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March 03, 2011
Achieve ‘Zero Incident’ Culture by Always Putting Safety First

Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS) works toward a “zero incident” culture in terms of safety-related accidents. “We’re striving to get to the point where we have no incidents whatsoever—no scrapes, no lacerations, no bumps in the head—all those things that can happen on a daily basis,” says James Hefti, vice president of Human Resources. He describes this effort as a behaviorally based approach to safety and a culture where individuals put safety first everyday.

ATS (, an international corporation that improves the productivity and profitability of international manufacturers through production equipment maintenance, information technology, and spare-parts repair, has 2,500 employees in over 100 locations throughout the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and China, including client locations and three regional offices, says Hefti.

“The ATS incident rate (any reportable incident) has improved by over 65 percent over the past 4 years,” he explains. The lost-time case rate (employee absence due to a work-related incident) has improved by more than 80 percent. Let’s take a look at how these achievements have occurred.

Number One Value

The first critical component of creating and maintaining a culture of safety is making safety the number one value of the culture. “Live Safety” is the value (and behavior) that employees are expected to live by at work and at home, explains Hefti. “We even interview job candidates for that value to make sure that we’re getting the right people on-board. Nothing comes before safety—not profits, not customers.”

Safety training begins with onboard training that incorporates safety and continues through online training requirements, explains Hefti. For example, a maintenance technician must complete 12 basic courses, one per month, and depending on his or her job, additional specialized courses and certification achievement, he says. Most courses are available online so they can be completed according to an employee’s availability. Regular refresher courses are also required, in compliance with OSHA standards, adds Manager of Safety Scott Stone.

Safety Reporting System

Employees are encouraged and expected to submit safety problems in the workplace to the IndustrySafe safety management system, which they access through their computers ( At the same time, employees are expected to address the safety concern with the employee(s) observed completing a task in a hazardous manner.

According to Stone, there’s a corporate requirement of one hazard submitted per month by each employee. “These are put into three categories: Unsafe Act, Hazardous Condition, and Near Hits. One required field is Action Taken. We make sure that we take ownership of the hazards that we see out there, and not only are finding safety issues, but fixing them as well, whether it is by having a safety conversation with an individual performing an unsafe act or installing guarding on a piece of machinery.”

Employees may check the status of a reported problem and solutions being undertaken in IndustrySafe in response to their safety concerns.

Meanwhile, ATS managers are required to complete four safety observations a month, notes Stone: “The managers, safety supervisors, and team leaders observe an employee working on a specific job and look for safe and unsafe behaviors, ergonomic postures, [and] defective or broken tools, and then rectify the problems.”

Never-Ending Journey

At ATS, safety is the first topic addressed in employee meetings on a department or worksite level. For example, Hefti explains that office safety was discussed at a recent HR staff meeting. He explains that safety at home is also often covered with topics such as ladder safety and safety in lawn care. “Safety is a journey you can’t stop going down. You don’t ever get to a point where you say you’ve done all you can do.”

What You Should Do

Hefti offers the following advice to HR executives: “You really have to have a culture that believes in safety, and it has to be a value, not a priority. Priorities change and shift from one emergency to the next, and safety gets put on the back burner. It has to be at the front before everything else.”

Hefti says that if you do start a behavior-based approach to safety, “it’s not just a click of the switch. It’s a cultural shift within the organization. You have to stay committed to the task and not give up just because you don’t see the desired results within 6 months to a year. The results will come.”

Stone adds, “You need 100 percent dedication from leadership to get a large-scale home and work safety initiative launched and sustained as a corporation. For us, it’s the highest value. We believe in it; we never let it down; we keep on it day after day after day. It just takes one bad injury to change your life, to end someone’s life, and change a company forever—so commitment is key.”

[Editor’s note: ATS offers a similar safety solution program to other employers.]

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