Lumber & building materials distribution center decreased risky bending incidents by 85% and overreaching incidents by 80% with data-driven safety reforms.
Builders FirstSource is a Fortune 500 manufacturer of building materials and the largest supplier of building products in the US. The Builders FirstSource distribution center in National City, California transports heavy hardlines that pose potential safety risks to their team. Team members are frequently lifting lumber products and boxes of attachments for windows and doors, like hinges and door handles. In 2021, a team associate was injured lifting a heavy door by himself, so Builders FirstSource leadership made it a priority to address ergonomic risks at the warehouse.
The National City distribution center used Voxel's AI platform to track several incident types, including liquid spills, vehicle safety, and ergonomics. After three months, the site experienced 57% fewer risky bending incidents and 69% fewer overreaching incidents per day. The site successfully sustained those results, eventually achieving an 85% reduction in bending incidents and 80% reduction in overreaching incidents.
In September 2022, the distribution center had an average of 24 dangerous ergonomics incidents per day. By March 2023, the site had only 4 incidents per day.
Voxel’s AI video analytics had an immediate positive impact on safety at the distribution center. On the first day going live in the warehouse, Voxel captured 25 “improper bending” incidents and 3 “overreaching” incidents. The team's safety leadership shared the clips and reviewed safe lifting practices with their team.
The “improper bending” incidents involved workers bending forward to pick up heavy boxes, instead of bending their hips and knees and squatting down to reach their load. Bending forward puts excessive stress on the lower back muscles, leading to strains and sprains. It may also cause muscle imbalances and long-term back problems.
The “overreaching” incidents involved workers reaching to grab heavy boxes from elevated pallets. Voxel also captured workers carrying heavy loads like doors and metal containers over their heads or on their shoulders. This practice causes neck and shoulder strain, strain to the upper back muscles, and repetitive strain injuries such as tendonitis and bursitis.
Within the first week, the manager of the National City distribution center noticed that team members were coaching each other on safe lifting practices. When one associate saw another associate lifting a big window for a new house without bending his knees, he stopped his teammate and showed him how to lift safely. After only a few days of video-based coaching, the team started communicating more effectively about safety.
The rapid short-term change may have been caused by the “Hawthorne effect,” a common phenomenon where individuals modify their behavior after learning that they are being observed. But the site leadership recognized that they needed to incorporate Voxel more closely into their day-to-day process in order to have a lasting impact.
The safety leadership at the distribution center spent a few minutes at the beginning of each day to review incidents flagged by Voxel. In addition to the real-time stream of incident clips, every morning the Voxel Dashboard highlights a few ‘high-priority’ incidents from the previous day. This makes it convenient for site managers to create daily content for ‘toolbox talks’ or other safety training exercises.
Miguel, the operation manager, decided to use Voxel as a non-punitive tool for teaching best safety practices. When he observed a notable incident captured by Voxel, he would approach his associates with a “coaching moment.” He emphasized to his team that safety procedures are in place to ensure they go home healthy at the end of the day. He reminded them that “It’s not fun to go to the doctor. It’s not fun to not be able to sit down or lay down. The whole experience is terrible.”
Miguel initiated conversations about Voxel data by pulling up an incident clip in the Voxel application and asking his associate: “Hey, what’s wrong with this picture? What could we have done differently?” He used the word “coaching moment,” and told the associate “I’m here to coach you. I’m here to help you.”
Coaching moments were positive educational interactions, and associates quickly devised new ways to approach tasks without putting themselves in danger. For example, while reviewing an overreaching incident, an employee came up with a plan for using a pallet jack to complete a task, rather than risking a strain or sprain. Miguel made an effort to also point out positive behaviors that he observed, and frequently give kudos to his associates when they did things right.
Sometimes Voxel captured relatively “low-severity” ergonomic incidents, like bending to lift lightweight objects, or overreaching to open a large trash container. In these cases, employees could get annoyed or irritated by the operation manager’s “coaching moments.” But he used these ‘low-priority’ incidents to remind his associates that safety requires discipline and a strong mindset:“The response was: ‘Miguel, it was a piece of cardboard.’ But it’s about teaching the system. If it’s a piece of cardboard, that’s one thing. But if you’re overreaching and it’s a heavy case of paper, or it’s a heavy duty tool, that’s not good. You need to engage your brain before you engage your muscles. Those are the examples I try to use with them.”
Miguel tried to incorporate humor into his coaching moments so his team understood his intentions were good. In one incident, Voxel captured the distribution center manager without a high-visibility safety vest, which led to a humorous interaction. The operation manager would try to tell jokes and approach the topic in a lighthearted manner to “break the ice.” He said: “That’s the coaching moment. It’s funny because I try to make it funny. I try to make sure that they understand that I’m not out there to bust their chops. We want them to be safe. We want them to be productive. And most of all, we want them to go home in the same shape that they came in in the morning.”
AI-powered site visibility helps site managers expose hidden trends and develop novel methods for improving safety and operations. Voxel’s customer success team met with the team weekly to review incidents and come up with an action plan to address safety trends. For example, after the data showed a trend of bending into big totes and metal containers in the shipping & receiving area, Voxel’s customer success team advised installing lift tables.
When Miguel, the operation manager, approached his associates for ‘coaching moments,’ he always asked them “What could we have done differently?” The coaching process became a process for obtaining constructive feedback on improving the work environment. For example, Voxel captured several incidents in which associates were using a wood pallet as a step-stool to reach stacked loads. An associate observed that there weren’t enough ladders in the warehouse, so the operation manager invested in several spare ladders to ensure everybody could easily access a ladder when reaching for elevated loads:
“Step-stools cost us anywhere from $17 to $27. I’ll buy everybody a step-stool. Put their name on it, and say ‘This is yours. Don’t let anybody mess with it.’ It’s worth the investment! Like I explained to them, anytime that somebody gets hurt, we’re talking thousands of dollars. You want a step-stool with your name on it for $30? Have at it, let me know what you need.”
The National City distribution center used Voxel as a comprehensive site visibility platform for managing safety and operations, monitoring vehicle safety, liquid spills, PPE usage, and open doors. Although the frequency of safety incidents in these categories was not high, the site found a major advantage in having improved visibility into these issues.
Site leadership also used Voxel to improve building security. By flagging ‘open door’ incidents, they observed that an exit door was frequently left propped open, exposing the facility to theft.
The warehouse was highly concerned about managing spills, for example from dropping a pallet of paint, or toppling a bag of fertilizer. Even though the frequency of spills in this type of facility is relatively low, the operation manager felt strongly that “We should have spill detection no matter what. Our chances are slim, but there’s a chance and we need to catch it.”
Miguel got buy-in from his team by over-communicating about what Voxel was doing, and what types of incidents the AI was observing. Even if he was speaking to an associate to address their use of PPE, he would reiterate the purpose of Voxel and restate the various events it was capturing: open doors, lifting posture, overreaching, liquid spills, vehicle stopping at intersections, etc. He wanted his associates to understand his feedback coming from a good place: "So that they see that we're not just picking on them for safety vests. It's coaching them."
“This program has a lot of value and the Voxel team has been nothing but helpful with great insight, tips, and tricks. Our overall trend of incidents has dramatically decreased now that we are aware of our pitfalls.“
Cameron Rankin, General Manager
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