Getting one’s mind right about safety isn’t always an easy job. Sometimes the smallest changes are the hardest to make, but they also can have the most profoundly positive influence.
“We revised our whole safety structure and began to drive more responsibility to our safety teams on the plant floor.” Goodyear’s Charles Skaggs related the journey to improve worker safety at the company’s Gadsden, Ala., plant.
For decades, safety was viewed as a drag and impediment to manufacturing productivity. Safety also was seen as something imposed from outside by pesky unions and interfering government agencies. As a result, many manufacturers and their operators didn’t implement safety policies and methods or circumvented those already in place—often with disastrous and tragic results.
For instance, after several years of poor safety performance, Goodyear’s tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., had two major injuries in 2006, which occurred when employees were caught in the facility’s let-off shear machinery. In one event, a machine had been left in automatic mode and seized and injured an operator’s hands when he patted down the roll of rubber on it.
“We had a huge need for improved safety. We had 300 new staff this year, and for the past four or five years, we’ve had to tell them that Gadsden was at or near the bottom of all Goodyear’s plants in terms of safety,” said Charles Skaggs, Goodyear’s health and safety manager. “After 2006, our corporate management said it wasn’t going to put up with these incidents anymore and asked us to study ways for our machines to achieve first-class safety ratings.” Skaggs presented “The Business Case for Safe Automation” during the first Safety Automation Forum (SAF) conference on the day before the opening of Rockwell Automation’s Automation Fair 2008 at the Gaylord Opryland Complex in Nashville, Tenn.
Goodyear’s subsequent study included input from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), which reported that the most dangerous place in the Gadsden facility—and in most tire-making applications—is the wind-up and let-off areas in its fabric bias cutter and sheet calendar machines. RMA recommended that Goodyear focus on improving the wind-up and let-off safety at all its global facilities. Consequently, Goodyear’s management ordered mandatory safety release (MSR) capabilities, so its machines could attain a Level 1 safety rating and budgeted $3 million for the project.
To help it evaluate the safety needs of its machines, many of which were very old, Goodyear enlisted Rockwell Automation, which recommended using a modular kit-based solution that could be implemented and reproduced among multiple machines. As a result, Goodyear and Rockwell Automation began installing the presence-sensing equipment and light-activated barriers from August to December 2007. These devices prevent the wind-up and let-off machines from running if an operator puts his or her hand in them. The kit also includes new e-stop equipment, replacing the former safety cables and belly bars, as well as new safety interlocks and fencing.
“Because the kits are so modular, we were able to implement them in 67 wind-up/let-off applications in 20 weeks,” said Skaggs. “In fact, these kits were so well received and successful that Goodyear is planning to spread them across all of our plants.”
Besides completing its MSR project on time, Skaggs reported that Gadsden improved its safety performance and record by 61% in the approximately 12 months that it’s been place. The plant also had 34 fewer OSHA-reportable incidents during the same period, and its safety project also has reduced downtime by 34%. Finally, the $885,000 worth of safety equipment that Goodyear has installed so far paid for itself in just four months. More specifically, Gadsden’s OSHA-reportable incidents dropped from 148 in 2004 to just 29 in 2007 and 27 so far this year.
Skaggs added that the main requirements for a successful safety improvement project include:
- 100% commitment from management;
- Sufficient training and awareness;
- Thorough understanding of the production system; and
- Understanding that safety is not a technology problem, but about educating people and overcoming traditional resistance to change.
In addition, to further encourage and ensure safety, Goodyear started a rapid improvement activity (RIA) program in 2008 and has conducted 36 so far this year. In the program, company participants spend one day in a safety class and then go through their facilities and applications, seek out safety-related items that need to be improved, and try to complete 80% of those fixes within three days. So far, Skaggs adds that Goodyear’s personnel have found 262 items and have improved 219 of them, for an 84% performance rate.
“After doing so badly in 2003-04, Gadsden’s plant management and Goodyear’s corporate management said we just had to do safety differently. Before that, we just didn’t have enough of a focus on it. So we revised our whole safety structure and also began to drive more safety responsibility to our safety teams on the plant floor,” added Skaggs. “We also work very closely with our union’s safety representatives, and we have a very good relationship with them because we both have the same goal of no one getting hurt. I think this kind of relationship is something you must have to improve safety and maintain it.”