500 Days in a Row Without an Injury – How We Did It
By Pamela Barnett, Manager, Crothall Laundry Services
Avoiding a serious incident in a commercial laundry facility is a major challenge. We process tens of thousands of pounds of linen every day, so anyone can easily slip in a puddle of water or trip over a hazardous item. So, when the Crothall Laundry facility in Gilroy, Calif., achieved 500 consecutive days without an injury in late November, it was a major milestone in our industry.
And we didn’t stop there. As of January 29th, we reached 560 days without an accident – the official record for any Crothall healthcare facility.
It’s a core value each day for every person to come to work and leave safely. Achieving “500 Safe Days” was made possible partly due to establishing a business model and culture for how commercial laundry plants can operate efficiently and safely.
The 120,000 square foot Gilroy plant – about the size of two football fields – was empty when we took it over in December 2017. Sitting alone in a folding chair brought from home, I was the only employee in the building when I started the process of hiring new employees. Since then, I’ve worked closely with Resident Regional Manager, Joey Gilb to hire and properly training people that would help us build a productive, high-quality facility from the ground up.
One of the keys to our business model is giving each new hire the opportunity to work here long term. From the day they are onboarded, we stress the opportunities for career development. On their first day, production managers Ed Esters and Devin Hogue train each person for their new job. In addition, they are paired up with a buddy who will answer questions, introduce them to other workers and eat lunch with them.
But on the second day, they work with someone in a position one level above their own. They quickly see that they can earn more money if they do their job right and get promoted. It gives them an incentive to do well and shows each person we care about their future.
Safety is Job #1
During training, we emphasize the importance we place on safety. Our associates constantly receive safety information through presentations, morning safety huddles, monthly assemblies and regular safety inspections. We also have several “Injury Free Days” countdown calendars posted around the plant.
And when we accomplish our goals, we celebrate to show our appreciation for their good work. In July, our employees were thrilled when Crothall Vice President, Jaime Brockamp came to our “One Year Safe” celebration and presented us with an award. We put on a “Country Fair” event where managers barbequed and served snow cones and popcorn. We set up stations in a large decorated parking lot behind the facility where everyone could play games, including a “dunk tank,” where associates can throw a ball and dunk a manager - one of the most popular activities.
When we hit the “500 Days Safe” mark in late November 2019, we celebrated again, giving everyone a “500 Days” T-shirt. We also held an apple bobbing contest, and served everyone refreshments at a pumpkin pie bar with 20 different toppings.
As a result of these efforts, we’ve not only achieved a safe work environment, but retained a high percentage of associates. By cultivating a sense of belonging, a desire to contribute, and an atmosphere of transparency, most of the original associates we hired are still with us today.
“Gilroy’s leadership has established a culture where every day each person performs a task that demonstrate they actively care for their safety and those they work with,” says Jason Colson, corporate safety manager for Crothall Laundry Services. “This milestone exemplifies the leadership and commitment that the team at Gilroy continuously demonstrates. It’s a prime example of when people feel safe, appreciated, and valued great things can happen.”
Making People Want to Be Here
Before taking this job two years ago, I had never worked at a commercial laundry facility. After earning a degree in education, I began teaching elementary school and continued to invest in my career, eventually becoming an elementary school principal.
Much like my work at Crothall, I helped build a culture at my school where everyone had an ownership in the school’s success. Teachers often feel they are on an island, one person working to teach a class of 30 or more students. So, I invested time and effort in creating a pleasant environment where they could do their best work.
For example, during the Christmas holidays, the school had a different theme every day during December. We would give away prizes for the most unique Christmas sweaters and pipe in Christmas carols. Because it’s a stressful time of year for teachers, I hosted a daily “Christmas coffee” time to listen, support, and give help to any staff members with a need. It helped to boost the teachers’ morale and enabled them to do their jobs better.
The same principle applies to safety in the workplace. Because the associates feel a sense of ownership, they will often clean up a puddle of water or quickly report a problem to their manager instead of letting it go for the next person.
Recently, I heard one associate tell another not to drop the plastic straps used to bundle linen onto the floor, thereby avoiding a possible tripping incident. I also observed a veteran worker show a new associate the proper way to bend at the knees when lifting, so that the new co-worker wouldn’t strain his back. This kind of ownership promotes not just a safe atmosphere, but a caring one.
As we know, “stuff” sometimes happens. But by creating a culture where associates feel valued, where they can have a career and improve their lives, we’ve given them a reason to help make our company one that values people and that competitors envy.