One injury is one too many. That was the core value that led to safety change at St. Louis-based Arch Coal, one of the USA’s largest coal producers. Contributing about 12 per cent of America’s coal from its 11 mining complexes in six states, the organization has historically performed well in safety with a total incident rate that ranks 60 to 70 per cent better than the U.S. industry average. Arch’s commitment to helping employees work safely and act responsibly was already evident in the company’s culture, exemplified by foundational initiatives such as subsidiary safety plans, cross-operational safety audits, and safety improvement process reviews that established mine-specific targets each year. Still, even with an industry-leading safety record, the organization was not satisfied. They felt they were having too many preventable injuries and that safety performance had plateaued.
Taking it to the next level
In 2006, Arch Coal and its subsidiaries began efforts to engage and align each organizational level and build upstream measures to drive the “Leading with Safety” initiative. The process began with an organizational assessment of cultural characteristics that predict safety outcomes. This data provided a snapshot that helped the organization target improvement efforts. Diagnostic assessment then shifted to the organization’s leaders, measuring best practices and leadership styles that impact safety performance. Workshops and coaching sessions were conducted for these individuals to inspire action, improve critical skills and build alignment of safety goals.
Simultaneously, over the course of two years, tailored behaviour-based safety processes were initiated at the major mining sites. Steering committees were selected at each location to develop a list of critical behaviours that could then be observed by trained peers on the job. Observations were anonymous and had no disciplinary repercussions. They concluded with feedback that addressed the safe and at-risk behaviours present. Data from these observations were tracked to reveal trends and remove barriers, with outcomes communicated back to the workforce. Each site had a designated management sponsor serving as the liaison between the steering committee and the management team, and a process facilitator represented either the hourly workforce or the front-line supervisory level. In addition, four key employees were trained as internal consultants. They now serve as experts in sustaining the process across all of the company’s subsidiary sites.
Progress to “perfect zero”
Rather than focus on beating the competition or beating last year’s records, Arch believed it was time to reach for the ultimate goal of zero injuries and environmental violations. Out of this goal a “perfect zero” was born. Integrating the approach with the company’s overall safety processes and achieving employee buy-in has been critical.
Arch sponsors annual summits for its subsidiary leadership teams, key personnel and representatives from the steering committees. It also holds annual safety management workshops and regional benchmarking forums for all subsidiary process facilitators. Improvements have included steering committee input on incident investigations, the revision of the safety audit format to include a behaviour-based component, and the participation of facilitators in cross-operational safety audits.
To date, 914 subsidiary employees have been trained as observers, 22,671 observations have been conducted, and 688 barriers to safe performance have been removed. Facilitators report that employees have more enthusiasm and ownership of safety, and that leaders visibly demonstrate support. Communication has improved at all organizational levels and the company believes that the culture to eliminate at-risk behaviour is expanding. Ten Arch Coal subsidiary operations completed the entire year of 2007 without a single reportable safety incident. This proved that zero was attainable. Nevertheless, according to Arch, there is still more work to do until they achieve the perfect zero company-wide.