Observe and report

25 May 2018

Flash reports make the most of modern communications to quickly spread safety awareness throughout the global operation of ACCO Brands, an American manufacturer of office products. Simon Duddy hears from Lee King, director EHS & facilities, Europe, and Darrol Masefield, H&S & facilities, on how the reports form part of a carefully cultivated approach to warehouse safety

The ACCO Brands flash report system comprises a one-page report on an incident or near-miss that is designed to get safety information out quickly. The reports cover the type of incident, root causes and findings, with employee names redacted.

ACCO Brands director of EHS & facilities Europe Lee King explains: “This has to go out within 24 hours of something happening, and it often is sent out within hours.”

One recent incident that had immediate far-reaching impact on the organisation was a forklift-related incident at an ACCO Brands facility in the USA.

“It was a very serious incident,” noted Lee. "A forklift operator was operating a forklift with clamp attachments, but was not carrying a load. A pedestrian working at the facility did not stop at a T-junction and walked in front of the moving forklift and was struck. There was a good response on-site that potentially saved the employee’s life. He continues to recover from his injuries.”

OSHA (the US equivalent of the HSE) investigated the incident and was satisfied with the robust systems ACCO had in place. That said, ACCO Brands took immediate action to boost warehouse safety globally.

“We had a team meeting after the incident,” says Lee. “We reviewed the details and decided to roll out Blue Spot technology, as a result, across all sites. Facilities in all countries have either implemented it, or have it in the budget to do so.”

Blue Spot is a warning system on the forklift that shines a light on the floor warning pedestrians of approaching forklifts. ACCO Brands has tried to segregate pedestrians and forklifts, but it’s not always possible. They use barriers where they can and train staff to make sure people stay within designated walkways.

Rack damage

In the past, ACCO Brands tended to buy material handling equipment, which meant the trucks could run for a very long time. While this offers significant benefits, it has downsides. 

“We had rail-based VNA MHE in our Halesowen DC,” said Lee. “It was good kit, but as it aged it would come off its rails more frequently and damage racking.”

ACCO Brands has responded to this in two ways. It has turned to SEMA (The Storage Equipment Manufacturers Association) for best practice guidance on managing rack repairs and it further upgraded its forklift fleet to a wire guidance system.

“In the end, we went with SESS in terms of rack inspections,” explains Lee. “I personally recommended them – as they are independent from the line managers. We wanted to make sure we were getting an independent report, and I’ve made sure the company inspecting racking is different from those doing the repairs.”

Long-serving staff

ACCO Brands in Halesowen benefits from an experienced and long-established workforce. According to Lee, “It’s great to have experienced workers, but from a safety point of view, experienced or not, we continually review our HGV and forklift driver training standards. Additionally, we support health, fitness and well-being programmes and have an occupational health nurse visit sites monthly. We run initiatives for staff like, ‘Know Your Numbers’. We check blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. Hopefully, employees make lifestyle changes, if needed, but it’s up to the individual.”  

The average tenure for staff at Halesowen is 20-25 years. 

 “We pay for HGV drivers’ CPCs (Certificate of Professional Competence). They are doing a job for us and look at it as a long term investment in staff.”

Corporate culture

The company’s safety initiatives are part of a concerted drive on safety, backed from the boardroom. The ACCO Brands global chairman takes an active and vocal lead on safety by personally attending every lost-time accident review meeting. One of the key company-wide programmes is “See Something, Say Something,” which was rolled out in 2012.

“With ‘See Something, Say Something,’ the idea is for everyone to speak up if they see a safety failing or a potential incident situation,” says Lee. “We all have bad days. If we can encourage all employees to lookout for each other and remind each other of their responsibilities for safety, then this can help improve the safety environment. If required, the most senior person in the operation can be told by the most junior person that they're doing something unsafe without ramifications. It is a big challenge, as it is very difficult to direct criticism upward in most organisations.”

All company drivers are required to carry out pre-operations checks of their vehicles. Culturally, that was difficult to get started. “It’s not just about the technical checks,” says Lee. “It is also getting the person to think about safety before they get in the truck.

“One of the key things is employee involvement, so we will talk to people as we carry out audits,” explains Lee. “Some of the questions relate to how often staff raise safety concerns. Initially, when we started doing this, we didn't really get answers.

"I can honestly say we’ve gotten more as time has gone by because we've dealt with feedback in a relaxed atmosphere. We’ve been able to say to managers ‘you need to encourage this a little bit more'.

"It’s also important that we don’t have a name and shame culture. We speak to people one-to-one if there is an issue to be addressed. The audits have proven to be key in boosting safety, but it has been an evolving process.”

“The audits started out as a deep dive into the safety culture and compliance of a facility, but management was disappointed with low scores,” says Lee. “So instead we looked at compliance to start. Facilities scored higher and there was more engagement. This gave us something to build on and we have increased results every year. I think we're at a really good level. It has proven better than starting with very high expectations and achieving low scores, which disengages everyone.”

ACCO Brands also emphasises collaboration throughout the group. The company gets teams together in North America and in Europe to educate staff around its Comprehensive Environmental and Safety Management Plan (CESMP). The company also uses staff from sites to help audit other sites. For example, the safety coordinator in one facility may help audit another facility and that facility manager will then return the favour.

Safety is an ongoing project at ACCO Brands, with the leadership team always on the lookout for improvements. 

ACCO Brands demonstrates the benefits a dedicated team can provide, particularly when driven by active board member involvement, coupled with encouraging all staff to voice their health and safety concerns.

BOX 1: Fire safety

Lee King is a former fire service employee, so fire safety is an issue that is particularly close to his heart.

As a result of a warehouse revamp, the company is looking closely at the property and its services. This has perhaps taken on a particular significance since the sad event at Grenfell Tower in West London.

“We brought in insurers FM Global with regards to fire retardant, firewalls etc.," says Lee. “I think it is very important to bring in the right people and get the right advice. We definitely get an independent look at manufacturers’ claims. For example, a manufacturer may say a product is fire retardant, but the tests may be limited and not take into account all real-world scenarios.”

The Halesowen DC has sprinkler systems installed, both drench sprinklers and an in-rack system. Halesowen is a disaster recovery site, focused mainly on IT systems.

“We have challenges, so we haven't got sprinklers in every location, but in general, we encourage it,” commented Lee. He believes sprinklers should be mandatory for any new build.

“The company has business continuity plans. We're looking at this moment in time to change some of the sprinkler heads because our tanks are not as big as recommended by FM Global. 

"We've worked with them and they've come up with a solution, so were waiting for suppliers to come in. It will reduce our fire loading for the building. The activation will get us past the need for a bigger tank."

"At other sites, we’ve got machinery that are one-offs," he adds. "We installed an AFFF sprinkler system that will primarily control the fire at the same time limiting the water damage on the machinery. It does enough to smother the fire, but doesn’t create a deluge of water that could ruin the machines.”