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#18: If I don’t remember that, then I don’t need to be doing safety.

January 30, 2019 | 45 minutes 9 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James connects with Certified Safety Professional Rick, a home grown pro with over 30 years of experience. Rick started on a poultry production line and, building upon his interest in emergency response, worked his way up the ranks of the safety ladder for a major food industry brand. Eventually, he found himself supervising 160 professional safety staff and 350 occupational health nurses. Podcast fans will learn about mapping safety to organizational business strategy, the futility of ‘management without measurement’, and developing safety metrics from workers comp stats. Also, discover a fantastic internship opportunity available now. Bonus? Answer the most important question every safety pro must ask themselves.

Transcript

Jill:

This is the Accidental Safety Pro, brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems, and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode number 18. My name is Jill James, Vivid's chief safety officer, and today I'm joined by Rick Hellinga, senior director of safety, health and loss prevention for Simmons Foods, in Arkansas. Rick, welcome to the show.

Rick:

Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

Jill:

Yeah, you're welcome. It's great to have you here. For full disclosure, Rick and I have known one another in the safety field for…Jeez, Rick, what do you think? Maybe something like eight years?

Rick:

Eight, 10 years. Yeah, thereabouts.

Jill:

Some…Something like that, when we had a common meeting in our jobs around, specifically then the poultry industry.

Rick:

Yep.

Jill:

Rick, you're a little bit familiar with the podcast at this point, and you know that our central theme is around how did we accidentally find ourselves in this field. And so I'm interested to hear your story, because you've been at this awhile now, haven't you?

Rick:

Yes, ma'am, almost 30 plus years.

Jill:

Whoa. Whoa. So, what's the story? How did you…You're in Arkansas. Have you always been from Arkansas, or what got you into this?

Rick:

So I actually started working for a company called Harker's Foods, in northwest Iowa, way, way, way long ago, back in 1985. And I started working on the production floor, and I was a…My first job was actually marinating chicken strips. And I worked my way up through the ranks, and got myself into management. And my last job in management was what they termed at the time, a production supervisor on second shift. Anyways, I was taking a supper break one night, and I was thumbing through the local newspaper and I saw an ad for a position called the Iowa safety manager position for Harker's Foods, which at the time was part of Tyson Foods. We had been acquired in 1989, by Tyson Foods.

Anyway, so I called the next day and luckily I did, because that was actually the last day that the position was gonna be posted, and they had already had several applicants.

Jill:

Whoa.

Rick:

And so I threw my hat into the ring, and through a series of several interviews, was fortunate enough to get into the position. And I was-

Jill:

So-

Rick:

I was doing safety over three production plants.

Jill:

Wow. So Rick, when you're sitting at dinner that night in the plant and you read the ad for safety, what made you even think that…Did you know what that meant, or were you just thinking, "What's my next move gonna be?" How did you decide that was what you're gonna go after?

Rick:

Well so I had been part of, I guess what's considered now the emergency action, or emergency response team. We did hazmat and incipient fire response, as well as first aid and CPR responder. And I'd always been intrigued by that, and I thought that…And I thought it was something that was very worthwhile and helpful to not only the company but more importantly to the folks that were on my line and in my, in the plant in the company that I worked in. So I thought, "You know what? This is something definitely to explore."

Jill:

Huh. Cool. And so you're…You landed the job. You've got three facilities, is that what you said?

Rick:

Yes ma'am.

Jill:

And so what did…What did that…Was that like a rude awakening or were you energized by it? What was…You'd been in one facility and now all of a sudden you have three and a totally different job.

Rick:

Yeah, so the…And I don't know how common this is nowadays. I don't think it's very common, anymore. But back then, my training consisted of 15 minute discussion, a one-five minute discussion with my boss, and he handed me the two CFR books, and said, "Let me know if you need anything."

Jill:

Oh, whoa. Had you ever seen the CFR book before?

Rick:

No, and so I found out later why, and that was because we had been, obviously, bought by Tyson Foods, and Tyson had a fairly mature at the time safety program and process. And the three plants I was with had never had one.

Jill:

Oh, whoa.

Rick:

It was always done by the HR manager as part of their job responsibility, and again, as part of it. So obviously it was put to the back burner several times.

Jill:

Right.

Rick:

But anyways, that was my awakening and then when I went to some of the Tyson training for safety folks, I was absolutely blown away by, first of all, the amount of knowledge that they all had, and second of all, the amount of work that they did. And it actually helped me go ahead and focus on things that I did not have, or the three plants did not have. And initially it started out almost completely just on the compliance side, because we didn't have anything.

Jill:

Yeah, so literally it was the CFRs.

Rick:

Yep.

Jill:

Yeah. And so did…Were those…Were your counterparts with Tyson, were they helpful to you at that time, or did they go, "Whoa, this guy's so over his head," and…Did anybody reach a hand out and go, "I'm gonna help you"?

Rick:

So we were part of the, what was back then called the Beef and Pork Division. And there were a couple other safety folks in that same division. They reached out to me and helped me out, and provided me some templates to go with. And I actually leaned on them quite a bit to say, "Hey, how…What do you think?" To give me their interpretations and their solutions. But also the corporate staff was very helpful as well. They were available to me. I had my first OSHA inspection I think within the first four or five months.

Jill:

Oh wow.

Rick:

We had had an incident that actually happened before I started, which may have helped drive getting the position.

Jill:

Get the job?

Rick:

Yeah.

Jill:

Yeah. Right.

Rick:

And OSHA came in, and it was for an amputation.

Jill:

Hmm.

Rick:

So, but they helped me out, and it turned out actually fairly well.

Jill:

Yeah. So you were really starting from scratch. You said you were working on templates, so you were trying to get written programs in place maybe for the first time, or ones that were acceptable, and doing training too?

Rick:

Yes ma'am. The first one I did was lock up, tag out.

Jill:

Well it was a good, important one to pick in a-

Rick:

Yep.

Jill:

... in a processing plant.

Rick:

And then it went into haz com. Bloodborne pathogens had just come out. Process safety management was still being discussed. It wasn't even out there yet. It was a brave new world, we'll just put it that way.

Jill:

No kidding. So, when did you feel like you got your sea legs?

Rick:

Actually, I still don't have my sea legs, quite frankly.

Jill:

Right? That was a trick question, because I know I say the same thing.

Rick:

No, I…And that's one thing I know for all the folks that may be listening, that's critical, and that is you're never, never have your sea legs and you always have to learn. And that's one thing I've learned myself, through some painful experiences, where you just think you got it nailed down and all of a sudden boom, something else happens that you never anticipated. So-

Jill:

Yeah. It's the…It's a double-edged sword for our practice, right? It's what keeps, well, some of us, at least for me, engaged, is the constant learning and the ability to be always learning, if that's your thing and you like that. And it keeps you humble, too.

Rick:

Oh, definitely. That's for sure.

Jill:

Yeah. So, what happened next? You have these three plants. You're just getting started. What's the process? What happened next with you?

Rick:

So, Tyson had a department called Loss Control, and they were focused on fire and ammonia response. So I was called by one of the folks in Arkansas, asking if I would be interested in applying. And I'm like, "Okay." And I applied, but then at the time, I wasn't where I could actually move, because it was down in Arkansas, and so they hired somebody else. And about six months later, that person apparently didn't work out and so they called me again, and this time I said, "Okay, I'll go down there and take a look," and interviewed and I was successful and I relocated down to Arkansas, and became their corporate loss control coordinator, I guess. That's what it was called at the time.

And then my responsibility then was focusing on hazardous material response, fire prevention, and incipient stage fire force response, permit required, confined space entry, and respiratory protection.

Jill:

Wow, I can't believe you remember all that.

Rick:

Yeah, that's just…It seems like it was yesterday, but that's-

Jill:

Right?

Rick:

And I was just traveling around the country, doing classes on each one of those subjects. Basically that was my full-time job.

Jill:

And that's a lot of subjects, too, and none of them are small. And specifically the ammonia one, was that…Had PSM been passed by that time, and so you're trying to be a student of that too?

Rick:

So PSM came, had just come out, and actually it still wasn't even being enforced, when I started. And Tyson was…I was glad that they did this. They actually had, in their engineering group, a PSM department, which at the time only included one person. And-

Jill:

But it's so necessary.

Rick:

Oh yeah, definitely. And it grew from there, obviously. But yeah, I would do one week long classes. I would fly out on Sunday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Get done Friday afternoon, fly home, do my laundry, pack my bag and head out again. And I did that-

Jill:

Yeah, how long?

Rick:

... probably three weeks a month for six years? Six or seven years?

Jill:

Whoa, Rick. That's a long time.

Rick:

Oh yeah. I got my fill of training.

Jill:

And travel.

Rick:

Yeah, the…And, yeah. It was something that I wouldn't wish upon everybody, but if you're…If it's something you like, do it. Because I got to see a ton of places around the country, and meet a ton of great folks, but it does wear on you.

Jill:

When did the travel piece get like, I think I've had my fill? Or hasn't it yet?

Rick:

So, from there, and I thought…So it sounds like my travel wore me out. From there, I became…I actually moved into another position over basically all of safety and all of loss control for half the company, basically all the facilities west of the Mississippi.

Jill:

Whoa.

Rick:

And so Tyson at the time was around 90 production plants, and about 70, 75,000 team members. And I had half of that, and I had a few folks working underneath me, but part of my responsibility was to get out and visit folks, and work with operations. So whenever they went out to locations, my travel really didn't stop. So I did that for, oh man, until 2007. Then I actually left Tyson, technically, as an employee, and went to work for Lockton Companies, an insurance broker. And I did that for four years, but I was Tyson's primary consultant.

Jill:

Oh, okay.

Rick:

So I always say, yeah, I spent a lot of time with Tyson, and because I did. They were about 1700 hours of my 2200 hours, however you want to do that hours counting-

Jill:

Sure.

Rick:

... for a year.

Jill:

Sure. Yeah, and the insurance industry really needed someone that they could specifically assign to that account, because they're so huge. Yeah.

Rick:

Yep-

Jill:

And you were a great fit. Interesting. Two things. I wanted to back up just in case anyone listening…If you and I didn't clarify what PSM stands for and somebody's new to the practice, it's process safety management, which is a lot all on its own, which is difficult. Let's just put it that way. It's detailed and difficult.

So, you're with now an insurance company for a little while. What was the shift like? Or was it not really much different than what you had been doing, because you were serving the same company?

Rick:

Well, I did…My other part…I had 18 clients total. And I had two or three meat or food companies, Tyson being one of them. But then I also got into aerospace, I got into metal foundries, metal forging, biopharmaceuticals, staffing companies. I got…And what was great about that is I got to learn, I got to practice the craft, but also I got to learn how to apply it differently. Because the principles are the same, but application is so much different.

Jill:

Exactly. And so which of those industries was most intriguing to you? Those are all…They're all fun and interesting to hear about, but were any of them like, oh wow, this is really fun to learn about this one?

Rick:

Actually they all were, because they all had such different applications. For example, metal forging was interesting, but when you coupled that with aerospace…Because one of my clients was on the West Coast, and they actually made things like the shuttle rings, or they made propeller shafts for nuclear submarines, that kind of stuff. And it was just absolutely fascinating, number one, to see how all that process worked, but also how specific and exact they had to be because of the tolerances for the types of equipment and machinery that they were making stuff for.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Interesting. So is this about the time I should be asking you…I know that you and I have spoken in the past and you've mentioned something about presenting to NASA. I don't know the story, so I'm dying to find out what it is. Is this about the time that the NASA story comes into play in your career?

Rick:

No, actually, so that came out-

Jill:

Should I save it? Okay.

Rick:

Yeah no, you can bring it…It's actually one of those things that really I thought was a highlight, because I was actually just traveling back from visiting some plants in 2013, and I got a call on my phone. I was like, "Hello, this is Rick," and it was a gentleman who worked at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And he said, "Hey, the reason I'm calling you is, ever since the space shuttle Challenger happened, one of the things that the management of NASA really wanted was, how do we keep safety management alive and well and keep it in the forefront and make sure folks are focusing on it?" And they said the agreement was that every quarter, we would bring in a different safety person from across the United States, bring them in and they would present to, basically, the rocket scientists, and other folks obviously.

But they…I talked to my boss at Tyson at the time, and I said, "To me it's a great opportunity to spread the word about Tyson," but also the topic we were presenting was very important, and that was how to manage safety in a multicultural environment. And so I got invited to go down there, and I got to speak for an hour. Another part of the highlight was I got to go through the NASA Museum, which had just opened down there where they had put all the shuttles that still remained and stuff like that. And then I got to tour-

Jill:

It's so awesome. I've been-

Rick:

Oh it was awesome.

Jill:

... there for the tour and it is fascinating.

Rick:

Yep. So that's how that happened.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow. And how intimidating was that? Or was it more exhilarating?

Rick:

It was both. You're sitting to look across the audience and you're thinking, "These guys have way more education than I could ever have dreamt about." And you can't just go ahead and throw stories out. They all want it in context, being engineers. And so it's like, "Oh, good lord." I was scared.

Jill:

Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah, right? Did they ask you any questions?

Rick:

A few folks did. But I had done enough public speaking to be able to have some of those questions already asked in my head or answered in my head. So when they asked them…But it was a very polite crowd, and they appreciated, and I certainly learned from it, that's for sure.

Jill:

That's interesting. I hope and wonder if they're still doing that today.

Rick:

Yeah, I don't…I hope they are, because it's such a good program.

Jill:

Yeah, no kidding. So I wanted to ask you about…You had mentioned at some point in your career you started supervising people.

Rick:

Yes.

Jill:

Yeah, and when you say supervising people, you mean other safety professionals, right?

Rick:

So, yeah both. When I worked production I ended up supervising the folks on the line, but as I grew in the safety profession, I took on, when I got to the corporate level, at the height, I had actually all the nurses and all the safety folks reporting to me. And when you added it all together, it was 160 safety folks reporting through the organization up to me, and then something like 360 or 400 nurses.

Jill:

Oh man.

Rick:

But, again, I had a director of occupational health, I had directors of safety, operations, which had folks that cascaded up to them, so it wasn't like they directed to me, but I was over it, and as a…It gets…It's challenging, that's for sure.

Jill:

Yeah. I think as a podcast guest, I'm just going to say you hold the record, of supervising people, which is not…Well first of all, that's a huge number of bodies. But it's also unique, in many of…Many of the people listening are solo operators. Or maybe they have a couple of safety techs, or a really small team with them. But nothing of the scope that you experienced. What was that like for you? How did you tackle some of that? Did you do some mentoring with some of the safety people, or did you wake up every day going, "Oh my gosh, I have all these people. How am I going to wrangle all these cats?" Or what was, what did you…What became your thing that you leaned into?

Rick:

So actually, and I have to credit all my bosses and also the organizations I was part of, at first, it was very overwhelming, and it was like, how do I get my arms around something this large? But the companies I've worked for have all really had a focused strategy, business strategy. And what I did is I inserted myself into the business, so to speak. So here's your strategic plan for operating the company. Where does safety play a role? Where does it fit?

And inserting it into the business process was how I actually was able to say, "This is a strategy." And I could take that strategy, sit down with my folks, and hopefully communicate it very clearly. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't, but be able…Then they would take that and push that strategy down to the folks at the plant, and then focus on whatever we do, it has to support that strategy. So that-

Jill:

Helps get…It helps get the business case buy-in, rather than being the, oh that thing we have to do.

Rick:

Well, and I think that the key there is, not only telling them, "Here's what it is," but making sure that they go out and they communicate, "This is what I'm gonna do to help you get where you're going." But also, helping ensure that everybody's aligned. Because the thing I learned very early on is, if you don't have consistency, it makes it very difficult to manage. So we would set up processes and there was a very large initiative, in my, at Tyson, where we basically set up a ton of environmental and safety management system processes, which definitely helped. We started integrating technology and using them to help support our systems, and it was something…If you're a safety person and you don't have that right now, if you're a single operator, I do not envy you if you have to try and do this all manually. Because that's how we did it back, way back then was, everything was big chief pad and pencil.

Jill:

Yeah, right? That's funny. And so true. And so true. Yeah, the systems…That makes it, right? That made it possible for you to be able to manage that many people because you didn't have to have a, okay, now what are you doing at this place?

Rick:

Yep.

Jill:

It's like, this is how we're doing it, and then people could, when they came into those positions, they could key into the processes and systems you already had in place, and work with their coworkers who were doing the same thing but in another part of the country.

Rick:

Well, and it's also, how do you manage something if you never measure it? If you say you're gonna do something, when does it get done?

Jill:

Yeah, right. Right. How do you measure it so that you can make those financial asks, among other things. So, guessing with that many people you also had a budget.

Rick:

Yeah, we had…I had a budget. It was quite large at times. And the one thing I will say is that the other thing I realized very quickly on, and that is that change is something that you have to expect. Don't just sit there and say everything is gonna be the same because I will say my organization was very large, and it would become much smaller. They would get restructured, and in a company, a large company, even medium or even small companies, that's something safety folks have to anticipate, and make sure that whatever they put together is going to be able to be flexible. But as far as budgets? Yeah, at the height, it was well into the eight digits, and I've had very, much smaller. I'll just put it that way.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, what…Other than being flexible, Rick, with budgeting, which makes perfect sense. I know I've talked to safety professionals just in the last month who, because of shifts in their industry, have had to scale back, and had to pivot, and decide, okay now this is what I wanted to do, now this is what I'm going to be able to do, and triage what that is. But when it comes to budgeting for safety, even if somebody doesn't have a ginormous budget like you had, or if they've never developed one, do you have any tips on where they could start, or just some best practices that you've developed in your career?

Rick:

I think for me, the key was getting into the…When I said I integrated or put myself into the business, sit down with your operators and find out what numbers they look at. And then you can…And see…First of all, obviously you've got some numbers already at your hand. You've got the cost of salaries, benefits, that kind of stuff. So that's your, I'll call it, non-operational budget. You've got some of those that are always gonna happen.

But when you look at what actually matters from the operations standpoint, try and find those pieces of the budget puzzle that your, either your people or energy and activity fit into. So for example, if I'm traveling to facilities to do audits. Obviously I budget for travel and I budget for time away, but I also need to budget for things like, okay, I'm gonna need a computer. So you have to think about…You have to break it down to a very finite level of detail, to be able to put those costs in it. And the more granular you can get, the better off you're gonna be able to justify those costs.

If you just say in general, "Hey I need $5,000 for travel for this year." Well, when the boss asks you, "What travel are you talking about?" you need to be able to break it down and say, "This, this, this and this and this." So you can prove that, number one it's needed, and value added. And number to, you're just not messing around. There's…It makes sense, and it fits the strategy.

Jill:

Yeah you didn't pull the number out of the air.

Rick:

Correct.

Jill:

And it fits the strategy. Yeah, makes sense. Yeah perfect. So, Rick, you spent a long time with Tyson, and somewhere along the way you earned your CSP, didn't you?

Rick:

Yes ma'am I did.

Jill:

Tell the audience about that. Because we started out with you marinating chicken strips. So some education happened along the way.

Rick:

Yes.

Jill:

How did that work?

Rick:

So first of all I got my college degree. I followed the 20-year degree program. I got my…I did adult education and earned my bachelor's in organizational management. And then, after that, as part of my job at Lockton insurance brokers, my bosses there all had these credentials. And they said, "You know what, Rick? It would be really great, and would help with your credibility, is if you would go ahead and get this." And I said, "Okay."

So I went ahead and applied and at first I had no clue how difficult it was gonna be, nor how much, how rigorous it would be just to get accepted. And back then when I got it, it was…That was like 2005, -6, or -7. It was, wow. It was very manual still, not like the way it is today but just the application itself took about eight hours to make. And then you send it off and you wait for, it seemed like forever but it was probably only a couple, two three weeks. And then I had the opportunity to go ahead and take a couple prep classes, and then spent, it seemed like months upon months upon months studying and prepping, and learning how to take the test, and finally sat for my ASP. And then five months later I did my CSP. So I tried to do it all in one year.

Jill:

Yeah.

Rick:

And it was-

Jill:

That's intense.

Rick:

I will say this to anybody listening. Guys, if you want a credential, if you can get it, get the CSP, because it is definitely worthwhile.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Man. And you were traveling and-

Rick:

Yep. Oh yeah.

Jill:

...managing people and a budget and trying to do all that at the same time, and have a family.

Rick:

Yep.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. Well congratulations on that.

Rick:

Thank you.

Jill:

It's a huge accomplishment. So, have we missed anything? Are we at present day? And I'd like the audience to hear where you are now.

Rick:

So, about three years ago, I actually returned to Tyson in 2011-

Jill:

After Lockton?

Rick:

Yep. They called and said, "Hey, your…We never filled your position. Would you consider coming back?" And it just worked out that I could. So worked there for another five years. In 2016, again, because I'm getting up in age, and the travel was really starting to hurt me, I was like, "You know what? Let me see if there's a smaller company." And it just so happened that my predecessor who you know as well, left the company and there was an opening and they called me and asked me. And through a series of interviews and, it took two or three months, and then I was able to come to Simmons, which everybody says, "Well what's life at Simmons compared to life at Tyson?" Because it's very similar companies.

Everything…Divide Tyson by 20, and that's what I've done. Because it's almost worked out almost identically, to the number of team members I have now, to the amount of trips I take, to the amount of stress, all that kind of stuff. That's how I answer when people say, "So what's it like?"

Now the Simmons is a family owned company, which Tyson was public, and that's a very big difference. But it's also something that I really appreciate, because being a much smaller company, a family owned company, it is something that is just…It's a breath of fresh air, I'll put it that way.

Jill:

Yeah. Does it feel in a way that, a little more flexibility in that maybe…I don't know. Or do you get to be more creative, or are there decisions that happen faster because of, it's just a smaller ship to turn?

Rick:

As far as speed of implementation, yes.

Jill:

Yeah. Okay.

Rick:

As far as development, you still have the same questions, you still have the same challenges that you have to overcome. But once you get a yes, what used to take me probably a year to implement consistently across Tyson, takes me maybe seven or eight weeks, at Simmons, because we can…It's very…Because it's so small, you can get a lot of questions answered in a very quick period of time versus having to be spread out, almost worldwide, and having to answer all those different questions.

Jill:

Right. Right. Were you able to implement some of the same processes you had before, or were you stepping into ones that made sense to you?

Rick:

Both. My predecessor had done a really good job of putting together a lot of processes, and I was fortunate enough to be able to take some of my experience, and just tweak some of them.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, shout out to our friend [Darren], who had had the position before, that Rick and I both know.

So I wanted you to share with our audience the internship program you've got going right now at Simmons, because I think it sounds so fascinating and a great way to give back to our practice.

Rick:

So, and I think everybody on that's listening, understand this. Our profession is not unlike other professional careers. We're struggling to have folks that can go ahead and fill in the spots as people like myself and even yourself…I won't consider yourself as old as me. We start to go off into the sunset, so to speak.

Well, one of the reasons…One of the nice things about Simmons, they've had a good intern program, and I was fortunate enough to get the support from our operations folks to get a safety intern. And so what we've done, and I actually, within an hour and a half, have two universities that actually have degree programs, Pittsburgh State University, in Pittsburgh, Kansas, and then Northeast…Northeastern Oklahoma State, in Tahlequah. And-

Jill:

Have safety programs.

Rick:

Yes. They have four year bachelor's in safety programs. And so I've got a very good group to go ahead and consider, and I get a lot of interest from those folks. So anyways what we do is we select, through a fairly rigorous interview process, an intern. And then they come to us for 10 weeks, and I break them up into, their 10-week stay into five different projects. And I assign, and I ask my safety folks to pick a project that's gonna provide value to the intern, provide value to Simmons, and most importantly, help protect our folks and help them, help my safety folks, with just time. Because they, obviously they're very busy.

So what we do then is they, for the two weeks they're assigned to that safety person, they help complete that project. At the end of those two weeks then, my safety person and they have to present to me the results of their project, and that happens throughout the 10 weeks. And at the end of the 10 weeks, they have to present, with all the other interns in the company, their report out to our senior level executives.

Jill:

So they get experience, doing that.

Rick:

Oh yeah. And not…And we also provide them with educational opportunities, for example like public speaking or budgeting, finance, business finance. We give them those courses along the ways. So it's…I think it's very beneficial and for the company, I had an intern two years ago that…He was at actually a facility doing his project when the safety person at the location left the company. And it just so happened he had already been working there, and they loved him, and they said, "Hey. Is there any way that we can just slide him into the position?" And I talked to HR and we worked through all those things, and ended up that he was able to be selected. So-

Jill:

So a good fit for the company.

Rick:

Yep. And then last year…And I've had them…The last year's was from Texas A&M, and she was a community health major. And she lived locally, and she got in. So it's something that we really appreciate and definitely from a way to support our profession, it's something I am very much a proponent of.

Jill:

Right, and you're giving them some real practical boots on the ground, not…In addition to the nuts and bolts of safety, but the things that you're talking about, like presenting in front of a management team, and processes and systems, and yeah, budgeting, and all of that. You don't get that in a lot of internships. That's fantastic. So people listening, we've said Simmons Foods. They have a fantastic internship program if you're looking. It sounds like Rick's got a pretty rigorous process to select those candidates, too. Yeah.

Rick, I know we were talking about business and budgeting before. One of the things that I think you've shared with me in the past are calculations that you've developed and do on cost per labor hour and worker's compensation and what that does for you to help build business cases for safety initiatives. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Rick:

So one of the things that we have struggled, and I think our…The industry I'm in has struggled, but also general industry as a whole, has struggled, and that is how do you put a financial metric on safety? So one of the metrics that's currently available is your worker's compensation cost. Well obviously that's divided out into three basic buckets. You've got your total incurred, which is everything. Then you've got your medical only, which is just your medical cost, if it's below $3,000. And then you have your indemnity, which includes lost time, it includes litigated claims, light duty, all that kind of stuff, and if it's over $3,000.

So what we've done is we've said, "Okay, let's take our total worker's comp incurred cost, and let's generate almost a rate." And what we've done to be able to fit into the other accounting metrics that we already currently have and that is, let's break it down to how many dollars or how many cents per labor hour worked is work comp costing us? And because we also do all of our staffing and labor charges that way, but almost down to the line, we're able to go ahead and parallel to that and provide them a metric that shows, hey this is how much is, how much this is costing you, in your specific area. And then we do that, and on a quarterly basis we give that number out, by location, and then update it throughout the year. And at the end of the year, we give the, this is what you ended up at.

But what it does is it causes the operations directors, which basically the same as a plant manager, as well as the VPs of operations, and group presidents, to actually have to say, "Are we doing good or are we doing bad?" But the other-

Jill:

And you're-

Rick:

Go ahead.

Jill:

Yeah, and you're comparing…It's a line like everything else they're already used to looking at.

Rick:

Yep. Not-

Jill:

And it's not something far…Yeah.

Rick:

Correct. And not to mention the fact that it also helps address all these different variables like for example jurisdictional challenges. So because what we're doing is…So for example if you hire 600 more people, you've got 600 people's worth of risk. And you've got all that time that you want to add into your calculation.

So for example you may quote unquote have more worker's comp cost than you did the year before, but you're also taking into account that you've worked 40% more work hours than you did before. So if you just go comp dollar to comp dollar, you can't adjust for all these different things that you deal with as a business, day to day. So that's the beauty of this metric. And it's simply just take all the work hours, and divide it into your total incurred comp. That's it.

Jill:

That's simple math, right? Simple, not simple…First of all, the safety people have to get their hands on that data, which is one thing. But be bold and ask for it if you don't have access to it-

Rick:

Exactly.

Jill:

... because it is the thing that you can measure, with your work.

Rick:

Now the one-

Jill:

That is-

Rick:

The one thing I will caution everybody on, because I had to learn this the hard way, because I thought we were doing really good year to year…And that is, if you have any temporary employees or part time team members that are not assigned to your company, you need to call them or take them out. Because, a temporary agency covers work comp. They're not part of your…So if you're calculating your OSHA rates, your traditional indicators, you include them, in many cases. But for the comp, you have to separate it out because it has to be just your employees.

Jill:

Right, exactly. And it would be wise to not of course ignore the temporary or contracted employees. You'd want to have that, but maybe in a different bucket, because you'd want to be paying attention [crosstalk]-

Rick:

Correct.

Jill:

... safety and their cost as well.

Rick:

And that's where you definitely focus on the OSHA reportability, because obviously you have to put them on your logs if, depending on how, what your relationship is with the contractor.

Jill:

Right, right. Smart. Smart. So, Rick, I know that our time becomes finite with you as a busy safety professional today, and I wanted to make sure that we covered…You've been in this industry you said like 30 years, and you've had many changes and chapters in that time. And what would you like people to remember, as they're making their changes in their career?

Rick:

Every day, or as often as you can…Well let me back up. Probably the best thing for me was, I realized early on that because of the amount of change and the complexity and how difficult the job was at times, sometimes I asked myself, "Why am I actually doing this?" And as a younger safety professional, I had to make some choices, and the choices were actually, do you want to stay in this, in this profession, or do you want to do something else?

And how I decided that I wanted to stay was, what are you hoping to achieve? And for me that was to make sure that all the folks that I affect go home to their families each and every day. And I had actually an instructor one time…I was in a class. I was actually getting my OSHA 501, and he, at the very beginning, he wanted everybody to introduce themselves and said, "How many people do you actually affect doing your job?" Well Tyson at the time had 115,000 people, and so I just did some rudimentary math. I said, "Okay, so multiply it by four, which is"…Four point whatever, for what the standard American family was, and I said, "About a half a million." And everybody looked at me and they're like, "What?" I said, "Yeah." And I said, "Every person in their immediate family, I affect by doing my job. And if I don't remember that, then I don't need to be doing safety."

And that's…Why are you doing safety? That is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. It's not about glamour. It's not about money, because then you wouldn't be doing this job. It's about truly caring about folks, and doing the right thing.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and when we're…And where are you making an impact?

Rick:

Exactly.

Jill:

And if you can't, or if you're not where you currently are, then that's maybe an indicator it's time to move on.

Rick:

Yep.

Jill:

Yeah. Yeah, that's good. Why you got into safety. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Good. Rick, before we close things out today, is there anything else you'd like to leave our audience with?

Rick:

For the folks that are new to the profession, definitely ask. Ask questions. There's no shame. No one knows everything, and we've already mentioned that before. So please ask, and don't be afraid to share, either. Because a lot of times, people will…And you remember this, Jill, from our time in the same industry. Sometimes people don't want to share because people think, well, it gives a negative light. Like for example, just injury rates, or some of the experiences that we had to deal with, people were not wanting to share. And well, you know what? To me, then you're not doing what's right.

Jill:

Right. Right. Yeah, we're all in the same boat together, to help one another.

Rick:

And build the networks up. Please build networks up and use them. That's why I love what you're doing, Jill, and that is, this just helps. Because I wish I would have had this, back in my day, just to give me some insight and some context to those things that I was dealing with.

Jill:

Yeah, and that we're all so similar, in what we're trying to accomplish, in sending people home. Wonderful. Thank you, Rick. I really appreciate your time, and thank you for joining the podcast.

Rick:

My pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you very much, Jill.

Jill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And thank you all so much for joining in and listening today, and thank you for the work that you all do to make sure your workers go home safe every day. You can listen to all of our episodes at vividlearningsystems.com, or subscribe in the podcast player of your choosing. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's you, you can contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.