By Tony Bumbico

Arch Coal is an organization that embraces safety as a value. The company’s goal is to achieve the “perfect zero,” where everyone goes home safely every day. The company believes that this goal is achievable and it’s one of the reasons it adopted a behavior approach to safety. Behavior-based safety (BBS) is a process-based approach to safety that focuses on developing leadership and a culture that promotes doing the right thing.

Historically, Arch Coal’s safety performance has been solid. The company’s Total Incident Rate, which measures lost time and medical injuries, has declined from 4.52 in 1998 to 1.78 in 2008. It is typically 60% to 70% better than the industry average.

Arch Coal has had a solid safety foundation in place. Each subsidiary had put a Division Safety Plan in place that complied with minimum corporate standards. During the last four years, Arch has built on that foundation. Cross-Operational Safety Audits were implemented along with a Safety Improvement Process (SIP). Annually, each of the subsidiary mines develops a safety improvement plan designed to address three to five mine-specific safety targets.

While these interventions improved performance, the company was not satisfied. Believing that one injury was one too many, Arch Coal was confident it could improve. The company adopted a behavior-based safety (BBS) program as a vehicle to drive safety performance to the next level.

BBS is a process. It starts with the daily tasks that employees perform. Each subsidiary mine site has a management sponsor and a steering committee to support the process. The committee develops a list of critical behaviors that are used in the observation process. Observers identify exposures that may lead to injuries. They provide feedback on whether behaviors are safe or at-risk. The data gathered through observations are used to identify trends. The trends are analyzed to identify improvement opportunities and to facilitate problem-solving.

The first step with Behavior Science Technology (BST) was to sponsor two pilot implementations: one in Wyoming and another in West Virginia. There was no corporate mandate for the subsidiaries to adopt BBS. Each subsidiary had the opportunity to voluntarily determine whether it would benefit from the process.

Arch Coal started the first pilot at Thunder Basin Coal Co. in July 2006. The second pilot was initiated in August at Mingo Logan Coal Co. During the past two years, all of Arch Coal’s subsidiaries have fully implemented the program. 

Applying the Process
BBS is not just another safety program. It’s a systems-based improvement process that starts with a comprehensive organizational assessment. It also contains a leadership development component and involves a structured im- provement process. Employees are trained in data collection and problem-solving techniques. The process also employs an evaluation mechanism. It took 12 to14 months to implement the process, which involved four phases.

Phase 1: Organization & Leadership Assessment—Phase 1 includes an initial planning meeting, a cultural assessment (an OCDI Survey), leadership diagnostic (LDI), Leading with Safety workshop and coaching sessions, and supervisor skills training. During this phase, BST administered a comprehensive survey to help assess each subsidiary operation’s culture and leadership style. The OCDI Survey and LDI looked at key factors that predict safety performance. This was followed-up with a workshop and coaching sessions for key managers. In addition, each site sponsored leadership and inter-personal skills training for supervisors.

Phase 2: Establishing the Process Structure—Phase 2 involves selecting a management sponsor, facilitator and steering committee. In this phase, a critical behavior inventory is established and observer training is conducted. Each site designated a management sponsor. In some cases this was the general manager, at other sites it was a credible manager recognized as a leader. The sponsor is a liaison between the steering committee and the management team. Each site also selects a facilitator, who helps guide the steering committee. Each site used both hourly employees and supervisors in this role. The steering committee normally consists of volunteer hourly employees. The committee is the key component that makes the process work. It develops the critical behavior inventory, which is used for observations, and  also introduces the process to the other employees and trains other employees as observers.

Phase 3: Data Collection & Problem Solving—During this phase, employees conduct observations, establish a database, engage in problem solving, and develop action plans. Phase 3 is the guts of the process. Observers gather data on exposures and the “at-risk” behaviors that contribute to injuries.  The objective is to gather meaningful information to facilitate problem-solving. The focus is on barrier identification and removal. A barrier is anything that prevents safe behavior or makes it difficult.

Phase 4: Process Evaluation—Phase 4 combines feedback from BST with a sustainability review, and another OCDI Survey is repeated. A consultant was assigned to each of the mining operations to help with the implementation. They provided feedback during implementation and also provided coaching support for key leaders. As the implementation nears completion, a comprehensive sustainability review is conducted.

The review contains recommendations on how the operation can keep the process moving forward. Finally, 18 to 24 months after the process is initiated, BST recommends repeating the organizational cultural assessment. This helps to evaluate whether the site’s leading safety indicators have improved.

Arch Coal has made behavior-based safety an effective process by integrating BBS into its subsidiaries safety process and culture; adopting upstream measures of safety performance; providing highly visible safety leadership; and encouraging each BBS team to adopt a unique identity. To make this process work, each subsidiary has to make it their own process.

Sustainability for the Long Run
Arch Coal is now taking additional measures to make the process sustainable. Arch Coal sponsors an Annual Safety Summit for the subsidiary leadership teams. In addition to general managers and safety managers, the company now invites steering committee members to the summit. Once a year, the company also holds a safety manager’s workshop. The facilitators and sponsors are invited to participate in these workshops. Four employees have been formally trained as internal BBS consultants. And, as the company moves forward, these internal consultants will help Arch Coal be more self-sufficient.

The company is also integrating BBS into the safety process by involving observers. The company holds observer networking sessions to exchange ideas and sponsors regional facilitator meetings to exchange best practices. The company has also invited facilitators to participate in cross-operational safety audits.

Upstream targets are the company’s latest safety performance measures. In addition to traditional measures like incident rates, mining operations were asked to adopt BBS targets. Each operation has established targets for:
•    Observation (or contact) rate;
•    Observation quality; and
•    The percentage of the workforce trained and active as observers.

In the long term, these indicators will be more accurate predictors of the company’s safety performance.

Visible safety leadership is the key to success. Arch Coal executives visit the mine sites to meet with the steering committees. The committees update the executives on their progress and their issues are discussed. Facilitators have even taken executives into the field and coached them on how to conduct observations.

Each BBS team has its own unique identity. The company did not adopt a cookie-cutter approach. One size does not fit all and, for that reason, site-to-site progress comparisons are avoided. The steering committees have adopted names and symbols to capture their unique character. They include:
• Slope—Safely Leading Our People to Excellence;
• Dawgs—Developing Awareness While Generating Safety;
• Sharks—Stop Hazards and Risks, Kick Shortcuts; and
• Sabers—Safe Action Brings Employees Real Satisfaction.

The Process is Working

Granted the process has only been in place for two years, but traditional indicators are improving. Many exposures have been identified and reduced. The process has reinforced safe behavior and eliminated specific barriers. The culture of safety and the safety process have strengthened as a result. The company has benefited from employee development.

In terms of traditional indicators, Arch Coal has seen improvement. The 2008 total reportable rate improved 31% compared to 2006 when the company started the process and 4% compared to 2007.

One of the biggest benefits the company has seen is employee involvment. More people are getting involved in peer-to-peer observations. They are actively identifying exposures and providing feedback. This is a “No Name, No Blame, and No Sneak Up” process. No discipline results from observations; the only goal is improvement.

Of the 3,447 subsidiary employees covered in the process, 1,324 have been trained as observers. They have made 34,457 observations. As many as 905 barriers to safety have been removed.

Problem Solving

BBS is largely about problem-solving, and problem-solving helps remove specific barriers to safe performance. A barrier can be a physical, process, or a cultural impediment. Barriers are identified through peer-to-peer observations and near miss reports. How they are removed depends on the barrier and whether its enabled (easy), difficult, or non-enabled (impossible).

As an example, at one of the subsidiary underground mines, observers identified an equipment condition exposure that created a potential “pinch point.” A locomotive had a an opening in the canopy that enabled an individual to stand-up and expose their head to the top. The solution was to re-design the canopy so that it had no opening.

Observers at one of the subsidiary surface mines identified a mounting/dismounting barrier. They identified a loader without a proper handrail. The solution was to install a handrail that enabled three-point contact while mounting or dismounting the equipment.

The examples are not limited to mines. Observers at a prep plant identified a fall hazard. This was a plant that had worked years without a lost time or reportable injury. The steering committee arranged to eliminate the exposure by having a guard installed. These are just a few of the many barriers that have been removed by the observers.

Stronger Culture of Safety
Ultimately BBS has made the safety process and culture stronger. The key is getting more hourly employees involved in the process. Communication is enhanced by improved information flow, problem solving skills have been upgraded, and observers now hold themselves to higher standards. People are truly more enthusiastic about the safety process.

An unforeseen benefit of this process is that it has helped the company identify a new talent pool of future leaders. In the process of training facilitators and observers, management has discovered a lot of previously-unknown leadership potential. Some of those people developed through BBS training have already moved into supervisory and other leadership positions.

At a recent meeting, Arch Coal asked the facilitators if they thought BBS was making a difference. These are the responses they received:
•     BBS has improved communication within all levels of the organization;
•     BBS has involved people more directly in safety;
•     BBS provided hourly employees with an opportunity to use their talents;
•     Employees who were initially negative toward the process now support it;
•     BBS is a vehicle that is helping the mine improve its safety culture; and
•     BBS is affecting behavior both on and off the job.

The facilitators said that the process involves the workforce and empowers them to be self-directed in improving safety. The process holds employees accountable for their own safety performance. It empowers people to change in a positive way. BBS provides a format for structured problem-solving that can be applied to all areas, not just safety

If a coal company decides to implement BBS, they should integrate supervisors into the process early. Management needs to clearly define how supervisors can support the process and how the process can help them. If a company fails to do this, supervisors may view the process as a threat to their authority. Coal companies should also clarify expectations, train supervisors as observers, and provide them practical ideas on how to support the process.

Arch Coal’s foundational safety principle is “Home Safely! Everyone– Every day!” BBS is one way to help the company reach that goal, and it is encouraged by the early results. Employee involvement in the safety process is strong and growing. The culture to eliminate “at-risk” behaviors is expanding. Each day is one more step on the path to the Perfect Zero.

Based in St. Louis, Mo., Bumbico is Vice President-Safety, Arch Coal. This article was adapted from a presentation he made at MINExpo 2008, which was held during September, in Las Vegas.