaMont, adding that total recordable injuries declined 94 percent from 119 in 2002 to just seven during the 2009 fiscal year.

Implementing the company’s safety initiatives, which includes increased training, worker-run safety committees and weekly safety meetings, was complicated since McCain has a high population of non-English speaking employees. “We not only have to do everything in English, but also Spanish and Hmong too. It’s important employees receive the information in their native language and that everyone understands what’s expected,” LaMont says.

The company’s commitment to safety along with initiatives to curb turnover were cited by judges who picked McCain to be one of three winners of the inaugural 2009 New North Workplace Excellence Award. Along with McCain, Menasha-based Goodwill Industries of North Central Wisconsin and Miles Kimball in Oshkosh were also honored.

“McCain’s commitment to safety is outstanding,” says Al Hartman, a professor with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and one of the award judges. “Everything they communicate must be in three languages and anyone can stop the line at any time if there are quality concerns. Throughout the company, people are very engaged in making decisions.”

Keeping employees engaged is essential not only in McCain’s safety initiatives, but also its efforts to reduce turnover, LaMont says. “Communication has been key. We do regular employee surveys and did a job attribute-pay scale analysis so we can make sure what we’re paying our employees is similar to what else is in the market,” he says. “We want to make sure employees know we value them and their work.”

Employee turnover rates dropped from 11.53 percent in 2003 to 2.83 percent in 2009.
Lean manufacturing techniques were also initiated, which not only improves the company’s business by cutting out waste and boosting productivity, but also involves employees on a daily basis.

“Once employees feel they have a voice and a mechanism for change, opinions and feedback, they become more engaged with the business and the decisions being made,” LaMont says. “Overall morale then increases, job satisfaction increases and turnover decreases.”