In this issue, we profile the three winners ofISHN’s “Safety That Soars” awards competition. But in reviewing all the entries it became clear many, many “winning” safety and health programs are thriving across the nation.

As you know, there is no template, no OSHA standard, no canned, off-the-shelf, ready-to-go methodology for how one goes about creating workplace safety and health processes to protect employees and property, as well as company credibility and trust.

So it’s left to the inventiveness of individuals and the resources and decisions of organizations. This leads to a good news-bad news situation. The good news: businesses with a commitment to superior safety and health performance from top managers on down, and infused with talented, creative and technically sound safety and health specialists, develop sound, unique, innovative processes.

The bad news: Companies lacking that sort of commitment and talent have no rudimentary framework to build upon. That’s why a number of safety experts are still calling on OSHA to issue a basic safety and health program standard. So across the U.S. we have 8.9 million worksites employing 139 million workers — some have great safety and health processes; some have none.

The following entrants inISHN’s “Safety That Soars” competition are representatives of the “good news” story: they use the freedom and flexibility that exists when creating safety and health processes (aside from OSHA’s specific standards) to produce some truly original problem-solving strategies.

Piggybacking on lean manufacturing

Linda Brinson, safety and wellness director for Draper, Inc., Spiceland, Ind., was challenged by “multiple organizational layers to gain buy-in, which takes a great deal of time. This requires discipline and strong follow-up to ensure things are accomplished in a timely manner,” she wrote in her entry.

Her 500-employee site practices lean manufacturing, and Linda realized she could “piggyback” on lean practices in order to change the safety culture.

“We have safety events modeled after the lean events. In these events, we schedule five employees (mostly safety members) to work the entire 40-hour week on a safety issue. Last year alone we had three events: material handling/storage, emergency preparedness and MSDS/hazcom. This enables us to accomplish a great deal and create a safer and more compliant work environment,” she said.

Another initiative you won’t find in the OSHA rulebook: “Though we have performed specific training and machine guarding, saws continue to be one of our biggest problem areas. Due to this, I implemented a “Saw Certification Program” which requires all saw operators to attend the training and be certified before operating saws.”

Fathead safety

“The first thought in most everyone’s mind when they hear the word ‘foundry’ is dark, dirty and dangerous,” wrote Chip Krusen in his entry. Chip is stockroom supervisor for Hitachi Metals Automotive Components USA – Lawrenceville Plant, Lawrenceville, Pa.

“We have had to change the mindset that ‘this is a foundry and people are going to get hurt,’” he said. “Through our safety initiatives our culture has become one where an employee expects to be safe and expects the employees around them to be safe.”

This has been achieved despite the foundry’s 250 employees confronting hazards such as molten iron scorching hotter than 2800°F, repetitive handling of heavy castings, silica exposures, overhead cranes, blast machines, melt and holding furnaces, and presses.

In the past two-plus years, the foundry has lowered its OSHA recordable injuries from 48 in 2004, 32 in 2005, 16 in 2006, and 15 in 2007, Krusen reported. “No other single accomplishment can be more important than less people being injured, and this is what we are most proud of,” he said.

How’d they do it?

“I believe our most innovative initiative has been our safety awareness program. We have developed some unique ways of getting the safety message out. Some examples: We have four 42-inch plasma screens in strategic areas that play continuously rotating, area-specific safety presentations. We use Plexiglas displays over the urinals for safety related reading. We utilize Fathead celebrity posters (life-size cut-outs) to show where on the body our injuries are occurring,” Chip said.

Breaking the attitude barrier

Changing safety attitudes and creating an accident-free culture were the most difficult barriers challenging Interplastic Corporation’s Thermoset Resins Division plant in Fort Wright, Ky., wrote Mike Flannery, the plant’s health, safety, environment, and quality manager, in his entry,

In 2006, the corporation developed a health and safety “Vision” with measurable goals to create an injury free workplace.

“Our motto is, ‘Look out for yourself and your coworkers,’” said Mike. ”To reach our goals, the plant attacked the problems from several angles. We have improved training, improved housekeeping and organization (using 5S, employee recognition and lean management. techniques), and established employee ownership among the site’s 58 workers with employee-driven safety projects. To date, only 16 of 500+ employee-driven projects remain unfinished,” he said.

Behind the employee drive, top company management made a commitment to health and safety by developing health and safety goals and objectives and then meeting personally with all the employees to communicate and support the goals.

An emphasis on training, improvements through 5S and lean management tools, safety audits, employee recognition, stronger incident investigations, and continual feedback on performance facilitated breaking the attitude barrier, according to Mike.

Consider the working conditions this breakthrough was achieved in: the plant processes chemicals into polymers for use in plastic composites. Major hazards include safely handling more than 25 million pounds of flammables (styrene, methyl methacrylate and butyl acrylate) annually. Due to the flammability dangers, many of the processes are covered by OSHA’s process safety management standard.

Heat is also a risk factor — handling and processing materials in a 77-500°F range translates to a high potential for thermal burns. Other dangers: Pressure — safely pumping liquids in 0-120 psi range, and toxic exposures — safely handling small quantities of toxic materials such as hydroquinone, p-benzoquinone, and napthaquinone.

Inspiring a community

Out in Rosholt, South Dakota, the North Country Ethanol worksite and its 36 employees faced a problem familiar to many safety and health pros: How do you develop a comprehensive training program for all levels of employees that’s sufficient, concise, and available for all shifts?

“Operating 24/7 poses unique challenges to ensuring consistent and quality training to those employees not working a traditional 9-5 position,” wrote Erica Montefusco, environmental, health and safety manager, in her entry.

“We made accommodating their needs and schedule our first priority in developing our program. Once we did that, successful inclusion and accommodation of our other employees was much easier to accomplish,” said Erica.

North Country Ethanol recently implemented a fully electronic safety training program in which all training materials are available to employees 24 hours a day. Training consists of individual modules, power-point presentations, videos, electronic media demonstrations, and a newly developed on-line testing program for each training topic.

“During the last half of 2007, our employees successfully completed 153 training topics,” said Erica. “We also implemented a visitor safety orientation program including handouts, tour, and one-on-one time with management.”

On November 13, 2007, North Country Ethanol was proud to reach what Erica called “the incredible safety record of 1,000 days accident-free.” Not at all easy in a working environment involving large quantities of extremely hazardous substances and chemicals; confined spaces; icy weather; moving parts and conveyors; high-voltage electricity; ladders, stairs and walkways with potential for falls; truck traffic; noise; hot liquids; high-pressure steam; railroads; hot works; and the potential for dust explosions.

“This facility overcame a daunting history by putting safety first,” said Erica. “The sense of family and teamwork at this facility is an inspiration to the community as a whole.”

—Dave Johnson, Editor