Baking equipment relies on a variety of safety features to protect employees in the workplace environment.

Like a stoplight at a busy intersection, employees can’t miss it as they enter one of Gonnella Baking’s three facilities. The light shines bright red if the operation had a lost-time injury, yellow if someone required first aid, and green if everyone made it home safe and sound.

“When you walk into the door to one of our bakeries, you know if anything has happened during the past 24 hours,” explained Liz Marcucci, corporate safety director for the Schaumburg, IL-based company where it operates a frozen dough facility. Gonnella also has a frozen dough operation in Hazel Township, PA, as well as a newly expanded fresh bakery in Aurora, IL.

If a worker experienced a near miss or was injured or required first aid, assistant managers in operations, maintenance and quality assurance then meet with all employees on their next shift to discuss what happened and find ways to keep it from occurring again. The incident is even posted on the board to the entrance of the bakery to heighten awareness.

Obviously, transparency is the map for driving home safety. “It’s not a bad thing to let everyone know what’s going on,” noted Ms. Marcucci, a member of the American Bakers Association’s Safety Committee and part of Gonnella’s safety initiative for more than three decades.

“Employees need to know how many loaves it costs for one injury, and we let them know,” she added. “They then can understand how many hours they have to work to take care of one injury.”

That dollar-and-cents approach is pretty straightforward. The insurance company calculates how much money comes out of the company’s reserve. “I then go to our sales department and have them determine how many loaves, cases or products it takes per dollar, and I multiply it from there,” Ms. Marcucci pointed out. “When you have to tell everyone that they have to work three weeks to pay for one person’s injury that required two visits to the doctor, it hits home harder.”

Calculating the costs

For many bakeries, the amount of money it takes to pay for an injury goes beyond medical expenses and ­indemnity payments, according to John Russell, director-technical services, AHT Insurance. In addition to production time lost by the injured employee, fellow workers and even supervisors, other related expenses may include spoiled products, loss of customers, clean-up time, schedule delays, training new employees, overhead costs, legal fees and a potential increase in insurance premiums.

“People may not recognize all of the indirect costs and how they may affect their company’s profit margins,” Mr. Russell said.

Other indirect costs involve the time spent attending to the injured employee, cleaning up after the accident, investigating the incident, filling out forms and reworking schedules when the injured employee returns to work, noted Will Giambalvo, senior vice-president, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. In fact, he cited a study by the American Engineering Council that for every $1 spent on direct costs such as medical care and wage continuation, $4 is lost in productivity.

“So many employees think workers’ compensation does not cost much. We all know it does,” Mr. Giambalvo said. “When the employees know it’s more than a few hundred dollars, they treat it differently.”

Maybe that’s why putting an accident in terms of “loaves produced” hits home so effectively for production employees or profit-and-loss for owners, general managers and supervisors who may receive bonuses based on a bakery’s earnings, noted Rick McGrath, partner and senior vice-president, Lockton Cos.

“A culture of safety needs to be driven at the very top,” Mr. McGrath said. “It needs to be driven by the CEO, supported with the proper tools for the safety ­committee. Every bakery in the country is focused on how to produce more these days. The successful bakeries announce to their companies that once you develop a culture of safety, you are going to produce everything more safely and, in the end, more profitably. When you look at all of the numbers, you can’t make as much profit if you have workers’ comp claims.”

Gonnella relies on a multi-tiered safety program that includes monthly classroom training, weekly safety newsletters and brief safety reminders before each shift. Moreover, assistant managers in operations, maintenance and quality assurance conduct regular safety observations as they monitor production on the floor. “Before they walk away from an employee, they have to discuss safety and have the employee sign off that they had a discussion on what they were doing, right or wrong,” Ms. Marcucci noted.

The most common lost-time incidents — around 80% of them — come from slips, trips and falls; repetitive motion claims; and back or other injuries due to lifting, forklift accidents and more. “Certainly, you have injuries where people stuck their hand in a piece of equipment where they shouldn’t have, but they’re not the most common,” Mr. Giambalvo said. “These less-common injuries tend to happen because of a lack of safety culture in a plant where a manager or CEO will feel that productivity is more important than safety.”

Getting to the root cause of incidents is vital to prevention. “At first, it may seem like an injury was due to defective machinery, but when you further investigate, even though the employee meant well, the company later discovers the employees bypassed the guard or interlock to keep the machine running because it was jammed-up or needed cleaning,” Mr. Russell said. “The workers did it because they want to keep production running.”

Reducing the risk

The most effective safety programs, Mr. McGrath said, come from comprehensive internal initiatives through the safety committee. “To ask an outside consultant to help mitigate lost-time incidents is a small portion of the success of any safety program,” he explained. “The program has to be driven by line operators and by supervisors. We can give them all of the tools in the world to be successful, but those tools are only as good as how much the supervisors and management support them.”

Those tools often include safety inspections. However, Mr. Giambalvo cautioned checklists are not the same as inspections, but rather, an aid to a more thorough process. “A missing fire extinguisher is a hazard, but it’s also a symptom of an underlying problem: Why didn’t anyone in the department discover the missing extinguisher and replace it promptly?” he noted. “In other words, a safety inspection should seek to discover the organizational problems and managerial inadequacies that allow hazards to exist, not just the hazards themselves.”

A better option, he suggested, might be using a blank piece of paper. “When you see something that is wrong, ask why it is wrong and find the root cause,” he noted.

Comprehensive safety programs also can create job satisfaction and provide additional benefits, according to Mr. Russell. “It can help reduce turnover,” he said. “It involves an investment of money and time to train new and existing individuals. If you want to have excellent product quality and have employees stay within your organization, it’s important to have a number of programs working together.”

Many bakeries use incentive programs, such as a pizza day or giving out gift cards, to raise awareness about safety, but again, it’s just another tool in the box. “Everyone realizes the company is buying them lunch today because the plant went 120 days without an injury,” Mr. McGrath said. “Those are part of the overall culture, but you need everything else in place for these incentives to work. It has to be a full-court press for a safety program to work instead of looking at the parts and pieces of a safety program. It has to have management buy-in. It needs employee buy-in. It needs best practices and ongoing training, just to name a few.”

Successful incentive programs need to be ongoing. “It’s important to have a continuous program even though you might change some of the awards and incentives,” Mr. Russell said.

The goals of the program must also be clear, such as reducing the number of employee injuries or costs by 20%. “The goals also should relate to increasing safety knowledge and skill,” Mr. Giambalvo said. “The mission must be achievable, clear and simple. Goals also must be well thought-out. You do not want a safety contest to motivate workers to conceal problems instead of reporting them promptly, and this can lead to increased costs if these problems that are left untreated become expensive conditions like a repetitive motion or carpal tunnel syndrome.”

At the start of each shift, Gonnella’s employees must give their supervisors a “safety action” that they will do that day. “A safety action is not buying another ladder,” Ms. Marcucci pointed out. “A safety action is, ‘I’m going to bend my knees before I lift a bag of ingredients.’ They have to give a safety action that nobody else gave for the day. They need to think of something they can actively do and tell us. By having repetition every single day, the safety action stays on your mind, 24/7. You have to try to think of a new safety activity for the next day or the day after that.”

To receive an incentive, Gonnella will challenge everyone in the plant to come up with a different safety action. It’s not as easy as it sounds. “You have 250 people on 24 hours of shifts coming up with all sorts of safety actions,” she said. “That’s amazing to me. If you’re able to come up with some action no one else has, you should be able to get a gift card.”

Over the years, Gonnella has surveyed its employees about what incentives meant the most to them in a safety program. Each time, they said the same thing. “They want money, and they want time off,” Ms. Marcucci said. “They want to be with their families and spend money on their families.”

The heart of a safety program, however, goes beyond dollars and cents. Ms. Marcucci compared it to an iceberg. “It’s not just what shows on the surface, but everything that’s underneath,” she explained. “Quite honestly, it’s not the profit and loss for us. It’s beyond that. Our employees are like family members. Our job is to make sure they come in and leave safely every day. If we save money doing that, it’s a bonus. I’m passionate about them making it safely home to their families. That’s what a lot of people and companies don’t get. If you’re not passionate about safety, your employees know. If you are, they get it.”