By By Sarah J. Schmidt, USAG Schinnen Public AffairsMay 2, 2011
SCHINNEN (Netherlands) - There was a time at U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen when employees might have scoffed and rolled their eyes at the mention of safety, but those days are long gone, thanks to the proactive approach of Schinnen's Installation Safety Office, which engages employees in a philosophy of workplace safety aimed at detection and prevention.
Strategically situated in a corner of the Netherlands where the borders of Germany and Belgium intersect, this small Army installation serves a customer base geographically dispersed across some 151,000 kilometers and three countries. Maintaining workplace safety for such a broad area of responsibility is no small feat. The task is made even more complex by the cultural sensitivities and language barriers of Schinnen's civilian employees, nearly 70 percent of whom are Dutch. Difficult, yes, but not impossible, says Nino Antonacci, Schinnen's Safety Manager.
"Safety is a team effort," he explained. "By being vigilant, providing training and constantly stressing prevention, we've raised the level of awareness to a point where workplace safety is a routine part of everyone's daily business."
The approach is working. Schinnen has not experienced a serious safety accident in four years. Antonacci, who is himself Dutch, has worked at Schinnen for 27 years, four of which have been in safety. He remembers a time when employees would hide when they saw him or another safety manager coming.
"They were so worried that they would get in trouble or be blamed for a problem," he recalled. But the environment changed when employees started understanding the U.S. Army's safety prevention goals.
"They had to understand we were not in the business of criminal investigation. We were in the prevention business with a goal of finding and fixing the root cause," Antonacci said.
Now, Schinnen's workforce is part of the solution. Antonacci calls Schinnen's employees the "eyes and ears of the safety program" because they are willing to identify a safety issue within their own workplace rather than hiding and hoping nothing is discovered.
"They have good ideas, and they know their processes sometimes better than we know them, which allows us to get at the root cause of a problem and create a practical solution," Antonacci said.
For example, a group of Schinnen's Dutch maintenance workers recently approached Antonacci with a concern about the fumes their lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other yard equipment were emitting. They had heard from colleagues at a local company about a "green" fuel that produces less harmful fumes, so they wanted Antonacci to research the possibility of switching fuels.
"In the past, these guys would not have raised this question," Antonacci said, "but this is exactly the kind of safety-minded thing I want them to think about because it makes it possible for me to do a better job when I know what their needs and concerns are and--this is the best part--it creates buy-in from the workforce so that whatever solution we create, they are more likely to adopt it and support the effort."
Practical solutions like these are what drive the success of U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen's safety program. The proactive approach of Schinnen's Installation Safety Office stresses detection and prevention in the workplace and beyond.
Statistics prove the approach is working, but the real proof is in the attitudes and behavior of the employees and personnel who experience Schinnen's safety programs. When these programs lead individuals to adopt safety-conscious routines and practice them regularly, the benefits of such programs are multiplied exponentially, generating positive returns for decades to come.