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What's Your Company's Safety Maturity Index?

Nov. 13, 2013
New Tool Helps Companies Benchmark Against Best Practices, and Set a Roadmap for the Future
About the Author
Joe Feeley is Editor in Chief of Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. He joined Putman Media in 1997 to help start up Control Design. He has more than 20 years of engineering and management experience in the U.S. and Europe in industries that include high-purity semiconductor products and other specialty materials that require direct involvement with the associated machine designers.

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This week at the 2013 Automation Fair in Houston, Rockwell Automation introduced its Safety Maturity Index (SMI), a self-guided assessment tool drawn from studies, extensive private research, collaboration with cultural development experts, input from leading manufacturers and a wealth of its own experience as a provider of safety systems. The Safety Maturity Index tool is touted as a comprehensive measurement of performance in creating and sustaining a safety culture, compliance processes and procedures, and capital investments in safety technologies. It helps companies understand their current level of performance and steps they can take to improve safety and profitability.

"One of the key things that played into the development of this—and we've been looking for a couple of years—was to understand what we've referred to as the 'epiphany' that companies experience," said Steve Ludwig, safety programs manager, Rockwell Automation. "What is it that causes a company that's been fairly steady in its injury rate, good or bad, to suddenly decide that they really want to address safety? Some were driven by standards, some by changes in leadership or other factors. But why does a company that found it acceptable to have 75 incidents last year, suddenly decide that 76 this year is not at all acceptable?"

Safety Maturity = Operational Excellence

Ludwig added that Rockwell Automation took careful note of a recent Aberdeen study reporting that the safest companies also were the most productive—they were not mutually exclusive objectives. "The safest companies had 5% to 7% higher OEE [overall equipment effectiveness], 2% to 4% less unscheduled downtime and less than half the injury rate of companies performing at average levels of those indicators," he reported.

"About 15% of the responding companies are in this top category." Rockwell Automation's Mark Eitzman on the relatively small number of manufacturing companies achieving a top rating of 4 on the company's new Safety Maturity Index.

Ludwig said Rockwell Automation then did additional custom research with Aberdeen to get more details about how these companies were operating. "Repeatedly, we found that the best companies had a really good safety culture," he explained. "They had processes and procedures in place to understand what hazards they had around them, and the methods to facilitate mitigation and compliance, and they used a lot of integrated safety technologies to improve productivity. We saw that the three 'C's of culture, compliance and capital were present in these successful companies."

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The research also showed that each of these safety pillars is equally critical and dependent on the other. A company that builds a strong safety culture, for example, can only go so far without complying with standards and investing in safeguarding technologies. Likewise, manufacturers can make significant investments in safety technologies and procedures, but those investments only go so far if management doesn't embed safety into the cultural DNA of the company.

Out of this work came the Safety Maturity Index assessment tool, which gives manufacturers visibility into their safety programs and the ability to optimize them. It can help an organization measure and evaluate its safety program against the three key pillars of culture, compliance and capital on a scale of one to four.

Four Levels of Maturity

A company that scores at the lowest level, SMI 1, makes minimizing investment its key focus or driver. For these manufacturers, production throughput and cost reduction are the top priorities. Safety incidents frequently are hidden. There could be high incident rates, high insurance costs, fines and/or employee complaints to government agencies. Incomplete or improper use of safety technologies exacerbates the problem. Mark Eitzman, safety market development manager at Rockwell Automation, added that the initial Aberdeen study places 25% of the respondent companies in this category.

The second level up is SMI 2. Attaining compliance would be these companies' key driver. Safety is important, but minimal compliance is the most important part of the safety program. They often use safety technologies such as relays, which separate safety from core or standard machinery operation. This score represents the largest responder group at 37%.

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An SMI 3-level company views cost avoidance as its key driver. Such companies consider safety a high priority, but not necessarily a true value. Most safety incidents are reported properly, but some might be discovered after the fact. Compliance processes are established, but might be applied inconsistently. Safeguarding technologies are a supplement to the standard control system. Safety is the goal, not operational excellence. Eitzman said 23% of the responding companies find themselves here.

Operational excellence is, in fact, the key driver for companies in the top SMI 4-level. "These companies are implementing around 90% of what we deemed as essential to safe manufacturing," Eitzman said. "That compares to less than 50% for the SMI 1-level companies."

At the SMI-4 level safety is considered vital to the health of the business and its employees. Safety is an inherent value, and everyone is held accountable and willingly accepts responsibility for themselves and the safety of their coworkers. Compliance processes are clearly defined, and even suppliers must live up to required safety standards. The company conducts thorough risk assessments, follows the Functional Safety Life Cycle, and uses advanced safety technologies to improve worker safety and OEE. "At this stage of the journey," Eitzman said, "about 15% of the responding companies are in this top category."

The ratings came as a result of a lot of discussion with customers and through our Safety Automation Forum that shared best practices, Eitzman added. "This helped customers and other companies benchmark themselves against definitions or other companies."

The best-performing companies don't overemphasize statistics. Eitzman noted that incident statistics are lagging indicators and recalled Georgia-Pacific Director of Safety Bill Hilton's remarks at a recent Safety Automation Forum that "A historical lack of accidents does not imply a current presence of safety. It simply means you've been faster than the machine."

Eitzman remarked that today's processes and machines are going faster and are more sophisticated than ever. Combine that with a workforce that is becoming less-experienced over time, and we're in a collaborative environment of people and machines, and it's the dynamics of that interaction where safety has to come in, he said.

"So," Eitzman added, "the SMI can help point companies in the right direction when they say, ‘I get it. Safety has to be my barometer of manufacturing excellence, but where do I start?' "

Collaboration Is Crucial

As an additional challenge, the knowledge necessary to improve each of the safety pillars often resides in disparate functional areas. Ludwig pointed to a finding of critical need for the collaboration between engineering and environmental, health and safety (EH&S) functions. "In most companies EH&S is responsible for safety culture and the company-wide compliance policies and procedures," he noted. "Engineering is responsible for the safety technology in machinery and the engineering procedures and developing standards and doing safety assessments. They often don't talk, but communicating and collaborating across functional groups is essential for a comprehensive approach to safety."

Considering the importance of this, "Good collaboration can lead them to advanced remediation technology and techniques, and they'll both realize they don't have to compromise their goals and objectives," Eitzman added. "In companies where the safety culture is high, but maturity is low, they are willing to sacrifice productivity to achieve safety goals. Companies are missing the mark if they have a high safety culture and high compliance, but the capital element is low, and they are using, for example, lock-out/ tag-out energy isolation that, perhaps unnecessarily, stops an entire process or machine. Two out of three can be good in some instances, but this isn't one of them."

With the launch of the online SMI assessment tool at Automation Fair, attendees can answer questions about their culture, compliance and capital, and based on their responses to about 25 multiple-choice questions generate scores in the three Cs, and a cumulative score and to help create their roadmap.

"The responder might typically be the company's EH&S person, who probably can do an accurate assessment of the culture and compliance steps, but might have to collaborate with engineering to accurately assess the technology (capital)," Eitzman said. "That's sort of a built-in encouragement toward collaboration."

The companies using the SMI assessment tool will be able to compare themselves to others by industry, region, company size and other characteristics.

This tool is different, Ludwig and Eitzman said. It will help companies that have good initiatives under way in culture and compliance appreciate that the technology pillar is vital. "Perhaps they didn't realize they could improve OEE and not have to sacrifice performance or compromise on safety. In fact, the best companies have moved beyond incident rates as their primary driver and measure themselves on OEE, because they know they're already doing everything they can, short of a better use of technology, to enhance a safety culture."

Company experts are available to demonstrate and discuss SMI with Automation Fair attendees in Booth 401 on the exhibit hall floor, or you can visit www.rockwellautomation.com/products-technologies/safety-technology/safety-maturity.page.

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