SIF Prevention Program Focuses on What Matters Most

Like its clients in a variety of industries, including pulp and paper, Thompson Industrial Services is committed to safety as a top priority. The industrial cleaning services company has advanced and grown significantly over the last 30 years, but maintains a culture that puts people first. This safety-first, people-first culture is the driving force behind Thompson’s “SIF” Prevention Program. SIFs are Serious Injuries and Fatalities, and preventing SIFs is every employee’s number one mission.

To achieve this goal, Thompson developed a leadership-driven, multi-level governance structure that implements layers of protection, analyzes big data, and empowers all employees to promote safe behavior. Since putting these new programs in place, Thompson has improved its Total Incidents Recorded (TIR) by nearly 60 percent, even while experiencing a 15 percent growth in hours worked.

Thompson’s SIF prevention program uses layers of protection including automated technologies, an advanced behavior-based observation program, data analytics, and forward-thinking policies and programs. The SIF prevention program is very customer-specific; before, during, and after each job, the safety division scrutinizes all potential risks, but most importantly, they specifically identify the highest risk factors to maximize protection from SIFs. The safety team uses leading indicators garnered from 35,000+ real-time annual safety observations to identify the top SIF precursors for unique and even routine jobs, and then develops a customized strategic action plan using all layers of protection possible.

As a first layer of protection, hazard-specific PPE protocols are standard across the company for any employee who works in the field. The second layer includes Administrative Controls such as policies, procedures, and annual advanced training. Before new employees enter the field and interact with client equipment, they undergo a stringent training program focused on their specific area of work. They also participate in continued safety training, safety meetings, and communications.

The third layer focuses on Behavioral and Human Performance. All field employees and management use Thompson’s SafetyNet tool to “find, fix, and report” conditions or behaviors that need correction on every job. More than 750 employees have entered data totaling over 110,000 observations. This has resulted in over 2.5 million findings, out of which 200,000 unsafe findings were mitigated.

SafetyNet produces crucial “big data” trend-analysis that reveals important leading indicators that Thompson can use to prevent future risk. Findings of high enough severity are not only analyzed for maximized future SIF prevention, they also immediately trigger alerts to all responsible leadership, facilitating critical communication across the company.

In addition, every division (20+) has its own safety council, which examines its data and responds with its expertise about that particular field. Regional safety councils take a broader look at the division councils’ results, and on a quarterly basis Thompson’s corporate leadership reviews the safety data across the organization, providing guidance about what safety programs should be adopted or modified company-wide.

The fourth layer of protection is Engineering Controls, which means automating processes wherever possible to keep people out of harm’s way. Thompson is nearing its goal of being 100 percent hands-free, and has been the catalyst for several major industrial facilities that now require 100 percent automation. As an example, converting a pulp and paper client’s evaporator cleaning from manual to automated hydroblasting not only took the operators out of harm’s way, but it reduced the total number of crew and hours worked by 50 percent.

The fifth layer of SIF prevention program is Substitution/Elimination—the removal of hazards wherever possible. These fourth and fifth layers often go hand-in-hand. When identifying risks and developing a customized strategic action plan for each job, Thompson will take every measure to physically remove the hazard if possible, or replace it with a safer and equally or more effective alternative.

In addition to automated hydroblasting, Thompson is introducing many other advanced technologies that reduce or remove hazards for employees. Examples include the use of drones to inspect hard-to-access or hazardous areas, automated vacuuming, synthetic media abrasive blasting with robotic capabilities, and other customized specialty services.

Substituting technology and eliminating hazards is primarily about getting employees home to their families each day without injury, yet these strategies have other positive effects. These methods are faster, more precise, and do not require the additional PPE, scaffolding, confined entry training, permits, and other costly preventive measures that would otherwise come into play. This leads to shortened project timeframes, faster returns to production, and a lower total bill for the client.

Dean Kuhlman is director of safety for Thompson Industrial Services ( Thompson presented its safety success at the 2019 PPSA Safety & Health Conference (