Safety First: Safety at Coca Cola

by Scott Williams
Scott Williams is is a writer with Workplace Safety & Prevention

In 2016, Coca-Cola Canada launched an initiative to assess and improve pedestrian safety at its largest manufacturing warehouse and distribution centre in Canada. At over 700,000 plus square feet, the facility is a 24-hour operation with 1500+ employees.

National safety and environment manager David Roberts expected the initiative would have positive safety results, but the facility also realized improved workflow and reinforced a company-wide commitment to the Internal Responsibility System, in which everyone in the workplace — employers, supervisors and employees — is responsible for his or her own safety and the safety of co-workers.

When Roberts joined Coca-Cola in 2013, he became aware of near misses involving pedestrians and mechanized equipment, and reviewed past approaches to prevention. He found that most of these approaches had depended mainly on behaviour, such as expecting pedestrians to stay within painted walkways.

Coca-Cola’s first step was to bring in a set of fresh eyes to update the facility’s existing traffic hazard assessment. A team from Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) and led by consultant Norm Kramer toured the facility, reviewed related documentation, interviewed internal stakeholders (managers, lift truck operators, joint health and safety committee members, and others), and proposed solutions.

Roberts’s next step was to involve employees. He created multi-level functional work teams of supervisors and employees, assigned each team to a specific area of the facility, reviewed with them the identified hazards and proposed solutions, and asked them to respond in a project management framework with controls they would like to see that would also maintain efficiency and avoid introducing new hazards.

The facility eventually implemented a number of solutions, including:

  • Physical separation of pedestrians from high risk areas (e.g., removal of walkways in areas where pedestrians did not need to access — about one third of all walkways);
  • Application of high-visibility paint to edges of loading/unloading bays;
  • Installation of enhanced guarding solutions (e.g., bollards, guardrails, gates) and safeguards (e.g., mirrors, stop signs, forward and reverse activated warning spotlights on powered mobile equipment, and enhanced crosswalks, especially at blind turns and intersections);
  • Employee training on the changes.

“It’s very important that you don’t just place employees in an environment where equipment is being operated without providing adequate training, such as right of way rules, site speed limits, and other safety rules and procedures that pedestrians and operators need to follow,” Roberts said.

“Our goal was to move away from behaviour-dependant controls and towards physical barrier separation and other engineering controls, which are critical for success when you’re talking about pedestrian safety in a mechanized material handling environment. It provides a framework for workers to operate quickly and safely within.”

But this isn’t all the initiative achieved. “Work team suggestions also helped improve the way we operate,” Roberts noted.

For example, employees suggested Coca-Cola relocate two parts of the operation. The relocations gave forklift operators a straight run in a no-pedestrian area, which allowed them to move goods more quickly and moved manual picking areas away from traffic areas, so that pickers could work more efficiently without any concerns about what may be going on behind them.

“Employee engagement is critical to the success of an initiative like this,” Roberts said. “Employees who work in the area sometimes have the best solutions, and all you have to do is ask them for ideas as part of your process. Their input helped make the forklift and manual picking operations safer and more efficient – a win/win situation. Plus, we were able to increase the volume of product in the warehouse.”

Actively engaging employees also helped them to better understand and appreciate the value of the Internal Responsibility System, an ongoing corporate goal. “Coca-Cola has been making great effort to move our culture to a higher level of maturity so that the employees at all levels actively embrace the framework of internal responsibility,” Roberts explained.

He and his colleagues are now sharing lessons learned with the company’s 50+ distribution and warehouse operations across the country. “Not necessarily replicating what we did here, but applying lessons learned to expand and enhance safety.”