Seasonal Safety

No Humbug on Safety for This Workplace

The North Pole is one of the safest workplaces in the world, thanks to the top-down leadership style of its internationally recognized CEO.
By: | December 11, 2014

If you were to study some of the safest and most successful organizations, you’d see that many of them share a common philosophy: When the CEO takes ownership of the safety program, it sends a message to the entire company that safety is top priority. That universal truth is evident at organizations around the world — including the North Pole.

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North Pole CEO Santa Claus is a stickler for safety, and he knows how to drive results. For the 2014 holiday season, there were only 15 OSHA recordable elf injuries, down 15 percent from last year. There were only two serious lost-time injuries in 2014, both Fleet Management employees, related to a trampling incident involving Donner and Blitzen. (Both reindeer have since received anger management counseling through the organization’s employee assistance program.)

Those injury statistics are quite remarkable, when you consider that the North Pole workforce is more than 10,000 strong, with 80 percent of elves involved in high-hazard work in toy manufacturing, product testing and quality assurance, packaging and warehouse operations.

Always New Challenges

Claus personally chairs the organization’s safety committee, which includes representatives from departments such as Toy Operations, Reindeer Fleet Management, Wish List Fulfillment, Sled Logistics and Sweets Services. Committee members take ownership of safety for their departments, leading weekly training sessions for their teams on job-specific issues such as avoiding slips and falls from spilled hot cocoa, and wearing safety goggles while product testing Nerf guns and using cut-resistant gloves to reduce the paper-cut risk for staff members tasked with opening and filing letters to Santa.

Santa faces unique risk management challenges every year. In the 1960s, a change to the Silly Putty formula caused widespread cases of chemical sensitivity among handlers. In 1996, a dozen product testers working on Tickle Me Elmo had to be treated for Reynaud’s Syndrome.  “We should’ve seen that one coming,” said Claus ruefully, as he explained how stricter vibration protocols were put in place after that season.

The broad range of toys manufactured at the North Pole present a myriad of safety risks to elf workers.

The broad range of toys manufactured at the North Pole present a myriad of safety risks to elf workers.

The increasing trend toward electronic toys has brought its own set of challenges to Claus’ team. Many of the North Pole’s aging elves have been assigned to circuit board assembly because it is less physically demanding work than Big Wheel assembly or operating the Lego molding machines. However, the fine-detail nature of the work has led to complaints of eyestrain, leading Claus to invest heavily in magnifiers to accommodate his elder elves.

Claus is extremely proud of his return to work/stay at work program.  Even elves with mobility issues can pitch in, delivering tools and parts anywhere they’re needed on the factory floor, via R/C Air Hog transport helicopters. Others conduct regular safety inspections enterprise-wide, using small camera equipped hobby drones. When the two workers involved in the reindeer trampling incident were suffering from PTSD, they were assigned to light-duty, low-stress tasks to aid in their recovery, including candy cane testing and topping coworkers’ cocoa with whipped cream. “They were kept at full salary,” explained Claus, “and we were able to put them in jobs that made them smile and made everyone around them smile. Surrounding them in happiness helped them heal from the trauma of that frightening incident.”

Wellness Champion

The most recent additions to the North Pole safety and workers’ comp program were championed by Claus’ wife, Jessica, who has taken on the role of Executive Vice President for Wellness and Ergonomics for the entire organization. Mrs. Claus has organized a required daily stretching program for the beginning of each work day. Everyone participates, even the Jolly old Elf himself. She also leads wildly popular Twister Yoga classes to keep workers limber and alert, and to help manage seasonal stress. Claus is an avid health advocate, sending out newsletters full of healthy holiday tips, including recipes for stevia-sweetened sugar cookies, reminders to replace a few servings of fruitcake with fresh fruit, and warnings about the dangers of excessive eggnog abuse.

Mrs. Claus, who is even more tireless than her globe-trotting husband, also oversees the in-house claims management team, and the on-site nursing staff. Simple injuries such as candy cane splinters are treated right away and elves are back on the job in mere minutes. Nurse case managers fulfil other roles as well, such as suggesting temporary reassignment for elves suffering from tinnitus from high-decibel jingle bells.

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In 2015, Claus is planning on adding new elements to the program. A voluntary biometric testing program is in the works. A spare storage room is being refashioned into a fitness “PlayZone” equipped with two dozen large screen TVs connected to Xbox One and PlayStation Move, and fully stocked with high-action movement games and fitness programs. Mrs. Claus is also working with the in-house design and fabrication teams to develop a new line of elf shoes with fitness-tracker bells to help motivate workers to move more. “Elves thrive on friendly competition,” said the EVP. “I hope to tap into that by developing an app with a leaderboard showing everyone’s steps. Toy-making is all about teamwork and cooperation. This will give each elf a chance to show off and be a star.”

Santa Claus told Risk & Insurance® that while he couldn’t share the actual numbers, the ROI on the North Pole’s safety and workers’ comp investments is off the charts. But Claus said that he and Mrs. Claus are more focused on the real sprit of safety. “Safe and happy elves make safer games and toys,” said Claus. “That means safer kids all over the world. There’s a lot more riding on our safety program than cost control,” he added with a wink of his eye and a twist of his head.

Wishing you a safe and Happy Holiday season from WorkersComp Forum!

Michelle Kerr is workers' comp editor for Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]