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Could Your Warehouse Win a Safety Award?

The Safest Warehouse of The Netherlands
The presentation of the “Safest Warehouse Prize” is a regular part of the annual Safe Warehouse Day event sponsored by the Dutch trade organizations BMWT and Evofenedex. Every year, a jury of experts presents this prestigious award to a deserving company. The jury members travel to each nominated warehouse multiple times for tours, inspections, and interviews. After some intense debate, the winner and runners up are chosen. The champions typically display their award in the DC, on their website, and in their marketing materials. Past award recipients have included Abbot, Valeo, CEVA, AkzoNobel, Ahold, and others.

Interview with Jury Member Eric Hereijgers
St. Onge Company is proud that one of the main jury members is our very own Eric Hereijgers. Eric has been designing distribution centers for over 30 years and has been involved in more than 250 projects during that time. He has been a jury member for this award since 2006, and was a founding member. We decided to interview Eric to learn what it takes to be recognized as the safest warehouse.

St. Onge: Hi Eric, let’s work backward – what do unsafe warehouses have in common?
Eric: Typically, it starts at the top with management attitude. Upper management needs to be involved, proactive, and motivated to create a culture of safety. In unsafe warehouses, you can feel that this culture is not in place – poor attitudes create poor behavior, which leads to unsafe decisions and actions. The safest warehouses flip this by having management always put safety as a top priority in every discussion. We have some clients who start every internal presentation with a safety slide and can motivate their employees to come with small improvement ideas on a regular basis. These little actions create a corporate attitude that changes behaviors throughout an organization. The management attitude should not only promote safety through talking but also by action. We cannot expect operators to behave safely when they don’t get the right tools and equipment to work in an ergonomically and secure manner.

St. Onge: What are some signs of an unsafe environment that you see when you tour these warehouses?
Eric: Some of the main characteristics are that the structure of the logistics process is not really clear, and discipline is limited. We can see that pallets and carton boxes are spread around, the environment is not clean, workstations are not well organized, people are walking around too much, and forklifts are parked wherever employees feel like parking them. You can find operators who cannot work due to bad ergonomic design or have excessive fatigue due to poor working conditions. Employees may privately express that they fear an unsafe and impersonal environment or feel that they have no influence on the working space and processes. The site management often does not see this because they are still able to ship orders out the door and hit their KPIs. If your main focus is only on productivity-related measures, you may not see the safety issues right in front of you.

St. Onge: Productivity is very important to all of our clients, doesn’t safety slow workers down due to all the extra equipment and procedures?
Eric: To be honest, one thing the jury has consistently found year after year is that the most productive warehouses are often safe warehouses as well. In fact, we now include productivity KPIs as a key criterion in our evaluations for the safety award! A very safe warehouse with low productivity will not be nominated because we know that this situation is not sustainable. The Erasmus University of Rotterdam studied past winners and found that these operations had higher than average productivity and quality. In addition, they had more flexibility to cope with changing circumstances, higher job satisfaction, less employee turnover, lower illness rate, and fewer accidents and incidents. The Safest Warehouses in The Netherlands are good places to work!

St. Onge: Why do you think the Safest Warehouse prize winners also had all these other benefits?
Eric: Almost all of the winners have incorporated safety as a key part of other programs, including 5S, Continuous Improvement, Kaizen, Gemba, etc. They involve their floor employees in the safety discussions, for example, on weekly Gemba walks within the warehouse. The winners create a culture where floor operators are involved, motivated, and pro-active in improving the warehouse’s total performance. This includes productivity, quality, ergonomics, working conditions, flexibility, and safety. Continuous improvement is promoted, and we often see 5S audits executed on a daily or weekly basis. All these programs work together to increase both safety and productivity. To achieve a really productive and well-run warehouse, you need to have a program of constant improvement with a focus on having healthy and happy employees. Working in a safe way does not actually slow workers down but instead allows them to reach their full potential by eliminating fear, insecurity, fatigue, and injury.

St. Onge: This sounds like a great idea. What pitfalls do you see when people try to do this?
Eric: One of the most common is having one employee “who has to take care of safety.” Safety has to be everyone’s responsibility, and having one person with “safety” in their title allows everyone else to say “not my job.” A similar thing happens with one-time actions or safety projects. Once the project is done, everyone thinks, “well, we are safe now,” and goes back to their old habits. We should be aware that 60% to 70% of all projects related to safety, 5S, or continuous improvement fail because they are just one-time actions and not supported fully by management. Safety has to become part of your daily culture if you want to win my vote for the Safest Warehouse prize!

–Tom Bonkenburg, St. Onge Company
 
 

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