Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, on the verge of beginning commercial production of its Sonata sedan, has signed a deal with OSHA and other groups, committing itself to high standards of workplace safety in its new Montgomery plant, according to the Montgomery Advisor. Sixteen of Hyundai's tier-one suppliers with plants in Alabama also signed the agreement.

The pact announced April 1 is part of a program launched by OSHA in 1998 to bring government and industry together to create safer and healthier workplaces.

Last year, there were 263 workplace fatalities in OSHA's eight-state southeastern region, according to Teresa Harrison, deputy regional administrator for OSHA in Atlanta. The agency hopes to bring that number down by working closely with companies to develop stronger workplace health and safety programs.

As part of the new deal, each manufacturer must develop a written safety and health program and minimize workplace hazards. Hyundai and its suppliers will work with Alabama Industrial Development Training, another partner in the agreement, to provide safety training to plant workers.

AIDT, part of the state's two-year college system, provides recruitment and training for manufacturing jobs in Alabama.

Partner companies also will receive assistance from the Safe State Occupational Safety and Health Consultation Program, a University of Alabama program that helps companies assess and resolve workplace health and safety issues.

According to the deal, partner companies that maintain high safety standards will qualify for benefits, including exemption from programmed OSHA inspections, as well as penalty reductions.