These days, nothing is more top of mind for companies than employee health and safety. At WESCO, a Pittsburgh-based electrical, communications, and utility distribution and supply chain solutions company coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic preparedness measures coupled with an extensive health and safety program are helping protect employees and maintain operations, says Jared Meyer, the company’s corporate health and safety manager.
“The last few months have been some of our strongest safety performance on record,” he says. “Most of the warehouse employees are back to work, although they may be on separate shifts, and we’ve seen a steady reduction in employee injuries. I think it’s because we are hyper-focused on personal safety and health-and-safety awareness.”
Early on, the company implemented several pandemic preparedness and response initiatives and established a steering team to understand operations impacts, define essential workers and determine “how the business keeps going and how to successfully do that,” Meyer says. Because WESCO’s business portfolio includes a safety-supplies company, Conney Safety, it was able to ensure personal protective equipment and supply availability to keep essential employees working safely by practicing social distancing and using face coverings to maintain compliance, he says.
Communication about employee health and safety is imperative during the pandemic — and is a key driver in the success of WESCO’s health and safety program over the last few years, says Meyer, whose efforts helped him earn recognition as a 30 Under 35 Rising Star of the Electrical Industry in May by tED magazine, a trade publication for electrical distributors. In 2019, WESCO had a 35-percent injury-rate reduction over the previous year, he says, adding that the company has “even improved on that this year.”
In addition to producing a monthly safety newsletter, Meyer plans weekly safety topics — a recent topic was heat stress, for example — that are discussed at the beginning of all company meetings. He's also constantly giving communication, coaching and feedback — and is transparent about safety performance. If one group’s injury rates are higher than normal, it is held accountable in monthly performance reports to leadership. “Putting that out there puts accountability on folks,” he says.
Training is another element of WESCO’s health-and-safety program. After moving into his current role, Meyer identified warehouse associates and sales representatives as key groups to educate from a health-and-safety perspective and worked with their management, the first-line leaders. Working with the company’s risk consultants, he created instructor-led, supervisor safety-leadership training to educate first-line leaders on the importance of promoting safety and their roles in employee health and safety. He also coupled that training with targeted safe-lifting education with an external training company.
“We combined the two training programs and delivered them as one training to that first-line population. It was a ‘train-the-trainer’ format,” Meyer says. “The first-line leaders had to go back to their warehouse associates and trained them on the safe-lifting techniques (and other measures) they learned. I think that is what has been most effective — getting that population greater education.”
He continues, “We have more awareness on risks and hazards and what could injure us.” Meyer adds that support from company leadership has been instrumental in the program’s success: “(We’ve) ultimately created a more mature safety culture where people recognize that things are different. We don’t look at things from a health-and-safety standpoint through the same lens, and we understand that we can’t always do things the same way.”