On Thursday, March 7, 2002, at 4:30 p.m., the Blockbuster distribution center in McKinney, Texas, accomplished a major goal—one million work hours without a lost-time injury. Reaching this goal was no small task. It required diligent research, careful planning, dedicated teamwork, and strong management to establish and implement the strategies that would result in a safe workplace.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” says Galen Erickson, senior vice president of Blockbuster distribution. “In eleven months, we haven’t had a single employee miss work because of an on-the-job injury. And during that period, we processed and distributed about 98-million movies and games. Many organizations strive to reach this goal, but few succeed.”
This accomplishment is so significant that Ted Borek, executive vice president and COO of the National Safety Council, recently visited the Blockbuster distribution center to present a special plaque and deliver a letter of achievement written by the director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
According to the National Safety Council, only seven companies in Texas have achieved this goal in the past four years and just 224 companies nationwide in the past two years. Borek’s visit came during a celebratory dinner Blockbuster held for its more than 900 DC employees as a reward for 1 million accident-free work hours. Following the dinner, a drawing was held for a number of door prizes, including two new Blockbuster-blue Ford mustangs.
Building a Safety Strategy
The impetus for the program began in 1998 when Blockbuster opened their state-of- the-art distribution center with the goal of creating the safest DC in the industry.Research demonstrated the importance of keeping people at work, and that an employee who stays at work is able to heal quicker, does not lose income, and remains current in his departmental functions.
The DC management team was comprised of Bill Wissing, vice president of distribution; Mitch Clark, senior director of distribution; Terri Seagroat, director of distribution; Danny Rand, director of facilities; Rick Romero, director of inventory control; Raymond Moss, director of human resources; and myself, the director of loss prevention.
This senior group holds the firm belief that every employee, supervisor, and manager is accountable for the safety of the workplace. The loss prevention organization backs this position with our assumption that it is not acceptable for an employee to get hurt in Blockbuster’s environment. This safety philosophy led to developing the strategies and providing employees with proper equipment and necessary training to foster a safe workplace.
Developing a successful safety program centered around four key strategies:
- Determining and attacking the causes of injuries,
- Building a strong safety team,
- Motivating employees to work safely, and
- Utilizing vendors to enhance the internal program.
Accident Assessment. The distribution center staff started with a thorough accident assessment that pinpointed what accidents were occurring, where in the building the accidents were happening, what time of the day or night they occurred, what manager was on duty at the time, and what training had been provided to employees in the area.
Armed with the data from the assessment, management determined the root causes of every accident and attacked the causes (not the employees) of the accidents. Once this analysis was completed, we were able to develop safety disciplines and best practices throughout the organization.
These best practices were put in place through a number of policies and procedures written collectively by loss prevention, human resources, legal, and operations. In addition, we created a series of safety audits, performed by the loss prevention department, to ensure that the organization is continuing to practice safety.
Safety Team. As one of the first steps, we established an in-house safety team that is the focal point for implementing the program throughout the organization. Members of the team are employees with good safety records and have all been trained to be front-line trainers and cheerleaders for working safely.
The safety team holds monthly meetings and carries new information back to the individual departments and each work shift. Each department has daily stand-up meetings where the safety team members can communicate information both verbally and visually. The LP team provides handouts and brochures in both English and Spanish for use in these department training meetings.
The significance of providing Spanish-language communications became apparent early on when we realized there was a void in the success of the training. To fill the void, we decided that all training and awareness must be provided in English and Spanish. Once this was implemented, we began to see immediate results.
The vast majority of the training for safety team members is provided by the safety coordinator, Miguel Amaro, and loss prevention. There are also training videos provided by Summit Training, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as trained supervisors and managers who provide training to the various departments.
Incident Review Board. Working in tandem with the safety team is an incident review board that investigates every accident or near miss, including damage to the building. The board aims to ensure consistency across all work shifts, identify the root cause of each accident, and determine how similar incidents can be avoided in the future.
The incident review board is made up of the following people: the operations manager, loss prevention supervisor, human resources specialist, department manager and safety team member of the department where the incident occurred, maintenance supervisor, and any witness and employee involved in the event.
New Tools and Training. In a tactical move aimed at reducing specific injuries identified in the accident assessment, we incorporated new tools and training focused on specific injuries in the distribution center.
One such tool was the Hyde knife. In 1998, the number one injury at the DC was a cut to the left thumb while opening a box. Thanks to the Hyde knife’s self-retracting box cutter with a rounded blade and extensive training on box-cutter safety, we greatly reduced the number of boxcutter injuries.
We also focused much of our employee safety training on lifting and the importance of back safety…another of the most frequent injuries identified by the assessment. Every February, each employee participates in a 45-minute course offering step-by-step tips to aid in safe lifting. Anthony Prusa, owner of DynaTest, instructs employees on how to keep their backs healthy using stretches to avoid back pain and simple techniques for sitting and standing. The number of liftingrelated accidents has been cut in half each of the three years since this training was implemented.
Awareness Program. While building the safety program, our goal was to create a program that not only complied with the law, but one that worked and was fun. To help us achieve this goal, we designed an in-house awareness program that included methods of improvement and positive behavior modification to keep employees focused on maintaining a conscious focus on safety.
To help communicate the safety message, management decided the program needed a symbol or spokesperson. When the DC reached 250,000 hours without a lost-time accident, we introduced “Captain Safety,” co-created by Blockbuster and Recognition Concepts of Farmers Branch, Texas.
The Captain Safety character became the key figure in an ongoing awareness program, appearing on posters and other training tools for managers to use to teach their employees about specific topics, such as forklift and conveyor belt safety and proper lifting. Captain Safety is visible in every part of the DC and has proven to bea huge success to the program.
Blockbuster’s program has a number of elements built in, including incentives. This program is not an incentive-based program, but a program with incentives.
An example of this is safety bingo, a proven incentive activity that we updated to energize employees and help reinforce positive behaviors. We incorporatedpopular sports events, such as the Olympics and Dallas Cowboy football, into the bingo games to further involve the employees.
In our version of safety bingo, each employee was given a bingo card with the winner selecting from a wealth of prizes, ranging from Blockbuster GiftCards® to telephones and tools. Each day that the DC did not have an accident, a bingo number was drawn. During the Olympics, additional bingo numbers were drawn for each medal won by the United States.
We also created The Safety Zone, an area adjacent to the entry/exit way of the DC that showcases the various elements of the awareness program, including a safety bulletin board and safety bingo awards case. The Safety Zone also houses the year’s theme: “Committed to Safety Excellence.”
Outside Service Providers. The review of the types of accidents that were most common in the DC led us to believe that most injuries could be treated on site.
In September 1999, Medcor Health Services was hired to provide a licensed paramedic on site 16 hours a day, five days a week. Instead of an employee having to see a doctor for a minor cut, the employee can be immediately seen by a Medcor paramedic. If the paramedic cannot take care of the issue, or if the employee desires, then Medcor will send or refer the employee to a local area doctor for further treatment.
Additionally, Medcor provides daily follow up to monitor the employee on the DC floor to ensure that he or she is in compliance with any prescribed modified duty.
Medcor also is charged with maintaining an accident database, which has proven an important tool in the ongoing efforts to track accident and nearmiss trends.
We have also found success by inviting area doctors to tour the distribution center. The loss prevention department has provided tours of the facility to those doctors and physician assistants who treat our employees. The health care professionals have been able to see the areas where the employees work and gain an understanding and appreciation for the facility. This in turn demonstrates to the doctors the trustworthiness of Blockbuster’s loss prevention and Medcor staff.
Contributing to the Bottom Line
Although the million-hour feat was accomplished in less than a year, it came after an intensive three-year program that included training and communication in both English and Spanish to help ensure that employees understand management’s expectations and how to avoid mishaps.
Our philosophy was simple—accidents happen for a reason. Someone, somewhere, and at some time fails to act or work properly, and that’s when an accident happens. By concentrating our efforts and offering comprehensive training, tools, and communication, we were able to keep our employees safe, save the company time and money, and reach the prestigious goal of one-million work hours without a lost-time injury.
“This accomplishment could only have been achieved by the entire Blockbuster distribution team working together,” says Erickson. “I am extremely proud of what we have achieved. It’s great that we have prevented injury and kept our employees safe. But this milestone is important to the entire company as well, because eliminating accidents can save millions of dollars a year in expenses and lost time.”