Owning Safety: A Mindset and a Way of Life

Feb 1, 2022 7:00 AM ET
Kimberly-Clark employees at the Afula, Israel manufacturing facility
Kimberly-Clark employees at its manufacturing facility in Afula, Israel

For much of the world, the start of a new year is a time for resolutions, such as diet and exercise pledges that are often broken before they even take hold. But at Kimberly-Clark’s manufacturing facility in Afula, Israel, the team’s commitment to safety is an ongoing resolution each and every day, no matter the year.

Over the past two years, the team in Afula has seen its safety performance rise and its incident rate drop – a reflection of the ownership each team member takes in protecting themselves and their colleagues from harm. To them, safety isn’t just a lack of injury – it’s a mindset, responsibility and a way of life. The team owns safety every day, doing all it can to live Kimberly-Clark’s values of caring, owning and acting.  

A Roadmap to Safety

Manufacturing facilities can face numerous potential safety risks. With Kimberly-Clark’s culture of caring and high safety standards, any injury – no matter how minor – is one too many. It’s for this reason that Kimberly-Clark launched the Environmental and Safety Transformation Initiative, a simplified and standardized approach to sparking change and enabling its facilities and distribution centers to reach a level 3 maturity by 2022.

Ranging from level 1 to 4, a level 3 maturity score means that all team members hold themselves and each other to the standards of Kimberly-Clark’s six leadership safety imperatives – even if it means stopping the production line.

Starting in early 2020, the Afula team, along with all other Kimberly-Clark manufacturing and distribution sites, embarked on a maturity journey, following a safety roadmap around three pillars: improving leader and employee mindsets, behaviors, and capabilities; reducing risk and risk tolerance; and facilitating continuous improvement through systems and employee engagement. In less than two years, the manufacturing facility had already surpassed the level 3 rating.

It wasn’t an easy start. “The facility had undergone several changes leading up to this point, including a reduction in workforce and installation of new production capabilities,” said Amir Berman, Afula’s plant manager. “And while safety is a 24/7 necessity, it wasn’t always the main focus for the team.”

But when the site launched its maturity journey, Amir and Afula’s environmental health and safety leader, Meir Pinto, committed to changing hearts and minds to ensure the team was fully on board with the transformation.  

Changing Hearts and Minds

Helping a team of 140 employees change their mindsets and behaviors and improve their capabilities is a daunting task, and Amir knew he had to set the tone. “As a leader, it’s easy to get distracted because you’re often so focused on results,” Amir said. “I knew the change had to start with me. I needed to own safety.”

That change began by implementing what’s known as Leader Standard Work (LSW), a set of checkpoints to ensure that things are running safely and to standard. LSW also includes identifying opportunities to engage with employees, leading by example, and demonstrating daily decisions to put safety first.

“The only way to do this was to build trust and ensure that every manager took ownership of the maturity journey so that they were committed to success,” said Meir, the site’s environmental health and safety expert.

This was easier said than done, especially in early 2020 when the world was reckoning with a social justice movement and an unprecedented global pandemic. Building trust, both men concluded, needed to start by walking the talk.

“Role modeling is key. I can’t ask my team to follow rules if I’m not following them myself,” Amir said. “They needed to see that safety is always top of mind, and it needs to be consistent.”

True to his word, Amir as well as Meir both engaged in daily LSW, which involved observing the team at work, talking to them about Kimberly-Clark’s three safety obligations – to see, own, and solve safety – and asking them to identify risks at their workstations. The pinnacle, though, was addressing their concerns with action.

“We were committed to changing mindsets by closing the loop when there was an issue to be resolved,” Amir relayed. “We needed to demonstrate care and act quickly to eliminate safety hazards and gaps so the team could see leaders immediately addressing issues that arise. It showed them that we mean what we say.”

Awareness Leads to Action

As the ongoing interactions elevated employee awareness and trust, the facility leaders implemented a multilayered process to maximize safety ownership. Meir said the first was the capacity building layer, in which employees became more familiar with the safety requirements and expectations associated with local regulatory requirements and Kimberly-Clark’s internal standards.

The second layer was gap mapping, where the team evaluated which requirements they consistently met, and which areas needed improvement. Meir said that this part is the “great advantage” of the maturity model methodology.

“The very execution of self-evaluation and the gap-mapping process caused us to be more focused and build an improvement plan based on the findings we discovered,” he said. “We were able to create a plan to close the risk gaps and a process to keep them closed.”

The third layer was engaging employees to identify safety solutions and ways of working. This meant involving and connecting them to proactive safety activities such as daily floor conversations, four-step problem solving, participating in safety committees, and sharing observations and concerns. They also delegated decision making so employees could learn from and proactively take responsibility for each other and the process.  

In the end, Afula’s success was built on trust and ownership.

“Safety must come first, so if we need to stop the line, we do it. We don’t cut corners,” said Amir. “This mindset drives greater awareness and efficiency, and ultimately better results. We take care of our most important asset – our employees.”