Superintendents and their teams gathered at Tyson Foods' Dakota Dunes office to receive a special safety award from Hollymatic.

Belief system

To change the ingrained culture of “the chain never stops,” throughout the meat industry, Stouffer says the people on the line must believe upper management has employee safety as top priority. The purchase of new safety equipment is something, and the monthly meetings with Stouffer’s teams at the plant show directive, but if everyone involved doesn’t buy in, the old mindset remains. And sometimes that means a change of perspective(s).

“The problem is, like everything else, the people in the plants have been there for a long time, some of them have been there all their life,” Stouffer says. “The stuff that they see is stuff that’s always been there, since before they got there, and they have no reason to believe that it’s dangerous.” And the communication factor weaves its way through the entire process of changing to a worker safety first culture.

Stouffer communicates his message from the top down as often as possible, “If you have a decision to make between hitting your numbers and hurting people, my expectation for you is that you shut off the chain and you keep your people safe. First. Number one.”

Tyson Foods has begun using Hollymatic's Defender saw in plants as part of its worker safety initiative and has more an order.

Stouffer has taken that message and added a trust factor by telling all involved that his door is always open if there’s something that needs to be addressed. If anyone feels compromised by someone else for any reason and doesn’t know where to turn after going up through the chain of command, Stouffer has sent the message to call or email him. To date, employees have contacted him three times.

“I call that the nuclear option when they go direct to me,” Stouffer says. “Not everybody is going to have the wherewithal or the desire to do that, and we never really made a big deal about any one of those. I didn’t jump up and down or yell and scream. It was just, let’s get in the middle of it, let’s understand it and let’s fix it.”

Worker safety remains the No. 1 reason for the initiatives, the time and money spent on equipment and programs, the cultural shift and attitude change about slowing down and stopping the chain if necessary, but a nice byproduct is a healthier business and bottom line. Tyson Foods has seen a 31 percent improvement in OSHA recordables year over year in fiscal 2017, and has plants running 72 percent better than they were a year ago.

“The numbers are amazing, but again, it’s not about the numbers or the improvement,” Stouffer says. “We still have people that get hurt. We still have people that have illnesses. So, we’ve got to continue to strive. Our goal is to go to zero.”