Better Safe Than Sorry: An Internal Branding/Employee Relations Campaign Puts Safety First

Company: Worthington Industries Agency: Fahlgren Mortine Timeframe: 2007 Since 1955, Worthington Industries, a metal processing company based in Columbus, Ohio, and its employees have lived a philosophy based on what they call the "Golden Rule" (basically, "be safe") which inspired Worthington to revitalize its safety program beginning in 2001. After all, safety is an ever-present issue for companies in the manufacturing industry; a high incidence of illness and injury reduces productivity, increases costs associated with insurance and lowers employee morale. To avoid these negative side effects, Worthington Industries developed and implemented in 2007 a safety management initiative focused on employee involvement and positive reinforcement (such as offering benefits like employees profit-sharing). The effort was branded the "Safe Works" program. Manufacturing Synergy Employees were and continue to be very hands-on in the creation and evolution of the program. In 2007, Worthington Industries tasked its agency of record Fahlgren Mortine to continue the momentum of the safety initiative and increase buy-in with employees to move closer to the companywide goal of zero incidences of work-related illness and injury. For both agency and company, the collaboration was synergistic--and necessary. "We have a very small communications staff," explains Janna Stanford, communications specialist for Worthington Industries' Safe Works. "When we wanted to launch this program, we didn't have the resources to put the time behind the research and planning. We relied on Fahlgren Mortine to do that." Thus, to create an effective program, Fahlgren Mortine took the following steps to gather research: Interviewed Worthington's environmental health and safety team to understand the existing program and its successes, along with areas for growth; Toured manufacturing facilities to see employees in action and understand the challenges the program needed to overcome; Observed Worthington's safety presentation to the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME); and, Researched trade publications to identify important safety issues, best practices and ways in which Worthington's program differs from other companies. The research findings concluded the following: There is much variation in Worthington's facilities. Each facility has different work tasks, challenges and levels of employee morale, so a one-size-fits-all program wouldn't be well-received or effective; The employee must choose the safe work behavior every time because one shortcut can cause injury. This means continuous reminders are essential; The company has achieved success by empowering employees both for safety and other initiatives; and Safety is a constant industry concern, so there were opportunities to share Worthington's success. Immunizing Against Illness And Injury Leveraging these findings, the team determined the initiative's main objectives would be to decrease the incidence of illness and injury; increase employee buy-in and participation in the voluntary initiatives of the existing program; and heighten awareness of Worthington's safety results with internal and external audiences. The target audiences were line employees, facility managers, corporate employees and company leadership (internal); and shareholders and opinion leaders in the manufacturing, safety, HR and insurance industries (external). To flesh out the program, the team hammered out the following strategies: Create and market a brand that encapsulates all of the safety program's initiatives; Develop a safety awards program to recognize safety efforts and success, and encourage participation in the voluntary initiatives; Reinforce safety messages to communicate importance of workplace safety to employees; and, Share successes with internal and external audiences to position and reinforce Worthington as a leader and innovator in the manufacturing industry. The budget for the entire program, including research, logo development, award creation, toolkit and ongoing media relations, was approximately $25,000. Fahlgren Mortine devised the program name--Safe Works--and gave it the tagline, "The safe way. The productive way. The right way." The agency also created a logo incorporating Worthington's company logo. The name denotes a sense of movement and empowerment, and communicates that safety works for the company and the individual. The tagline drives home the message that the safe way to do a task is the most productive and the correct way. The program name and/or its logo are used internally every time the safety program was discussed. Re-Branding Safety According to Stanford, the branding component, both internally and externally, is a linchpin of the program. Much of the work done the last two years has been tweaking it for media outreach. But, she adds, "the legwork done upfront put a good template in place." Melissa Dykstra, VP, management supervisor, for Fahlgren Mortine, agrees but notes that the branding needed to be strategically and smartly handled. "Anytime you brand an internal program, you run into becoming a flavor of the month," she says. "[But doing this] showed long-term commitment. Because of the results that it drives, it showed bottom- line impact, which is important to employees." The agency also developed a safety awards program that recognizes safety accomplishments at the facility, department and employee levels. The voluntary program centered on employee and facility empowerment. As a result, the program is centrally governed by Worthington leadership, but is managed by facility leadership and employee safety councils, which are made up of employees at all levels who take responsibility for safety training programs and continuous improvement. Placing this type of program in a framework that relies on employee buy-in for its success was problematic. "From our internal perspective, we were really looking at a program that had a loose corporate structure," Stanford says. "We really wanted to take advantage of a strong employee workforce that likes to take ownership of programs." To launch the award program and Safe Works brand to employees, Fahlgren Mortine developed a toolkit that was distributed to each facility. The kit included a manual with an overview of the awards and criteria, a recommended calendar of events, talking points for facility managers, talking points for daily pre-shift manager meetings and a prompt to share best practices with company leadership and other facilities. The kit also included a results board used to track and display ratings and standings, a Safe Works poster and Safe Works-branded item. Worthington's safety leader previewed the program during an annual employee-wide meeting and introduced the program in more detail during conference calls with each individual facility. Fahlgren Mortine executives also drafted a media relations plan that included distribution of a media kit that introduced Safe Works and its success to a targeted list of media contacts in the manufacturing, safety, human resources and insurance industries. Fahlgren Mortine followed up with media contacts and offered Worthington leadership as sources and authors for bylined articles. At the close of the inaugural year of the Safe Works award program in June 2007, Fahlgren Mortine followed up with key contacts to share the latest results. Safety First At the end of 2007, all program objectives were met. Following are highlights of the results as compared to 2006: 44% reduction in serious injuries (OSHA Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART); 22% reduction in total injuries (OSHA Recordables); 31% reduction in the number of workers' compensation claims, which resulted in $1.2 million workers' compensation savings 21% of its manufacturing facilities achieved zero DART injuries during the year; Eight facilities exceeded the milestone of one year with zero DART and zero recordable injuries; On average, Worthington Industries' DART rates are more than 64% lower than the industry average and recordable injury rates are more than 52% below the industry average; 13 facilities received the company's highest award for achieving zero DART and zero recordables, representing 996 employees; 11 facilities received the next highest award for zero DART, representing 851 employees; Two-thirds of facilities have active safety councils; 26 facilities participated in Worthington's first Safety Appreciation Days to share best practices, discuss safety equipment options with vendors and learn about the improvement process; ?and, Safe Works' visibility increased to the point that it was featured in the employee newsletter and included within the letter to shareholders in the 2007 annual report. For Nicole Sutton, account supervisor at Fahlgren Mortine, what surprised her the most about the program was the media relations aspect of it. "When we pitched to the safety and manufacturing trade publications, there was a real hunger and interest from them for safety success stories that other companies could implement in terms of best practices. Safety is an ongoing concern for manufacturing companies and because this program is owned on the employee level, [it was given additional credence]." PRN CONTACTS: Melissa Dykstra,; Janna Stanford,; Nicole Sutton, Employees Make The Best Ambassadors One of the keys to the success of the Safe Works program that Worthington Industries developed with its agency of record, Fahlgren Mortine, was its employee buy-in. For both Nicole Sutton, Fahlgren Mortine's account supervisor, and Janna Stanford, Safe Works' communications specialist, this element was both a great takeaway and best practice. For other companies wishing to do a similar internal communications initiative, both offer this advice: Allow for employee empowerment and engagement. "The face-to-face communication among personnel is important," says Sutton. "[With the Safe Works program], employees are invited to participate and be very proactive in the process." Consequently, they help create the program and are instrumental in its success. Pitch and highlight employee accomplishments to the media. "We take this for granted," adds Stanford, "but having employees know that trade publications and other companies are interested in seeing what they're doing is good [in the long run]. Those bragging rights are invaluable to keeping the momentum behind our safety program."

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