Accidents do happen in the tire industry, but they don't have to be inevitable.
That message, along with prioritizing workplace safety measures, was underscored by safety advocates addressing attendees at the Tire Industry Association's OTR Conference Feb. 26-28 in Kissimmee.
Reminding dealers that everyone needs to be concerned about safety, Richard Wilkerson, executive vice president of Michelin North America Inc.'s Earthmover Division, recalled that when he worked at Proctor & Gamble Co., safety was the top priority in every facility.
``Safety is a unique topic in that we don't compete on it,'' Mr. Wilkerson said. ``Over the years, I've found that the best-run plants have very good safety and quality records.''
In explaining how to create a safer work environment, Bob Bennett, general manager of Vernon, British Columbia-based Kal Tire, said his dealership chose its location in Fort McMurray, Alberta-home to Canada's oil and sand industries-to create and try out new safety procedures.
The dealership-which operates 119 company-owned and 49 associate stores-evaluated what types of accidents most commonly occurred, then had its team in Fort McMurray write the training procedures to address them for the entire company, Mr. Bennett said.
Kal Tire first recognized it didn't have good documentation on training, he said, and began to document safety procedures and analyze critical tasks. It found that many accidents-such as a 63-inch flange flying off a rim or shoulders hurt from operating a rad gun-were reoccurring injuries that happened during routine work, according to Mr. Bennett.
The dealership also recorded field assessments to make sure employees were doing their jobs properly. The process took three years to create the paper trail.
``That was all done to create the basis to say we provided people adequate training,'' he told Tire Business following the conference. ``Then, whenever we had an accident or an incident, we had to go back and review that the training we had was adequate, that the person actually had it and try to chart the root cause of the accident.''
Other measures Kal Tire took included hiring two safety coordinators-one based in Vernon and one in Fort McMurray. Employees now carry ``field risk assessment cards'' which have a checklist of questions regarding safety procedures. Workers need to be able to answer those questions before resuming work, Mr. Bennett said.
Syncrude Canada Ltd., one of Canada's largest crude oil producers, recently recognized Kal Tire and the firm's other contractors for achieving 1 million contractor hours without a lost time accident since 2000, he noted.
John Ingram, vice president of ESIS Risk Control Service, told conference attendees safety and health matters affect overall business efficiency.
``With margins as thin as they are, why wouldn't you want to operate safely?'' Mr. Ingram asked. ``Taking risks is part of running a business, but you never should risk the safety and health of your employees.''
Mr. Ingram pointed out that beyond the medical costs of an accident are indirect and hidden costs that quickly add up for a dealership. Those costs include: time spent investigating the accident; interruption in production; hiring help to fill in for the injured employee; reduced productivity from temporary help; overtime to make up for production losses; and continuing fixed overhead costs during disruption in production.
He advised dealers to have an organizational risk management plan to deal with potential problems. That plan should include identifying all hazards, assessing them, then making right decisions that involve implementing controls and supervising employees to make sure changes are made. Mr. Ingram recommended dealers train and educate employees on safety measures, supply workers with protective clothing and equipment and create written procedures for hazardous tasks.
However, he warned that although employees will do ``things beyond the imagination,'' people can be resistant to change and need to be supervised once a change in procedure is implemented.
``How many times have you changed something only to see it wasn't better?'' Mr. Ingram asked attendees.
And like Kal Tire has done, dealers also should be careful to maintain records of inspections, training provided and any investigations of incidents, Mr. Ingram said.
Mr. Bennett said no one specific event caused Kal Tire to take an aggressive approach to safety at Fort McMurray. But the dealership did spend $2.3 million (Can.) in 2003 for overall worker's comp claims and wanted to lower that figure.
``I happened to get Fort McMurray in 2000 when I was kind of starting,'' he told Tire Business. ``I come from a mining background, so for me, I understood all these issues. When I looked at us as a tire business, one of my observations was, like most tire companies, we're not as good as we need to be in some of these areas.''