Zildjian Saves Big with Workplace Safety Changes

What if a business could save $100k on their workers’ comp insurance? Follow along as we tell the story of how Zildjian, a leading musical instrument manufacturer specializing in cymbals, did just that.


Workers’ comp is a mandatory business expense in Massachusetts and in many states. Policies are generally found via a business owner’s insurance agent who sets off to find the best option for them, often based primarily on a comparison of coverage and yearly premium costs. However, many other factors can drastically impact workers’ comp costs; the Experience Modification Factor or “experience mod” is one.

Darylyn McGrath, Zildjian’s Safety Specialist and Chris Clark, Cove Risk’s Senior Health and Safety Consultant


“Zildjian’s experience mod was 1.38 and they were able to drop it almost in half by making safety changes within the company,” says Dave Schofield, an independent insurance agent with more than 30 years’ experience helping businesses find local and better workers’ comp options. “As a result, their premiums dropped by $100k. Their typical claims were strains, cuts and back injuries – for about 50 years – yet they had a willingness to make changes if they knew what to do”.


Enter Chris Clark, Senior Health and Safety Consultant for Cove Risk Services, who was brought in to evaluate if Zildjian could control their workers’ compensation risk and become a member of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Self-Insurance Group.


“When they joined, the thing that tipped the scale for us to want to write them was they were committed to change. In our groups we work with businesses to help them improve in employee safety,” he explains. Often traditional insurance companies will either not insure or non-renew a policy if a business has too many claims.


Chris reviewed their operations and provided a list of safety recommendations and Zildjian immediately went to work on compliance. One of the first pieces of advice Chris provided was to hire a safety manager or designate someone already on board to focus on safety.


Enter Darylyn McGrath, Zildjian’s Safety Specialist. “When I was hired the company didn’t have a defined safety program. Having no safety program meant that I had to start from scratch, but also meant that I could customize everything from start to finish,” says Darylyn. “I had a loss control background so that was helpful in implementing ways to eliminate hazards as opposed to short-cutting anything. Zildjian encouraged and supported me in taking classes through Keene State College with OSHA’s Continuing Education Program. This resulted in achieving my certification as a Health and Safety Official. I found these classes to be an incredible asset. Aside from their educational and networking benefits they were extremely motivating. After each class I was able to implement that information directly into our plan,” she explains. The OSHA certification program can be found here: https://oshaedne.com/


Hazards Identified

“In my opinion, the single most important thing that a business can do is create a Job Hazard Analysis for each job task. OSHA expects you to have a risk assessment performed for every job, in writing. You can document this information in any format that works for you. As long as it clearly defines the steps to the job, the risks of completing those steps, and the controls for those risks. You can write a paragraph or lean on Cove Risk’s online resources for a sample JHA. It is a vital component to an effective safety program,” adds Chris.


A Focus on Training

The next safety change for Zildjian was training. “In building our program, one common thread we discovered was that several jobs didn’t have current, formal, documented work instructions,” says Darylyn. “Work instructions and JHAs go hand in hand. We put together a small group of people and went through each job throughout the factory. We worked with each operator and drafted work instructions for each job as well as a JHA. Those two elements are a great foundation and ultimately everyone is learning to the same standard,” she explains.


“Historically, the lead operators would train new employees. However, this led to inconsistencies because each lead operator was teaching the process their way which may have been right, but not always. “It was kind of like the grapevine.” says Darylyn. “So, you need to go back to the standard,” she insists.


And how did the employees respond? “Well, I won’t lie, it was challenging. Each person responds to change differently. We learned multiple productive lessons. The way we communicate to each other about safety was one major improvement. The other lesson we learned was that our operators have invaluable expertise, and without their input it simply wouldn’t work. Employees need to be involved in the process. They need to know they’re important and how much their tribal knowledge is valued,” she adds.


Currently, Zildjian has a labor shortage much like many businesses since the pandemic and finding motivated candidates to fill open positions has been a challenge. Zildjian relies on their JHA’s when training new employees. This is done whether they are skilled in the tasks or not because it helps create a safety culture that values safety and the importance of the job. The JHA’s also assist in fulfilling OSHA’s record keeping requirements.


Safety Committees and Safety Walks

Zildjian formed a safety committee made up of employees who meet once a month. Additionally, every employee pairs up with another committee member each week to take a walk around the workplace. They fill out a safety form noting specific safety concerns, such as unclear walkways or trip hazards so that immediate action can be taken to resolve them.


Even if she’s not able to get out on the floor every single day, “at least we have a group that can all work together on what we know we need to do. They can recognize things that we may not have thought of. They care,” says Darylyn. They call it the Safety Walk Form. Cove Risk also provides safety checklist templates on its website in the safety resource library and she often references documents there.


Prevention Through Ergonomics, Daily Stretching, and Onsite Therapy

“We all agreed that Zildjian needed to make ergonomic improvements. Lifting, twisting, repetitive motion, all the things that can impact upper body strain and part of the manufacturing process,” reports Chris. Following his safety advice, Zildjian hired ONSITE Therapy Solutions. They specialize in maintaining the wellness of workers by providing physical and occupational therapists to come into the facility twice a week to take a proactive approach with an array of services focusing on functional ergonomics, prevention, and wellness.


Initially, their occupational therapist reviewed each workstation and machine operation and provided recommended adjustments with an “Early Symptom Intervention (ESI), Illness and Prevention Program”. The program has shown results for many employees they work with from employees feeling stronger and more flexible, to helping employees from not needing outside medical care. During his two-hour visits he sees individuals that may be feeling soreness from their operation. He helps them with the education needed to proactively help those areas before they become a real problem. That includes education on posture, body mechanics, and job specific exercises that can be done at home or at their workstations.


For example, when Darylyn started working there, the carts Zildjian used were old, heavy and causing back strain. “The carts were redesigned to what we call, a sled, allowing them to be moved on a lift. The cymbals are stacked on top of each other instead of lined up and the lift picks up the sled so operators don’t have to push the cart or bend over. We’ve done a lot with ergonomics,” she proudly describes. She often sees workers stretching their hands and backs. “Now it is just in them, they do it on their own now throughout the day. Our occupational therapist has really helped them a lot,” she adds. Personal protective equipment (PPE) like anti-vibration gloves for lathe workers were also recommended by Chris and have proven to be effective at reducing exposures to vibration-related cumulative trauma disorders.


Improving Accountability for Safety

“We put in cameras over the last few months, and we’ll be putting in more. They weren’t installed to spy on employees. We truly wanted to improve our understanding of safe work practices. Initially it did make employees self-conscious but now they forget that they are even there,” says Darylyn.


Zildjian doesn’t have a camera room where employees are monitored all the time and they only access the video when the need arises. Chris estimates more than half of the members in the Massachusetts Manufacturing Self-Insurance Group now have cameras. “It is important to have the ability to investigate accidents after they happen by checking the video to review for their root cause. This allows for appropriate corrective actions to be taken and controls to be implemented. And while the focus isn’t on identifying fraud, on some occasions it can help with that, too. Accountability for safe activity is a likely byproduct.”


A Collaboration

Darylyn says she feels she can always call Chris at Cove Risk if she has a question or if something comes up that she’s not sure about. “It’s great to have that kind of relationship with an insurance company,” she adds. “People are often skeptical of a visit from an insurance company. Everyone’s always reminded that Chris is on our side, his experience and expertise is one of our biggest assets and he always makes himself available whenever we need him. He has an excellent approach, I don’t know where our safety program would be without him.”


And what are they working on now? “We are putting the pieces together to create an incentive that promotes new safety ideas or processes to keep everyone safer and then reward them for it,” she explains. Chris has helped other businesses create safety incentive programs aligned with OSHA’s guidelines.


Another goal Darylyn has for next year, in addition to continuing to keep Zildjian’s experience mod rate down, is to identify more opportunities for automation. This may be in the form of computers near each workstation to easily access, document and update records to keep OSHA compliant, or adding more robotics, i.e., an edging machine. “One thing with robotics, we’ve never eliminated an employee whenever we’ve put in a robot. There is always another spot for them. Robotics complement our great workforce. We are always looking for ways to mesh more robotics into our operation,” said McGrath.


The Zildjian Difference

“What Zildjian does differently is having a safety person whose primary role in the company is to focus on injury prevention and regulatory compliance,” explains Chris. “As of now, that sets them apart and gives them a leg up compared to other members in the Group. We are striving to identify the most appropriate lead safety person for each of our members companies. Everyone should have a Darylyn that they can rely on to get the job done.”


The numbers speak for themselves. Zildjian saves on their workers’ comp premiums as a member of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Self-Insurance Group, enabling them to have experienced and dedicated safety people and resources on board to keep employees safe and increase productivity. It’s a remarkably successful partnership.


Cove Risk’s Sr. Health & Safety Consultant, Chris Clark is available to assist MA Manufacturing WC Group members with their safety concerns. He can be reached at cclark@coverisk.com. If you aren’t a member of the group but want to be, contact your insurance agent or reach out to Laura Gillis, Director of Sales and Marketing at LGillis@coverisk.com.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –


Cove Risk’s Safety Recommendations

Armed with 25+ years of experience reviewing safety concerns at hundreds of manufacturing companies throughout Massachusetts, Chris Clark, Sr. Health & Safety Consultant at Cove Risk Services, was able to identify key areas of safety where Zildjian could make simple changes and a have a big impact.


1. Create Job Hazard Analyses for each job task, to eventually serve as the training and safety guide for each job in the operation.

2. Designate or hire an employee who focuses on safety and support them with proper education.

3. Consult with an outside physical therapist to review employee tasks and offer recommendations to reduce injuries and address ergonomics, identify key stretching routines for each department, and provide actual onsite therapy to employees experiencing aches or pain, as early symptom intervention.

4. Identify high risk tasks and reduce the potential for upper body strains by making adjustments to the workstation, tooling, and frequency in which those tasks are completed.

5. Identify opportunities to improve PPE choice and usage.

6. Create a safety committee where the agendas regularly review all facets of the organizations’ safety program (training, policies, inspections, investigations, and accountability).

7. Conduct regular safety inspections of the entire property and operation.

8. Add video monitoring to see potential safety improvements or hazards.

9. Create incentives that encourage employees to be part of the safety culture and be safely active with their daily responsibilities.

10. Continue to build the safety program, and take advantage of the many safety resources on Cove Risk’s safety portion of their website.