Some companies may be reluctant to invite OSHA into a plant voluntarily but Mike DeSoto, chief operating officer of MI Windows and Doors, said the end result is "very worth it."

DeSoto spoke at the recent American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) 2018 Fall Conference about the need to implement a culture of workplace safety. He and Allison Mendibles, regional human resources manager/safety manager for the company, shared their insights about one of MI Windows and Doors plant locations in Prescott Valley, Arizona, which earned the prestigious Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) star last year.

Per OSHA, the VPP recognizes employers and workers who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintained injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. A system is used, focusing on hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; management commitment and worker involvement. To participate, employers must submit an application to OSHA and undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals. DeSoto described the program as a "train the trainer" model.

Mendibles said the VPP program moves plants away from high compliance and enforcement to more of a behavior-based program. "Who's responsible for your safety?" she asked. "I know I'm responsible for mine. Make sure your team members know they're responsible for theirs."

The Prescott Valley plant location is a two-shift operation with 300 team members. It has been in Prescott Valley since 1980. Mendibles described the steps it took the plant to get its VPP star, which included beginning a partnership with OSHA, finding a mentor, completing the application process and then conducting a four-day audit with OSHA. The audit looked at documentation and included validation, interviews with 25 to 30 percent of plant team members, and proof of the plant's ability to provide immediate remediation.

The safety philosophy of the Prescott Valley plant is this:

  • Behavior-based safety program
  • Personal accountability
  • Root cause and
  • continuous improvement

"We want our team to be safe when they come to work, so we are always looking for ways to improve their safety," said Mendibles. For instance, the company is currently seeking a portable lifting device for workers to use. Previous working condition improvements have included bringing in high-volume fans, placing water coolers throughout the plant and adding all LED lights inside and outside. After second shift workers aired their concerns about the facility’s back parking lot being too dark, lighting was added.

Training is also a large focus and includes things like trauma training, crisis management and Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO) training. "We go a step above basic first aid and CPR," said Mendibles. "Our trauma training is first-hand, training geared toward our manufacturing plant, specifically. (Independence Training, Inc.) looked at our hazards and made real-life scenarios of things that could happen in our plant."

The Prescott Valley plant celebrated its VPP star flag raising on Nov. 17, 2017.

"We'd love for every manufacturer to be partnered with OSHA, since it helps us all," said DeSoto, who added that while there are 2,800 VPP sites across the country, only a few of them are window factories. "We live in a hazardous environment, but I can tell you, it is a probabilities game with near-misses," he said. "The end game is to save lives and prevent injuries. Right behind that goal is the good it can do for the industry."

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