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Article #1201

PPE Standardization - How to Limit Costs without Compromising on Safety

In light of today's uncertain economic climate, companies in every industry are looking for new ways to limit their costs without compromising safety or quality. Many of these companies are discovering that standardization is a sure-fire method of accomplishing this task. One compelling success story comes from a worldwide manufacturer of agricultural equipment who, through a comprehensive standardization program, managed to drastically reduce their costs organization-wide.

Although standardization can be a time-consuming process, which requires the cooperation of employees all the way up the management chain, at this company the process started quite simply.

A summer intern was given the seemingly simple task of finding out how many different gloves were used company-wide. This did not appear to be an activity that would take very long to complete, but then the intern made a startling discovery. Over 400 different glove styles were in active rotation throughout the company's 40+ locations. Safety representatives, realizing that the cost savings potential was very high, decided to bring this finding to light. They collected samples of each glove style in use and "dumped" them out on a table in front of the board of directors. This demonstration had the desired effect; it emphasized the need for a closer examination of their safety products and the need to pare down. A short time later, a team of over 20 representatives from different departments across the manufacturer's enterprise, including Canada and Mexico, was assembled.

This team was given the monumental task of standardizing all the safety products used company-wide and narrowing the number and variety of products. The ultimate goal: help this agricultural equipment manufacturer save money while still maintaining a high safety standard for their employees. According to James Lewis, supply management specialist and team leader, "the standardization team worked together over the next two years to reduce the number of items, to achieve product consistency, and to significantly improve our bottom line."

Representatives at the manufacturer are quick to point out that the road to standardization wasn't always smooth. "The team did a remarkable job staying focused for the two years that it took us to do this," says Lewis.

"We had to think about everything on an enterprise level, and in the end everyone was thinking about how to do the best for the company corporation-wide as opposed to just for their department, division, or plant. It was really impressive!"

As team leader, Lewis selected most of the team members. "I tried to choose an assortment of people from all five divisions within the enterprise," says Lewis. "I recruited both standardization believers and non-believers so that we would have as many viewpoints represented as possible." This balanced approach brought together management, union representatives, and wage-earning employees, and got them working on a common goal-standardization - without compromising safety or quality.

Standardization: the full story
"The process had to be very streamlined and smooth to move this forward," says Carl Cunningham, manager, occupational, safety, health, and ergonomics at one division of the company. "Everyone sat around a table and reviewed every single piece of safety equipment. It was a decision by majority."

Once the sea of products was narrowed down to a handful of choices, they were rigorously tested in the very places that they would be used - on the shop floors. "The biggest advantage to this process is that it was not just people sitting in a conference room talking about the products working," says Lance James, safety director for another division of the agriculture equipment manufacturer. "It was our employees trying out the products on the job and in the actual work environment." James also adds that the direct employee involvement helped employee buy-in once implementation began. "Instead of giving them a glove, or other safety equipment, and telling them to use it and make it work," says James, "we listened to their feedback and took their suggestions. The employees felt that they had a say in the products they would use to protect themselves and that made them feel good about both the process and the solution."

The standardization dealt with every item of safety equipment the company used from gloves and protective eyewear to hearing and welding protection. Dale Schneider, ergonomic coordinator and union safety representative, emphasized the difficulties these reductions sometimes caused: "We were using 32 different hearing protection devices and were asked to come down to 6, and still offer variety for our workers. We had some easy adjustments, especially workers who were already using the selected products and some more difficult adjustments, from workers whose ear protection of choice was not chosen. But," Schneider adds, "in the end, the workers knew that they were getting the best protection available."

Protection was Primary
Throughout the standardization process, and even as it continues today, team members have not lost sight of their overriding goal-keeping workers safe. Cunningham underscores this goal, "Saving money and controlling costs were fortunate side benefits that we knew we would get out of the standardization process. But," Cunningham adds, "getting the best protection for our employees was primary - not cost." James concurs, "Often the process resulted in saving the company money, but our real focus was proper protection for our workers. Cost was secondary." Dan Ferarro, a team member agrees, "We went with the best product for our workers regardless of price, which made implementation easier. Our workers knew that they were being protected, even if the equipment was different than what they were used to." The agricultural equipment manufacturer realized a considerable cost savings enterprisewide. Ron Eggart, division health and safety manager, who oversees nine different facilities, reported significant cost savings as a result of the standardization program. "In the first year alone, one of the factories I oversee realized a $10,000 savings by changing just one or two products - and that is just one factory." Eggart also saw an improvement in the quality of the products that were now being used. "Now we are able to have a say in the products that we need," he adds, "and have a say in the process hands-on - not just ordering out of a catalog. We know what we are ordering and we know it works, which makes a better safety solution overall."

Simplicity and confidence in the products used to protect your employees, according to Eggart, is a key advantage of standardization. "If I need a product, I just call my rep and order it. I don't have to spend time calling around to find the best price or ordering blind from a catalog. It is a much more hands-on approach." Ferraro agrees and adds that perspective is a very important factor in a successful standardization program. "If we can be cost-conscious and help keep our jobs secure without compromising quality - there's no reason not to do it!"

Magid's Role
Part of the company's standardization goal was to consolidate its safety and personal protective equipment with one single-source supplier. The manufacturer entered into an agreement with Magid that would allow them to leverage its buying power and lower safety supply costs company-wide. As Cunningham explains, "We considered several suppliers, but Magid brought the most to the table. They are a manufacturer selling direct to their customers. Plus, their full-scope product line, delivery, price and quality made them the best choice for our company and the standardization program."

According to Lewis, prior to the agreement with Magid, the safety supplies throughout the enterprise were decentralized and each plant used its own suppliers. "We didn't have a true picture of what we were buying," he adds. "Now, with Magid, we can keep track of every item purchased and used enterprise-wide. We are able to capture history and evaluate it. We have data integrity, a true buying picture, and are able to monitor our success with compliance reports; we have never had that advantage before." Cunningham adds, "this agreement allows us to have consistent product across the corporation. It allows us to have the same costs for those products and we can be assured that an employee can travel from factory to factory and find the same items in stock. This means less product misuse and improved safety, which is paramount."

This manufacturer of agricultural equipment managed to reduce their safety product items from 1500 stocked units to 285 total, an 81% reduction. This included reducing safety glasses from 40 items to 1, and welding gloves from 35 items to 5. Lewis feels that the standardization process is streamlined and working very well for the company. "We are measuring performance and looking for continuous improvement. That's where Magid comes in," says Lewis. "Magid continues to bring forth new and improved products, and look for ways to save us money. They bring a better product at greatly reduced prices. In fact, we saved nearly $100,000 annually by switching to two Magid ROC products. Style GP150 saved us $30,000 annually and with the PU50 we saved $61,000. Magid has definitely evolved right along with us."

Keeping Standardization on Track
Although the manufacturer has completed the initial process, including implementation, and has its standardization systems in place, the process is ongoing. This includes monthly enterprise-wide compliance reports and quarterly meetings to evaluate new products, discuss compliance and address any other issues. "The process pretty much runs itself now," says Lewis. "We believe our people are in the position to make the right decisions and we have faith that they will." He also adds, "all the credit for our success goes to the team-they are the ones who live and breathe this every day."

James agrees, "It is a living process. As things come up and times change, the process will change and grow too."

Lewis concludes, "with a partner like Magid and a strong standardization team, we can easily maintain our focus, keep our eye on safety, provide our employees with proper protection, and take cost-savings head-on!"