Six Sigma: Workers comp study renews focus on safety

(I wrote this article in 2006 for Aquila, Inc., a regional utility and energy company based in Kansas City, Mo. I wrote this for the Communications and Stakeholder Outreach Department to publicize the company’s money-saving Six Sigma projects. I posted this on the company’s internal web site.)

Six Sigma: Workers comp study renews focus on safety

By Rod Perlmutter,  Aquila Communications and Stakeholder Outreach

Aug. 30, 2006 – A Six Sigma study of workers compensation claims should help Aquila save more than $90,000 in safety-related costs.

The study resulted in a renewed emphasis on safety, including training, new tools, and site inspections.

The team led by Black Belt candidate Kelly Murphy found that the top two injury types in terms of both frequency and cost were sprains/strains and slips/falls. In fact, during the five years ended December 31, 2005, Aquila incurred workers compensation losses in these two areas of more than $9 million.

In 2005 alone, Aquila lost 1,314 work days due to sprains and strains and 1,258 work days to slips and falls. That’s a total of 2,572 lost work days, which is roughly the equivalent of 10 full-time employees missing an entire year of work.

In addition, these two injury types caused 287 lost partial work days.

A study of the ages of employees who filed claims from 2001 through 2005 related to these two categories of injuries showed that a majority were between 36 and 55 years old. Those ages 46 to 55 filed more than one-third of the claims in both of these categories. The most common injury reported in the strains and sprains category was from straining to lift heavy objects, and the most common body part injured from falls and slips were knees.

The Six Sigma team said that for the company to improve results and advance its culture of safety, it should:

  • Conduct new training in the field on proper methods for lifting, repetitive motion, material handling, and avoiding injury. This training is expected to be completed by Dec. 31. Trainers will receive training during the third quarter, and they are expected to teach employees and supervisors during the fourth.
  • Reinstate the company’s gas and electric tool committees, which propose new technology to make work easier and safer.
  • Introduce “Stretch4Success,” a program which demonstrates stretching exercises offered to all field and corporate employees. Voluntary training sessions will be held at main office locations.
  • Establish a footwear pilot program for meter readers, who have a higher incident rate of slipping and falling than other Aquila employees. The footwear offered through the pilot is designed to to ensure proper traction and ankle support.
  • Establish field and facility audits, so that all facilities are inspected annually for safety and ergonomic issues. A minimum number of field and/or facility audits to be included in annual goals of safety reps to ensure audits being conducted.

Murphy said implementing these changes is estimated to reduce injuries and reduce workers compensation costs by more than $90,000 annually.

More importantly, it builds a culture of safety and demonstrates commitment to addressing the health and safety issues that affect our employees.

Six Sigma Targeted Injury Reduction team members:

Black Belt candidate: Kelly Murphy
Bill Moore (process owner)
Karen Archuletta
Jeff Boydston
Eric Hall
Jan Hoover
Bill Moore
Arlen Thompson.
Master Black Belt: Gail Allen
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