TRAVERSE CITY, MI – After launching a “simulated factory” program to train new employees in its Louisville, KY, assembly plant in 2011, Ford now is adding the process at its Flat Rock, MI, facility where it’s gearing up to build the Fusion midsize sedan.

But that’s just the beginning.

“This training process – which provides workers with hands-on training in the real-world environment – has been so successful that it is now a global standard and is being implemented in our plants worldwide,” Jim Tetreault, vice president-Ford North America manufacturing,  says in a Management Briefing Seminars presentation here.

Ford’s goal is to improve the safety and health of workers before they actually begin assembling cars. “By having our employees analyze the task before any work begins, we are able to better prevent safety incidents in our facilities,” Tetreault explains.

It’s part of Ford’s Sustainable Workforce initiative and apparently it’s paying off. Overall injury rates have sunk to one-tenth of the 1999 level and “our lost-time case rate is just a fraction of what it was in 2000,” he says.

The initiative has four components including high-performance hiring, challenging because Ford receives 30 applications for every job opening; advanced training; protection and safety; and lifelong health and well-being.

To identify potential ergonomic issues in advance, Ford makes “virtual” assessments in areas such as the effects of repetitiveness or jobs where heavy lifting may call for an assist.

“Since 2005 we haven’t launched a new vehicle with ergonomic concerns,” says Tetreault.

Working with the United Auto Workers union, Ford also recently announced an Enhanced Care Program, a voluntary health-care preventative program that aims to improve employee health while reducing costs and boosting  productivity.

“We think the goal is eminently achievable,” he says, adding the 2-year pilot program targets 1,200 to 1,500 participants.