By Melanie Mesaros
In the Sysco Portland warehouse, 24 forklifts travel down aisles and around corners, carrying pallets of everything from restaurant take-out boxes to locally sourced pears, canned goods, and organic meat. At peak times, some 35 truck drivers, off loaders, receivers, and supervisors may be working to move product in the 400,000 square-foot warehouse. The company has had only two forklift incidents in the past 13 years.
"When I took over the safety program, we started reinforcing positive behavior," said John Fraser, Sysco Portland's director of human resources and safety. "It's so easy to say, 'You aren't doing this or doing that.' But by reinforcing the proper safety behaviors, we created a culture where people behave safely all the time."
Fraser said after a thorough analysis of safety-related incidents and accidents, company managers developed 10 core safety behaviors they use to reinforce safety in the warehouse. Some of the items include keeping all body parts within the confines of the forklift, sounding the horn before making turns, and looking in the direction of travel. Workers must sign off on the protocols with their commitment to use them "100 percent of the time."
Fraser says Sysco also uses a reward system to keep safety at the forefront of its daily operations. At least once each quarter, supervisors evaluate forklift drivers on their behavior.
"Our supervisors will watch the operator unannounced," said Fraser. "When they are observed carrying out those 10 core behaviors, they are rewarded with T-shirts, gift certificates, a lunch box, or other items."
Fraser said the program is making a big difference on the company's bottom line.
"I spend $15,000 a year on safety T-shirts and giveaways, but we're saving hundreds of thousands a year by reducing injuries and the medical and time loss costs of injuries," he said.
Sysco employees often aren't shy about offering ideas for safety improvements either. About six weeks ago, an employee suggested adding new striping on the warehouse floor to create a three-foot buffer zone between dock activity and forklift traffic.
"Even though the employee thought the previous set-up was safe, the extra space would ensure even more protection during busy warehouse hours," said Fraser, who implemented the changes.
Sysco also takes progressive discipline against employees who engage in unsafe actions. In fact, Fraser said anyone who fails to report incidents or accidents is terminated.
"It is a mortal sin in our company," he said.
In 2009, the company started using new software for tracking forklift operator certifications and the quarterly behavioral observations. The changes have made Sysco Portland a standout nationwide. In 2011, the local warehouse had the best safety performance out of Sysco's 172 locations.
"Reinforcing positive behavior has been key in helping us achieve results," said Fraser.
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