Hortica provided forklift safety training to help Mahoney's Garden Center improve safety and prepare for its Department of Labor walkthrough.
Photo courtesy of Mahoney's Garden Center

Safety, especially protecting employees, has always been important to leaders at Mahoney’s Garden Center, which has eight locations in Eastern Massachusetts. In the past, the independent garden center stores reviewed safety policies and procedures with their staff members once or twice a year. However, after two back-to-back accidents occurred at the company’s two largest locations in a short period of time, the business now talks about safety every week.

“We had two significant accidents happen, and as a result we realized we were deficient in some of our safety and health operations, according to [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,]” says Danielle Clark, senior manager of human resources for Mahoney’s. “Because of those events, we decided to partner with our insurance company, [Hortica®, a brand of the Sentry Insurance Group,] to get some consulting and advising on how we could improve.”

Mahoney’s broker HUB suggested the company also partner with the Department of Labor to make sure the stores were both safe and compliant. Clark called it a “pretty intense three- to four-month journey,” and it started in the peak of spring.

“We had one incident that occurred from an employee being aware of a safety hazard but not proactively addressing it, and we had another incident where we thought we were doing the right thing from an administrative standpoint, and ended up finding out we didn’t report an accident correctly to OSHA,” she says. “So with both of those incidents, we learned that there was training and coaching opportunities for all of us, but also the opportunity to change our policies and practices and day-to-day operations to ensure that incidents like those didn’t happen again.”

Hortica launched the process, which included a store visit from Zachery Bruce, loss control and safety representative for Hortica.

“He did a walkthrough with us. He pointed things out, and explained why they are being missed and provided both short term and long term solutions on how to make things better,” Clark says.

After three to four hours, Bruce produced a list of about 40 items for Mahoney’s to improve before their DOL walkthrough. After they completed the tasks from Bruce, a few weeks later, the DOL conducted their walkthrough.

“Thanks to Zach’s eye for safety and knack for coaching, we were well prepared for the DOL’s visit,” Clark says. “With Zach’s help, we were able to identify a lot of quick wins and get them completed in a short amount of time.”

After the DOL’s visit, Bruce again partnered with Mahoney’s to ensure they successfully completed their new OSHA focused safety to-do list.

Easy-to-read and easy-to-find emergency exit signs are an example of the small yet important features the Department of Labor checks during walkthroughs.
Photo courtesy of Mahoney's Garden Center

“Zach was instrumental in helping us fulfill some of the things we needed to do. He did the forklift training, he came in and did the safety training. He helped proof-read a lot of the policies that we created,” Clark says. “Zach came in more often than he usually did to make sure we felt supported and to make sure he helped with training to make sure we were successful. In short, he was and is great.”

Bob Rocco, general manager of the Winchester location, says he anticipated there would be equipment and safety training as part of the overall improvement plan, but there were also many “small yet important” areas they needed to improve.

“We have a fairly older facility, so some of our basements only had a handrail on one side instead of two sides. We would be storing back stock on stairs, and escape routes were being blocked,” he says. “Fire extinguishers weren’t being checked on a monthly basis, and stickers indicating where fire extinguishers are stored were old or worn or non-existent. We have a company that comes out and checks them once a year, but we were obligated to check them monthly.”

Though the process was rigorous and the timing not ideal during the busy season, Clark says the DOL acted as strategic partners to help them meet standards. Although some requirements were time-consuming and expensive, they did receive extensions to complete those.

“We were forced to work hard and stay focused and work as a team. The aggressive deadlines, although stressful, obviously helped ensure we met our goals,” Clark says. “We knew what was at stake and what would happen if we didn’t meet the time frame; our case would have been moved over to OSHA, who would have cited or fined us. It was good teamwork and partnership among everybody at Mahoney’s.”

Clark says looking back, she would have contacted their OSHA consulting services available to them sooner, and in the off-season.

“The reality is you don’t know what you don’t know, and even though you think you are doing it right, chances are you’re not,” she says. “I would strongly encourage that [all garden centers] go through this process to make sure they are compliant to minimize fines and citations. It’s a really good team-building experience. It really brought us together.”

And, most importantly, the stores and employees are safer as a result.

“We got [the staff] on board, and we started talking safety every week at our meetings,” Rocco says. “The first thing on the agenda is safety now. It’s really neat to see everybody on board, eating and breathing safety. I see it every hour, every day now.

“I’m extremely proud of my team. They all got onboard, everyone took ownership and there was never any question as to why we needed to do this. In all my 29 years here, I’ve never felt as safe in the workplace, for both our employees and customers. We have changed the culture in which we work.”

Safety benchmarks

Learn 5 ways to improve your Experience Modification Factor.

Proper safety is at the core of an efficient and profitable operation. For the next three months, we’re bringing you information to improve safety at your business. Ensuring your employees, your customers and your visitors are in a safe environment doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does take advanced planning and solid communication.

This month, we’re focusing on the Experience Modification Factor, how it’s calculated and how it affects insurance premiums.

Your company’s Experience Modification Factor (Experience Mod) compares your workers’ compensation claims experience to other employers of similar size operating in the same type of business. It is calculated by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) or in some states, by an independent agency.

“If you are at the industry average, your Experience Mod is a 1.0. If your experience is 20 percent better than average, your Experience Mod would be an .80. Or if it is 20 percent worse, your Experience Mod would be 1.20,” explains Jill Hoffmann, senior loss control consultant at Hortica®, a brand of the Sentry Insurance Group.

Typically, a company receives an Experience Mod rating sheet each year prior to the policy renewal date.

“If your renewal date is Jan. 1, 2016, your Experience Mod will be calculated from your losses in 2012, 2013, and 2014,” Hoffmann adds.
Improving the Experience Mod rating

Since the Experience Mod correlates to workers’ comp claims, your rating is likely to improve if you’re working diligently to promote safety. You can control your Experience Mod by establishing an effective safety program, Hoffmann says.

“A successful safety program can reduce injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent,” she says. “The cost of injury prevention is much less than the cost of an injury.”

Another way to control an Experience Mod is to create an accident investigation plan and implement corrective actions.

“Have a plan in place regarding how to handle an accident before the accident occurs,” she says.

Some of the basics of an accident plan include:

  • Identify who should be notified.
  • Identify who will conduct accident investigations.
  • Identify who receives the accident reports and who acts on those reports.

Other ways to improve the Experience Mod are to report claims promptly, have an active claims management program, and implement a return-to-work (RTW) program, Hoffmann adds. A RTW program assists an employee in returning to work as soon as it is medically feasible after an injury or illness.

Experience Mods and insurance rates

By implementing some of the ideas provided here, you’re likely to have a lower-than-average Experience Mod, which can lower your insurance rate.

For example:

Manual Premium: $62,106

Experience Modifier: .73

Discount/Surcharge: 16,769 discount

Modified Premium: $45,337

Experience Modifier: 1.00

Discount/Surcharge: Neither

Modified Premium: $62,106

Experience Modifier: 1.43

Discount/Surcharge: $26,706 Surcharge

Modified Premium: $88,812

Coming next month

In the next issue, we’ll provide more tips and tools to establish a safety program. We’ll also discuss a return-to-work program in greater detail.