Veldhoven, the Netherlands—A. O. Smith’s water heater plant in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, made history today, becoming the company’s first European facility to earn the L. B. Smith President’s Safety Award.
The L. B. Smith President’s Safety Award is presented to the plant that demonstrates the most improvement over a one-year period in the area of workplace safety as well as offering a comprehensive facility-wide safety program focused on the goal of accident prevention. A total of 15 A.O. Smith plants worldwide were evaluated to determine this year’s recipient.
“Today represents the first time in the nearly 60-year history of the L. B. Smith President’s Safety Award that we have recognized a plant from Europe,” Ajita G. Rajendra, president and chief executive officer of A. O. Smith Corporation, told the 75 Veldhoven employees during a special ceremony today. “When you think about how challenging it is to win the award and the quality of the competition, you should take a great deal of pride in your achievement.”
To earn the L. B. Smith President’s Safety Award, each company facility is evaluated based on three statistical categories:
- Lost workday case incidence rate–This measure relates to the most serious, work-related injuries or illnesses that result in one or more lost work days. Veldhoven tied for second place in this category;
- Recordable case incidence rate–Recordable incidents are significant, work-related injuries or illnesses beyond first aid as defined by the U. S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Veldhoven ranked second overall in this category;
- Lost workday incidence rate–This category measures a facility’s total number of lost work days and provides a measure of accident severity. Veldhoven placed fourth in this category.
Veldhoven launched its comprehensive safety program in 2011 based upon the principles of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement has proven to be successful for Veldhoven because it encourages cooperation and communication between departments, according to Wiljan Thielen, manager of production and material handling.
“The biggest reason for our success is that more departments get involved,” he noted. “It’s easier to coordinate, since continuous improvement affects all departments and all employees.”
“We started the safety program by implementing the 5S concept, a clean environment is crucial for safety” says Wiljan. “The next step was to improve employee awareness by standardizing and registering processes and activities.”
Thielen led an effort to update the work instructions used by employees throughout the facility, including safety instructions for each piece of equipment in the plant. Once the instructions were completed, training programs were conducted for all employees. Each individual had to commit he or she was familiar with the process and safety requirements for the equipment in their area.
Once this step was finalized and plant leadership determined employees knew how to act, it was time for the next step: stimulate employees to look for and report possible improvements.
“Employees now feel comfortable to use continuous improvement forms, raise questions during work meetings, or contact an employee with knowledge of the process or equipment,” Thielen observed.
Plant leadership also created a committee led by Supervisor-Plant Engineering Michaël van der Donk and Human Resources Manager Paul Teeuwen. Together with professional partners, this committee monitors government regulations for any new rules or standards that would impact workplace safety and looks for any other possible safety improvements.
A number of processes were modified as a result of the safety program including: the use of safe stop plugs for leak tests, improved rolling tracks for the commercial water heater production line, an improved packaging station, a suction system on the equipment that injects foam insulation, marking tracks in the complete plant, and safety fences on storage racks.
“That’s the essence of our safety program: all employees are aware of the risks, supported by professional partners, continuously looking for improvements, and having the focus to make it happen,” Ton van der Hamsvoort, managing director of the Veldhoven facility, observed.
The L. B. Smith President’s Safety Award is the A.O. Smith Corporation’s highest honor in the field of workplace safety and the company’s longest-running employee recognition program. It is named after the late Lloyd B. Smith, the great-grandson of the founder of A.O. Smith Corporation and a former chairman and chief executive officer of the company.
“Ted” Smith was a strong believer in the importance of workplace safety and, in 1954, created this award program that recognizes the contributions each employee makes to help keep the company’s facilities safe. At that time, A.O. Smith’s accident rate was at its lowest in history, however, Smith wanted to make safety even more visible and more important to all employees. Since the award was established, it has gone to the plant that makes the greatest improvement, year-over-year, in its safety performance. In addition, A.O. Smith leadership evaluates the overall scope and effectiveness of a plant’s safety program in making the selection.
The 105,000 square foot Veldhoven plant manufactures residential and commercial water heaters, boilers, storage tanks, and indirect tanks for the European and Middle Eastern markets.
A.O. Smith Corporation is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of residential and commercial water heating equipment and boilers, offering a comprehensive line featuring leading brands in North America and China, as well as water treatment products for residential and light commercial applications. A.O. Smith, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., employs approximately 10,900 people at operations in the U. S., Canada, Mexico, India, China, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Turkey.