You’ve heard some safety pros say a goal of zero OSHA recordables is unattainable- so why try to reach it? But in 1995, a Georgia-Pacific plywood plant in Gloster, Miss., reached it. And for the first half of 1996, its OSHA recordables rate is a scant .5.

By comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ national average for plywood manufacturing is 9.7 per 100 workers.

Not surprisingly, the facility owns enough safety awards to pack a trophy case. One Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ Association (VPPPA) Outreach Award for 1995. Two dozen awards in 15 years from the American Plywood Association. Seventeen National Safety Council Awards, 12 Georgia- Pacific Vice-President Awards, and one Presidential Special Recognition Award presented by OSHA chief Joe Dear.

Gloster plant employees claim to have no secrets to success, no revolutionary innovations. The company gives credit to the rigorous requirements of the Voluntary Protection Program (gaining Merit status in 1993 and Star status in January, 1995), dedicated employees, and simply making safety a top priority. But there’s a critical underlying cultural element, based on the values of sincerity, trust, and commitment, says June Brothers, senior manager for human resources for building products. She is responsible for the 130 Georgia-Pacific plants that employ more than 46,000 workers and averaged a total OSHA recordables rate of 2.7 in 1995, compared to an industry average of 9.0.

Getting serious

Here’s how the Gloster operation puts sincerity into safety:
  • Communication on all levels is open and upbeat, says Lee Harris, personnel safety manager. Employees look out for one another, coach each other in safety rules, and let co-workers know they don’t want to see them injured, he says.

    Five safety committees support the culture. Four are completely in the hands of employees. Workers design the safety processes and enforce rules. Harris acts as a facilitator for the committees, pulling them together. But he stays out of decision-making. The fifth committee, called the VPP committee, is made up of management and union officials. It’s their job to make sure paperwork and safety processes follow VPP requirements.

  • Plant Manager Martin Shorey makes it clear employee safety is a top priority. This is one manager who walks the talk.

    "The main objective of my job is to promote safety -the bottom line, too- but mostly safety," he says. "We spend more time on safety than anything else."

    Shorey walks around the plant and talks safety one-on-one with the 312 employees regularly, often handing out small gifts. He has an open-door policy and involves employees in every step of each safety process, says Harris. When it’s time for incentives, he hands each one out personally. For every quarter without an OSHA recordable, the plant treats all employees to lunch.

  • At the request of both competitors and other Georgia-Pacific plants, Gloster gives walk-through tours and two-day educational sessions. Roundtable discussions center on such topics as management commitment and recordkeeping. Visitors see what it takes -dedicated employees working safely with the support of management.

    The plant enjoys sharing its safety know-how. This kind of outreach helps sharpen its own efforts. Input and discussion on the program point out possible problems and motivates everyone involved.

  • Outreach has a way of breaking down barriers, like those between competitors. A Mississippi OSHA area director and one of Gloster’s competitors, Potlach, nominated the plant for the VPP outreach award after touring the facility.

    All this is a motivational tonic. It encourages everyone at the plant to reach for higher and higher safety goals, says Harris.

  • Shorey and Harris both say the VPP is critical to defining the reasons for Gloster’s recent safety success. The program has an organizing effect, and it provides a real sense of focus. The VPP also forms a bridge, what Gloster officials call a positive, triangular relationship between government, labor, and management.