Safety coated profit: a best practices case study in performance and profitability

Mar 04, 2014

On April 30, delegates attending Partners in Prevention 2014 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show will learn how Yorkville Sound's management team and employees achieve unimaginable profits by focusing on safety and efficiency.

WSPS consultant Val Whalley has worked with Yorkville Sound for years. It was her suggestion the company share its story at Partners in Prevention. "They integrate safety into everything. Some companies will say, 'We can't afford safety.' But Yorkville Sound chose to invest in safety and productivity at the same time. As a result, their return on investment has far exceeded their expectations. And they see WSPS as a partner in the process."

In anticipation of Yorkville Sound’s presentation, WSPS Network News spoke with vice president Brian Weafer. Here’s what he told us.

WNN: Brian, set the scene for us. What is Yorkville Sound?

We're a privately owned manufacturer and distributor with 250 employees working out of a 150,000 square foot facility in Pickering. The building has five distinct departments: a machine shop, wood shop, electronic assembly area, finishing shop, and powder paint department. We design and build all of our products here. On top of this we have a 100,000 square foot warehouse we distribute our products from.

WNN: I understand 2006 was a turning point for the business. What was going on?

We've always been reasonably successful, but the quality of product leaving the manufacturing floor wasn't what we wanted.

WNN: How did the company go about changing?

The push for change came from the owner. He felt that not much had changed since the company began in 1963, and over eight weeks he conducted a series of leadership seminars for all supervisors. To get a feel for the state of affairs, he also interviewed literally everybody from a lead hand up. From there, we held brainstorming sessions and conducted a survey with about 60 targeted questions that every employee filled out. Safety was part of it, such as 'Do you feel safe coming to work?' and 'Does your supervisor create a safe atmosphere for you to work in?' We believe feeling comfortable and safe supports productivity. There's no tension from thinking, 'Am I going to get hurt today?' or 'Can I take the time to be safe?'

During this period, we were also considering implementing lean manufacturing. The owner, managers and supervisors all studied the principles of lean manufacturing, and a colleague and I took a detailed course. Afterward, we trained managers, supervisors and lead hands on the finer points of lean manufacturing. Then we started applying it.

While all this was going on, we also had a Workwell audit. Although we had a lot of health and safety initiatives in place, we didn't have the documentation. So, as we developed our lean manufacturing plan we also developed a plan to satisfy Workwell.

We found that incorporating quality and safety into our lean talks helped generate greater efficiencies. We first looked at what was wrong with processes that caused mistakes to occur, and then we started to remove the root causes. By doing things safely and right the first time, we began producing better quality products more efficiently.

WNN: What kind of results did you start to see?

Quality went through the roof. In three years we went from 67% production efficiency to 103% efficiency. This represents a $1.5 million savings in labour pick-up, and we have the numbers to support it. We track our metrics by department every single week. Depending on the area, from moment to moment.

For the last three years, efficiency has been hovering around the 100% mark, keeping in mind that we revise our targets every year based on the previous year’s productivity. We’ve now extended lean manufacturing and a health and safety culture from the front door to the shipping door.

WNN: Can you provide an example of how this works?

One of the things that came up in the survey was a lack of communication. Since then, communication flows between management, supervisors and staff. We have daily, biweekly and monthly meetings. At the top of the agenda for all of these meetings is safety, and people feel free to bring suggestions forward.

Many suggestions involve ergonomic solutions. Providing people with ergonomic tools and devices enables them to do their job better and faster. For instance, we've built conveyors and carousels so that people can work on products without having to lift them. For the price of a vacuum lift, which can pay for itself in a few months, you now have one person doing more safely and effectively what used to require two.

WNN: Given the progress Yorkville Sound has made, what's your biggest health and safety challenge now?

Sustaining the momentum. Our strategy going forward is to create a safety specialist program that involves more employees in our safety program. Instead of having a safety coordinator who does everything, which we had in the past, we're widening the knowledge base at the bottom of the safety pyramid, targeting lead hands and supervisors. For example, we have a first aid specialist and a train-the-trainer specialist for forklifts, scissor lifts and fall protection, and we’re currently creating WHMIS/GHS, PPE and emergency response specialists. Anyone with questions or issues on these topics will go to these individuals.

What will be the main message of your session at PIP?

You don't have to sacrifice profit or quality to do things safely. I believe that safety contributes to profit. That’s why we're calling the session "Safety Coated Profit."

How WSPS can help

  • Listen to Brian Weafer and other business leaders' presentations at Partners in Prevention. For instance:
    • View from the Top, a panel discussion moderated by journalist Wendy Mesley
    • Canada’s Safest Employers Leadership Panel
    • Safety Leadership - Creating an Integrated Environmental H&S Management System
  • Speak with a consultant about integrating your H&S program into your operations
  • Listen to a pre-recorded webinar, The Dollars and Sense of Ergonomics.