When a company is one of the nation's largest distributors of safety products, it only makes sense to promote safety within its own operations. Facilities maintenance products distributor W.W. Grainger Inc. carries product lines in a dozen categories, including tools, plumbing, maintenance, metalworking and safety and security. The company employs 14,500 employees at 428 branches and nine distribution centers within its U.S. operations, and has additional locations in Canada, Mexico and China. Despite its large size, Grainger keeps a close hold on the importance of workplace safety and makes employees feel included in the process.

“We are committed to the safety and well-being of our employees as well as our customers,” says Tressa Chambers-Milton, Grainger's director of environmental, health and safety programs. “We encourage employee involvement to help ensure they are engaged and helping to improve our safety program.”

As a result, some distribution centers encourage employees to create safety slogans that are printed on banners and t-shirts and used throughout the facility. Slogans such as “Before you start, be safety smart” and “Safety's intention is accident prevention” help employees connect to Grainger's safety operations.

“Grainger is a safety-conscious company,” Chambers- Milton says. “Our employees are very passionate about getting products to customers quickly and efficiently. We work hard to make their environment as safe as possible.”

Extreme Makeover

In 2006, Grainger invested over $4 million to redesign the 700 shipping docks at its distribution centers. The new design incorporated dock restraint systems to ensure employees' safety as they load and unload trailers. The systems secure trailers to the dock to prevent them from separating during loading and unloading activities.

“We identified it as a risk,” Chambers-Milton says of the previous docks. “We had to make sure the truck could not move while the forklift is in operation.” She describes the redesigned loading docks as “a big step in improving the safety of our employees and enhancing Grainger's safety operations.”

With so many employees and branch locations, it can be challenging to distribute safety information throughout the company. Fortunately, online technology has helped the company streamline employee training and allows workers to train on select topics at their convenience.

“The Grainger Learning Center is accessible through a website,” Chambers-Milton says. “Any field employee can do the training at their convenience.” The company requires training to be completed within a specific time frame. “Everyone is measured through individual and team goals,” she adds.

For distribution center employees working in warehouse environments, Grainger hosts monthly safety sessions. Past topics have included conveyer safety, forklifts, ergonomics and lifting practices. Just showing up for training isn't enough - employees are tested every 6 months for both competency and participation in these training sessions.

“A distribution center team can't be high on participation and low on competency,” Chambers-Milton explains. This way, Grainger ensures that workers are absorbing and retaining the safety information. It's a system that seems to work, considering Grainger's history of safety and employee involvement.

Corporate Responsibility

In its branches and distribution centers throughout the country, Grainger promotes a safety-conscious culture. The Robbinsville, N.J., and Greenville, S.C., distribution centers recently achieved over 2 and 3 million hours worked without lost-time incidents. In 2006, employees at three distribution centers received Grainger's Executive Safety Award for outstanding safety performance. To be worthy of the award, each center must pass a rigorous 13-point assessment. The Jacksonville, Fla., employees have demonstrated their dedication to safety by winning the award every year since their center's opening.

Grainger also is dedicated to charitable contribution programs and environmentally sound practices, such as implementing extensive recycling programs and using soy ink for printed materials. Additionally, the company publishes a corporate responsibility report with a section on safe working conditions, which emphasizes “doing it right, working safely and acting responsibly” to maintain a safe workplace every day.