Ritrama Invests in Safety and Improves Its Bottom Line

Company: Ritrama

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Problem

After 2 hours of a Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MNOSHA) inspection in October 1997, the Ritrama plant in Minneapolis, Minnesota, had received 14 citations, 9 of which were major. Ritrama, a multi-national company with 110 employees at the Minneapolis plant, manufactures pressure-sensitive films and labels for the automotive, beverage, health, beauty and pharmaceutical industries.

The MNOSHA citations recommended that Ritrama managers develop a leadership/management program, involve employees in a safety and health program, appoint a safety director, form a safety committee and develop an implementation plan for it and develop a recordkeeping program for injuries and illnesses and plan for implementing it.

Managers at the plant agreed that they had been focusing on day-to-day operations, content with the status quo and devoting inadequate time to evaluate their current safety and health program even though the Ritrama philosophy-that nothing is more important than employee health and safety and that a productive employee who is not safety conscious is a ticking time bomb-was very important.

The Solution

In order to evaluate their plant and their processes and correct any problems, Ritrama managers selected a four-phase plan that included:

  • Determining the root causes of the citations;
  • Bringing the plant into compliance;
  • Establishing a new safety and health program; and
  • Ensuring that the above three phases were implemented.

In addition, they hired an off-site, safety and health consultant firm (subsequently referred to as the Safety Consultant) expert in Ritrama's types of manufacturing to evaluate the Company's existing safety and health program and the manufacturing facilities. The Safety Consultant found that established practices and procedures were not being enforced. Specifically,

  • Most injuries were a direct result of the employees' failure to follow established safety and health practices.
  • Accidents, injuries and near misses were not properly investigated.
  • The treatment for injured employees was not being followed up.

Establishing a successful new safety and health program at Ritrama required commitment from management and employees. Managers had to be convinced that dedication to safety and health would enhance employee morale; increase productivity and quality; yield significant savings in lost time, restricted duty and retraining; reduce the dollars spent on fines and penalties; and reduce worker compensation premiums.

But, managers needed to invest sufficient power and authority in a new Safety Director to allow him to implement changes, work closely with top-level managers and ensure that supervisors were directly accountable for the program's implementation. For their part, Ritrama employees needed to acknowledge the paradigm shift and understand the performance goals and expectations for themselves and their co-workers. All Ritrama employees needed to agree to hold themselves and others accountable and actively integrate the new safety and health culture into their thinking and actions.

The charts below show the effectiveness of the new safety and health program as evidenced by the criteria (average lost/restricted days and incident rate) measured. The implementation of the new program started in 1999 with updating existing programs, establishing responsibilities, setting structures, and writing new procedures. Mike Conklin, who was appointed as the new Safety Director in early 1998, summarizes the charts as follows:

In 2000, the managers began to implement the new safety and health program by meeting with the employees at a series of scheduled gatherings during which they communicated their expectations for employees and expressed the consequences of not following the new safety and health procedures. In 2001, the managers learned that requesting changes in employees' behavior was not sufficient to cause it to happen; employees wanted to continue their past behavior. As a consequence, the managers developed a program of progressive disciplinary action for employees and for supervisors who were not enforcing the new safety and health program by issuing multiple warnings, then unpaid suspensions and ultimately terminations. In 2002, the managers reviewed the data and determined that Ritrama had achieved its goal of a stable workforce committed to the new health and safety program. I was able to implement a generous rewards program of gift certificates, safety days off, letters of commendation and cash-on-the-spot awards. [The "spike" in the graphs below was caused by an employee who, in October 2001, tripped, fell and broke his right wrist. Surgery revealed that this employee had a pre-existing condition that resulted in multiple surgeries.]

Recordables 1995-2005

Recordables 1995-2005 chart

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Lost Time Cases 1995-2005

Lost Time Cases 1995-2005 chart

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Lost Workdays 1995-2005

Lost Workdays 1995-2005 chart

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Restricted Days 1995-2005

Restricted Days 1995-2005 chart

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Average Lost/Restricted Days Per Case 1995-2005

Average Lost?Restricted Days Per Case 1995-2005 chart

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Safety Director Conklin formed a Safety Committee, chaired it, and continued to utilize the Safety Consultant to keep Ritrama informed of any changes to relevant statutes, codes, and requirements. Next, he introduced a Zero Accident Culture (ZAC) and kept the employees aware of it via a series of department meetings and safety awareness lunches. Members of the Safety Committee either volunteered their time or were appointed by management; they included three permanent members from management (Operations Manager, Human Resources (HR) Manager, and Safety Director); one representative from research and development, engineering and maintenance and from each of the four manufacturing departments; and a manufacturing representative from the second and third shifts and two representatives from the front office. Committee members attend monthly meetings and hold their positions for 6 to 9 months. Every employee rotates through the Safety Committee.

Ritrama managers made their commitment to developing a leadership/management program clearly visible by communicating the goals and expectations of the Company to everyone. To learn how to effect these changes, the supervisors attended various training courses including Thinking It Through: The Mark of the Professional Supervisor, a basic supervisory course given by the Minnesota Safety Council. This course, which is designed to inform employees, including first-line supervisors and managers, about the importance of personal compliance with safety and health procedures, covered accountability, responsibility and the consequences of noncompliance as well as liabilities of both the employer and employees.

Every employee who works on the manufacturing floor is required to attend ten training courses every year, seven of which (fire prevention, personal protective equipment, hazard communication, bloodborne pathogens, overhead equipment, lock out/tag out and confined space) are offered on inter-active CDs; three are taught by the Safety Director or the Safety Consultant. Every employee takes a test at the end of each course and is required to have a perfect score in order to return to work. HR maintains the test results and prepares and circulates a monthly matrix of these data to all supervisors. In addition, two manufacturing floor supervisors attended the Forklift of Minnesota's training course, which OSHA recognizes as a Train-the-Trainer course, and they are now training other employees in the safe operation of forklifts.

The plan that managers chose for bringing Ritrama into compliance has five sequential steps:

  • Assessing the facility,
  • Scheduling audits,
  • Conducting audits,
  • Reviewing findings, and
  • Investigating accidents.

During the facility assessment step, the Safety Director, Department Supervisor and Safety Consultant evaluate the plant for cleanliness and develop a list of potential hazards. Next, each month a Safety Committee Member and the Safety Consultant schedule a 4-hour Physical Hazard Audit for one of the five major areas (the Coating Department; the Converting Department; Plant, Dock and Raw Material Storage Areas; Maintenance, Packaging and Shipping Areas; and the R&D Lab and Office Areas). In addition, the Safety Consultant performs an unscheduled audit of the entire facility every month. The Safety Committee Member and the Safety Consultant conduct the step-by-step audits on a pass/fail basis; they evaluate the status of the equipment, the safety behaviors of the employees and the integrity of the facility systems. They record unacceptable results, document them with photographs and submit the findings and the photographs to the Safety Committee for review. Then, they post the findings so that every employee can review them. Supervisors or maintenance and engineering personnel are responsible for correcting the failed portions of an audit that occurred in their departments. All accidents, injuries, near misses and hazardous conditions reported are reviewed, studied and evaluated by the Safety Committee at its monthly meeting. Although developing and studying these reports requires a considerable investment of time, it is necessary. Ritrama has zero tolerance for non-reports. Says Safety Director Conklin, "You can't fix something you don't know about."

The Impact

While the benefits from Ritrama's new safety and health program have occurred throughout the Company, of special note is the $44,000 reduction of workers' compensation premiums from 2000 to 2003. In addition, the overall benefits to Ritrama include increased productivity and quality of the products; the percent of credits and returns to sales went from a high of 2.22 percent in 2001 to 1.24 percent in 2006, which when translated into sales figures means that from a production standpoint, average sales rose 7.5 percent. The number of manufacturing defects and amount of waste went from $2.7 M in 2001 to $435 K in 2005.

The costs of hiring the Safety Consultant and installing new safety equipment have also been recovered. The new automated boxing line produces in one shift with two people what had taken two shifts with three people and eliminates the need for employees to manipulate 20-40 pound boxes, and the air-assist roll handler eliminates the need for employees to manipulate the 75-125 boxes of rolls weighing between 25-60 pounds that go into each shipment. Ritrama has not had an employee with a stress or strain injury to the back, shoulder or neck area in several years.

According to Pat Pothen, Operations Manager, "We work here 24 hours a day with volatile materials and potentially dangerous equipment. I need to know everyone is on board with our safety and health program and that the right things are happening even when no one is watching. Over the past 6 years, our statistics on safety, scrap reduction and increased throughput remain proof that Ritrama has successfully changed the minds and working habits as well as increased the level of awareness by our employees regarding the important role that safety plays in our success."

Does a culture of safe work practices contribute to employee recruitment and retention? "Absolutely!" says David Harrison, Human Resources Director at Ritrama. "Employees need to know that the company they work for has their health and well being as a major corporate objective." Harrison goes on to say, "People know if they are being cared for and protected, and I believe our employees are secure in the knowledge that we take safety and health very seriously. It speaks volumes to existing and potential employees. Right now, we have 19 people working here who are related to or a friend of someone else who works here."

Above all, Ritrama Management believes it has a moral obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment. "There is no job, schedule or shortcut worth getting hurt over," concludes Conklin.

Says Mike Conklin: "During October 2002, two OSHA auditors visited Ritrama's Minneapolis plant for 5 days. They issued no citations. I wrote a note to the employees after this inspection: Pat Pothen and I both thank everyone for an outstanding job. The thing that we can be the proudest of is that we didn't have to "go into a panic" mode when the inspectors showed up. The plant is what it is. We don't have to do anything special; we are doing what we are supposed to do on a routine basis. People are informed and trained. Our safety programs are not given "lip service." Safety is part of our culture, and we have had measurable results over the past 5 years. This [the results of the inspection] is no accident. It required time, effort and commitment. Again, thank you."

For more information about Ritrama, please contact Mike Conklin.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

As of May 2007.