The 6,000+ employees of SBM Management provide facilities management services at more than 500 locations throughout the United States, Canada and Latin America. And they do it with an injury rate that is one-third of the rate for their industry.

SBM Management employs both housekeeping and maintenance workers. Both of these groups have specific safety challenges, says EHS Director Dave Stauffer, CSP, ARM.

The top safety hazards for housekeeping workers are:

Slips, trips and falls – "There are numerous opportunities to lose your balance/footing when walking in and out building to perform your work, mopping floors and restrooms and stripping/waxing floors," says Stauffer.

Sharp objects – Housekeeping workers are responsible for collecting trash and can be injured by needles, broken glass and other sharp objects.

Lifting – "Custodial workers are always lifting and moving objects," says Stauffer. "The weight of the trash can cause back and shoulder injuries from lifting, carrying and moving the cleaning equipment from location to location also is hard on the body."

Maintenance workers have their own set of top safety hazards, according to Stauffer:

Servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment – "Maintenance workers face the danger of the unexpected energization or start-up of the machines/equipment, or release of stored energy could cause injury," says Stauffer. "Of course, following lockout/tagout procedures will eliminate this issue."

Falls from different levels – Maintenance workers are required to climb ladders and work at elevated positions. "If you don't plan ahead and use the needed fall protection – such as a harness at higher than 6 feet – you are putting yourself in harm's way," says Stauffer.

Lifting – Maintenance workers always  are lifting and moving objects such as tools used to service equipment. This can cause back and shoulder injuries, says Stauffer.

The most frequent injuries suffered by SBM employees include sprains and bruises from slips, trips and falls; lacerations and cuts; and strains from lifting, moving and reaching.

Maintenance workers often have some of the highest rates of injuries at a facility. Stauffer believes it is because "maintenance employees perform more work that is out of the scope of their employment or beyond their range of abilities."

He also says that maintenance employees often are urged to speed up the repair and maintenance process, so that machinery and product lines can come back online. Short cuts sometimes are taken, he acknowledges. "Instead of properly locking/tagging out an electrical box to change a fuse, it is just turned off to save time. Even though the potential injury may be a small shock, it is this mentality that extends to serious injuries when procedure is not followed."

He adds: "The reality is if we do not look and plan in a way to see what the worst-case scenario is when we take short cuts, then we do not see the danger and we do not use the precautions needed to eliminate injuries."

Getting from Good to World-Class

About seven years ago, corporate management decided to make some changes, says Stauffer. "We wanted to go from good to great and from great to world class."
They realized there was something holding them back: What Stauffer refers to as "challenged sites."

"Our challenged sites represented 50 percent of our injuries," he says. "Our challenged sites had higher turnover. Our challenged sites had higher lost work days."

He said that further investigation into the challenged sites revealed additional similarities:

  • They tended to be larger sites with more complex work.
  • They tended to have demanding customers with higher expectations.
  • They tended to have higher turnover for both employees and management.
  • They tended to have a poor safety record with multiple recordables and lost-time injuries.
  • They tended to lack a safety culture.

What corporate leaders realized is that when employees were engaged in the business and when safety was made a focus of leadership at challenged sites, things turned around. The company created a special safety focus program for those challenged sites.

"What is a safety focus? Is it the amount of time spent focusing on safety?" Stauffer asked. "Is safety focus recognizing hazards in the workplace and preventing them from causing injuries? Is safety focus talking to your employees about safety daily – not just once a week in a 25-minute safety meeting? Sometimes, it's being in front of employees and talking about safety."

Focus on Safety

For SBM leadership, safety focus is creating a culture where safety is a value and the results demonstrate the effort, Stauffer says, adding, "Safety focus is not pointing fingers or placing blame it's about problem solving and creating partnerships. Safety focus is everyone responsibility and everyone needs to take on ownership."

He lists these critical components for the focus site program:

Employee Observations –Employees are coached and mentored to validate that they are doing their jobs safely. Employees make sure all are wearing their PPE. Mentors work alongside employees to make sure they are working safely and effectively.

Safety Engagement – Establish rapport with employees to help reduce unsafe conditions and at-risk behavior in the workplace. Actively involve all employees in the health and safety of the workplace. Verify employees are engaging in the correct safety behavior.

Employee Recognition Programs – Employees are rewarded for safe job performance. The program is used to reinforce and recognize positive work culture and celebrate employee successes.

Interactive Audits – Verification of the safety focus program is done through observation of good safety practices. Supervisors and managers complete the observations daily and document them. They engage in conversation about safety and ensure each employee has the skills, knowledge and training to perform his or her job safely.

Safety Committee – The safety committee's primary focus is to detect/correct workplace hazards and help create a safer working culture at the site. Safety committee meetings are conducted monthly.

Good Catch Program – The company developed a "Good Catch" program, designed to keep unsafe conditions and behaviors from resulting in injuries. Employees were educated on the importance of being aware of their surroundings at all times. Supervisors and safety professionals follow up with employees who submit good catches to assure the hazard was eliminated. According to Stauffer, the number of hazards submitted increased by 70 percent since the program was implemented, and in a five-year span, recordables were reduced by 65 percent and lost-time days were reduced by 75 percent.

Stretch & Flex – Stretching is a great way to prevent strains, pulled muscles and prevent other injuries, says Stauffer. The Stretch & Flex program takes place daily before each shift and lasts about 5 minutes. The program is led by supervisors and managers so employees know it is important.

Employee Communication Board – This is an opportunity to engage in positive reinforcement with employees on important information. The goal is to update and post the required information on the communication board in a timely manner.

The results of the Safety Focus program are noteworthy, says Stauffer:

  • Sites became focused on leading indicators.
  • The number of Good Catches increased.
  • The number of Stop the Job notifications increased, meaning that employees felt empowered to take control of safety.
  • There were more positive/constructive employee observations.
  • Improved reporting meant a five-fold increase in near-miss reporting.

Ultimately, the Safety Focus Program contributed to SBM's bottom line because the number of recordable and lost-time injuries decreased, employee morale improved and turnover rates were reduced.

Incidents in which employees are hurt cost money. "How many have a budget for accidents?" he asks. "You can't say, 'We can't pay for that accident.' It happened; you have to pay for that."
The best way to pay for accidents, he notes, is to never have them happen in the first place.

Challenges as a Contractor

At SBM, safety is considered a business process that's integral to the company's success. If you're a potential customer exploring the company's website, you'll find safety listed as the first "key advantage" of doing business with SBM, which was honored as one of America's Safest Companies in 2014.

Not every contractor has the same focus on safety; So, Stauffer suggests that any company hiring an outside contractor consider these points:

  • Know the contractor's past safety record and safety experiences.
  • Ask for the contractor's safety program; Do they have one? Does it include written safety programs?  
  • Do they have employee safety meetings? If so, how often?
  • Do they conduct job site safety inspections? If so, how often?

"At SBM, safety is our core value and as a company we are a world-class custodial service," says Stauffer. "We believe we are the best at what we do. We are committed to a Zero Harm work environment. No job shall be performed if it cannot be performed safely and the safety of our employee's will not be compromised for any reason. Our goal is to continue to improve and make a difference in our employee's lives and the customers we service."