Wyeth: EHS Team Builds a Culture of Safety

April 21, 2005
A glaring need for improvement became an opportunity to reaffirm respect for workers.
TEAM OF THE YEAR FINALIST, SMALLER-SCALE PROJECTS:WYETH'S ST.-LAURENT EHS PROGRAM AND RESULTS TEAM, MONTREAL, CANADAIf you get an "Inukshuk" at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals' St.-Laurent plant in Montreal, you know you've done well. Not just anybody gets one — only members of departments that have gone 1,000 days without a lost-workday accident. An Inukshuk is a small sculpture representative of the Inuit people of Canada, and is a symbol of interdependence and strong relationships.A few years ago, 1,000 days without an accident was unheard of at St.-Laurent, which currently manufactures more than 200 products packaged in 475 different formats for consumer health and pharmaceutical needs. Employee interdependence and morale were poor. In 2001, the facility had triple the accident rate of the average Wyeth plant, and five to 10 times more than some. Though the company had an Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) program in place, it had not made an impact at St.-Laurent."We didn't have a culture of safety," says Mario Vaccaro, production services manager and now a member of the plant's EHS central committee. "It was not a priority of higher management, so it was not a priority lower down." Wyeth corporate management demanded changes. "It was a do or die thing," says Vaccaro.EHS manager Denis Laflamme was brought in to help turn things around. He and a steering committee conducted a thorough gap analysis to measure the plant's EHS performance based upon 24 separate elements. Fifteen of those elements were part of Wyeth's health and safety program already. The other nine (such as contractor management and task observation) were introduced by Laflamme and the committee. They found the facility only 28% compliant with the 24 elements.With the full support of facility management, Laflamme's group instituted training among managers, supervisors, and plant floor employees, and devised an action plan for the next three years. Health and safety became, along with cost, customer service, and GMPs, one of the four pillars of the plant's "management by objective" approach. This had significant repercussions. Training for safety procedures, for example, was given equal billing as training for technical procedures such as blending. Employee evaluations became tied to performance in regards to health and safety standards and issues. (Today, hourly employees who make health and safety contributions above and beyond what is expected may earn a 6% premium on their salaries.)A structure was put in place for EHS improvement. Multi-level, multidisciplinary teams, often led by hourly employees, were set up throughout the plant to tackle specific issues (such as ergonomics and safety inspections) and facilitate training and communication. Each of the plant's 12 sectors held regular meetings on EHS matters, and nominated one member to serve on and report to a central EHS committee. All told, 110 employees now devote time to EHS committees and task forces. These 110 make up the plant's EHS Program and Results team.The system has ensured that management and employees work together on health and safety issues, and that hourly employees have a hand in determining their own workplace safety and culture. Slowly, a new culture has taken root.In three years, the "Safety Index" at the facility has dropped from 3.5 — or 3.5 lost-time accidents per 100 employees working 200,000 hours per year — to 0.84. The plant was recently recognized by corporate management for logging one million hours without a work-related accident. As health and safety have improved, so have product quality and compliance, and staff morale and safety consciousness.Life at work is much healthier these days, says Brigitte Bilodeau, an administrative assistant and coordinator of the office ergonomics committee. "People are trying to help each other more. We are aware of each other," she says. "The fact that I'm able to be involved in the committee makes a big difference."Safety milestones within departments or plantwide are commonplace, and are usually celebrated with cake, symbolic gifts (such as fire extinguishers), or even an Inukshuk. A tribute to the EHS team's success is that all 24 elements used to measure their performance, including the nine unique to St.-Laurent, have recently been adopted by Wyeth for health and safety programs worldwide. And today, the St.-Laurent facility is 100% compliant with those elements.