Background in Brief
'Our management team has devoted substantial time, energy and resources to the safety and environmental programs at all of our facilities in an effort to make them the standard for excellence in the industry.'
-- G. Ruffner Page, Jr., President of McWane Inc.
McWane is an industry leader in the production of cast iron pipe and fittings used for water and waste systems throughout the United States, and now aims to become the industry leader in environmental performance. With the installation of state-of-the-art technology and information systems, the company is setting a new standard for environmental management systems.
As recently as 1977 the McWane, Inc. was a small, family owned operation with 841 employees at four operations and located entirely within the United States. It has since grown to become a multi-national corporation with more than 7,000 employees at over thirty operations in three additional countries and on two additional continents.
The company expanded through the acquisition of older facilities on the verge of closure. In many instances the prior owners had not invested the resources necessary to keep these plants competitive or compliant. Upon purchasing these aging, outdated facilities, McWane invested heavily in modern, up to date equipment and systems, thus making them competitive and saving thousands of high paying jobs that would otherwise have gone overseas.
Prior to and during this growth phase, each operating division was responsible for all of its own operational functions, including production, sales, human resources and environmental, health and safety (EHS) compliance. While there was corporate coordination and oversight, for the most part the development, implementation and enforcement of compliance programs were the responsibility of local plant management, based on the philosophy that they were better suited to evaluate, understand and address the unique issues confronting their facilities. As the company grew, however, it became apparent that more standardization and supervision was necessary to ensure company-wide compliance with all of the complex EHS issues associated with heavy industrial processes like McWane’s.
The new century brought a change in management, and with it a change in philosophy. McWane announced a commitment to make the company an industry leader by implementing innovative environmental, health and safety programs that would meet and exceed regulations with a consistent, verifiable approach to compliance management throughout the organization. With the help of some of the most qualified experts in the field, McWane began the design and development of a robust web-based EHS Management System fashioned around the principles of ISO 14001 and OSHS 18000. By 2003 the first components of this system were rolled out at all operating divisions, and the implementation process is now substantially complete.
McWane’s EHS Management System represents a holistic approach to better oversight and coordination of EHS related activities throughout the Company. Its primary purpose is to create, implement and achieve more consistent results, drive continuous improvement and obtain best-in-class status. While the EHS Management System is a tool to help achieve and maintain compliance, it is also a key element in McWane's goal of achieving “beyond compliance” results.
At first, McWane concentrated on the basics, including systematic EHS auditing, an expanded training program and more regular plant inspections. Meanwhile, highly experienced environmental, health and safety professionals joined the company as senior managers tasked with implementing outstanding programs using best-in-class systems.
Change and Challenges
The challenges were formidable, logistically and culturally, as well as technically. One issue especially stood out. Like most companies that track compliance with audits, McWane did not have a consistent, company-wide system for tracking corrective actions once findings and a report were issued. Jeet Radia, Vice President – Environmental, Health and Safety, who joined the company in 2003, recognized the problem and its possible consequences. “Keeping track of corrective actions and findings is a critical part of this process,” says Jeet. “If you don't track and close findings, it makes it difficult to confirm that corrective action has been taken. This not only creates risk that items are not addressed, but also makes it difficult to get the credit we deserve for correcting items.”.”
Needed: a solution to track corrective actions and confirm closures – to close the gap of uncertainty.
Creating Consistency in a Patchwork
The challenge posed by McWane’s far-flung facilities went beyond geography. With the mix of original and acquired operations, there was little consistency in methods for achieving, maintaining and assuring compliance.
Needed: a single solution that could be deployed across the enterprise for consistent compliance management.
It became apparent that only a web-based system could track corrective actions throughout the company with uniformity and in real time. According to Jeet, “since I knew about Dakota Software, that's what we migrated to. I was very familiar with the Dakota Auditor program, and recommended that we hire a consultant that would use Dakota Auditor, so we could get a very consistent, comprehensive audit done electronically. Once we did that, the path to Dakota Tracer was much clearer.” In fact, Tracer enables users to import data from any source, including Auditor.
The Goal: 100% Compliance, 100% of the Time
Performance objectives at McWane were set high: 100% compliance, 100% of the time. And so expectations were very high for the new Tracer system in terms of closing out corrective actions and demonstrating fewer instances of non-compliance.
Needed: a solution that would help McWane take compliance performance to the highest level.
The new compliance initiative commanded attention throughout the company, from the executive office to the plant floor. As Jeet Radia puts it, “When you use a system that provides visibility, as we are doing with Dakota, everyone up and down the ladder knows where we stand.”
To achieve the goal, the compliance team had to determine where there were compliance gaps, and to insure they are fully corrected for complete closure.
Although the system is new to McWane, “closure is at 100% for regulatory items and is pretty darn close to 100% for other issues,” reports Jeet Radia. “We track the percentage of corrective actions completed on time, on a monthly basis, and we're getting in the high 90s overall. Many of the facilities are at 100% even for the non-regulatory issues. Dakota not only helps us close corrective actions, it helps us track them and make sure they are closed out.”
The Path of Least Resistance
During the same period when Dakota Tracer was deployed, McWane was rolling out several web-based management systems, most of which were complex, multi-function solutions requiring extensive training. Some of these systems required significant adjustments to the way things had been done in the past. As is typical when an institution undertakes a radical departure from past methods in some cases it was necessary to overcome some resistance to change. However, Jeet describes acceptance of Dakota Tracer as “quite good, because it’s easier to use than all those other systems. It’s intuitive…people can learn it more easily”
Results: Compliance. Confidence. Credibility.
Although quantifiable cost savings are likely to follow over time, they were not the only reason for McWane implementing Tracer CA. Its intangible benefits are already convincing. To Jeet Radia, “it’s being confident that we know what’s happening out there. Knowledge gives you confidence, and we have confidence when we say we have a very high level of closure of findings.”
Another major benefit is the credibility McWane has regained with regulators. Jeet counted off the impressive compliance practices that Tracer makes possible. “When we tell regulators that we do audits, and we track our findings to closure…and we collect data on a monthly basis…and we go back and track the ones that are not closed, it gives them a lot more confidence that we really know what we’re doing. And that gives us credibility.”
“For a company of our size, if you don’t have such a system, you’re pretty much just hoping everything gets done. You don’t have transparency, visibility or control. Dakota gives you that extra level of knowledge and comfort that things are being taken care of…which in itself is worth a lot.”