A worker with a wearable computer on their hand moves items in a warehouse
By Kester Matthew | April 18, 2024

One Million Hours Worked, Zero Safety Incidents: Here’s How We’ve Kept Our Manufacturing Team Healthy and Productive for So Long

Sometimes it takes more than “industry standard” best practices and policies to protect your people. These are the extra efforts that have helped us reach a rarely achieved workplace safety milestone.

It has been more than one million hours since we have had a “lost time accident or illness” in Zebra’s Healthcare Center of Excellence supplies manufacturing facility in Morris Plains, New Jersey, a milestone that was recognized by the National Safety Council on December 4, 2023.

While my team and I received several congratulatory messages for the achievement, they were repeatedly accompanied by one question: “How did you do it?” 

If your role is tied to Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) like mine is, you know that going this length of time without a reportable incident is no easy feat. Even if your organization follows every EHS best practice, implements every recommended policy, and meets industry and regulatory standards, accidents can happen, and germs are an ever-present threat. That’s why there are jobs like ours. Someone must constantly monitor for new environmental threats and explore ways to reduce the risks of illness and injuries in the workplace. 

Now, if you’re focused on EHS compliance for a manufacturing location, you know the potential hazards encountered by workers could be exponentially higher in this type of environment just by the nature of the machinery or substances present, as well as the operational tempo. So, for a team to complete “one million consecutive work hours without an injury or illness” per Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-defined reporting requirements, it’s a big deal.

So, let me get back to the question at hand: How did we do it?

I think the simplest way to sum it up is that we prioritize prevention.

Every policy we set, every procedure we follow, and every facet of our EHS team’s Plan-Do-Check- Act Cycle is centered on proactive incident mitigation. Even when we develop reporting, corrective action, and change management processes and guidelines, our top objective is the immediate removal of the hazard so that we can prevent additional health and safety incidents. 

So, with that in mind, let me share some of the questions my colleagues and I are constantly asking ourselves – and answering with action.

How do you identify hazards and then effectively assess the risk of each? 

In most industries, the terminology of “job hazard analysis” – or JHA – is commonly used when identifying hazards associated with performing certain tasks. At our manufacturing sites, we utilize the risk assessment process, which involves detailing the task that is to be performed, identifying the hazards, and rating the severity of the anticipated consequence and the likelihood of occurrence, considering the presence of existing controls. 

In addition to the risk assessments, we train and empower our volunteer safety committee members to conduct workplace inspections (aimed at identifying hazards) and recommend additional controls (aimed at effectively eliminating hazards or reducing the risk of exposure). At some locations, these assessments are conducted at least monthly.

How do you effectively train employees to identify, avoid, and report new hazards in the course of their work?

Each new associate, regardless of job function, participates in new employee orientation, which includes Health and Safety training. At each manufacturing site, new employees participate in site-specific new employee orientation training which includes, but is not limited to, fire alarm and evacuation procedures, the manufacturing processes and controls, and the review of relevant work instructions. In addition to training, we also ensure that employees have the appropriate resources needed to report hazards. One of our most common and powerful tools is the Corrective Action System (CATS), which allows any associate to report a hazard and assign an action to the responsible party to correct it. The tool includes automated email notifications and the uploading of supporting information (documents, photos, etc.).

Are different levels of training required for hazard mitigation based on employee roles?

This is a tough question to answer succinctly as all employees are equipped with a natural ability to identify some hazards. But we look at each employee role and identify if it is safety sensitive and if it requires specialized training that helps prevent hazards and, conversely, mitigate them if they are identified. We work with managers to make sure proper training is assigned based on job responsibilities. 

What controls need to be put in place to prevent the risk of new hazards emerging?

We implement controls by having an effective change management process where one can proactively identify hazards before they’re introduced in the workplace.  We also work to ensure effective controls are implemented either via design, substitution, separation, or the final option of the provision of personal protective equipment.

What specific EHS policies and practices are required in environments where heavy machinery is present?

In the United States and many other countries, there are regulations and established workplace safety standards that employers and employees must abide by. For example, in the U.S., OSHA requires us to implement and maintain several EHS policies and programs. In heavy machinery operations, some of these policies include but are not limited to “lock out/tag out” (LOTO), machine guarding, material handling, hearing conservation, etc.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your policies, procedures, and other controls?

There are always opportunities for continual improvement in our EHS management system. However, we do set annual targets as they relate to our EHS performance, with the EHS team identifying trends to focus on. In addition, our integrated environmental, occupational health, and safety management systems are audited annually by external third parties to verify the effectiveness of our policies, procedures, and other controls. The Morris Plains site is subject to several customer and regulatory audits and inspections throughout the year that help strengthen our policies, procedures, and controls. 

Who is responsible for taking corrective action when hazards are identified? And what are the specific corrective actions for each type of hazard?

Every Zebra associate has both the right and obligation to report unsafe conditions and, in the case of a direct hazard, to stop the work until the hazard is removed. In some special circumstances, an associate can take immediate corrective action. For example, if there is a box blocking a fire extinguisher, an employee can simply remove the box, but the occurrence should be reported to a supervisor, manager, or EHS representative to ensure that processes are put in place to prevent recurrence.

Who needs to be trained on EHS policies and reporting procedures, and how frequently? 

Every single employee must be informed and trained on Zebra’s EHS policies and reporting procedures, regardless of whether they work on the manufacturing floor or the office. Evidence of this commitment is the assignment of the EHS Essentials module of Zebra’s annual Core Compliance Training. Our manufacturing associates are required to perform specialized jobs or tasks and are required to undergo additional health and safety training. 

How frequently do you audit EHS policy and process compliance within Zebra facilities? And who conducts the audits?

Zebra’s supplies manufacturing facilities are ISO certified. In keeping with the requirements of these international certifications, the EHS team conducts annual internal audits to verify that adherence to our established policies and procedures and the ISO standards are being upheld. In addition, we also engage the services of an external consultant to conduct an EHS assessment to identify possible opportunities for improvement within our EHS management systems. The Morris Plains facility is unique because it is an FDA-certified site, and it is subject to more frequent audits and inspections from regulatory agencies, certification bodies, and customers. 

Is there anything else you credit with your team’s success in reaching this workplace safety milestone?

One of the key factors of an effective health and safety program is an organization’s safety culture. A culture of safety describes the core values and behaviors that come about when there is a collective and continuous commitment by organizational leadership, managers, and all associates to emphasize safety, as they all work together to achieve the organization’s goals. Only together, we create new ways of working that make everyday life better at Zebra, for all associates, and our stakeholders. 

An example of this culture is the presence of safety committees and our volunteer Zebra Emergency Response Team members who emphasize the commitment of our conscientious employees who care about their co-workers’ well-being.


Editor’s Note:

Want to learn more about Zebra’s EHS commitment and standards? Start here.

EHS Workplace Safety Award - Blog
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