Shamrock Foods is one of the largest food distributors in the United States. Based in Phoenix, Ariz., the company operates the largest dairy in the Southwest using milk produced by its own herd.

With its almost paternal regard for its associates, safety has always been a big concern at Shamrock Foods. To meet and exceed government standards for the dairy industry, a totally sterile environment must be maintained and many chemicals are used in the sanitation process.

In addition, almost half of the workers are bi-lingual. So the company needed good signage that was easy to understand using symbols.

Based on these and other considerations, Shamrock Foods management made a decision to develop an intuitive workplace that would — through improved safety signage — visually identify processes and expectations resulting in improved workplace safety.

The principles of 5S

The company prides itself on developing meaningful safety signage from the front door of a facility to its back dock that is in keeping with the principles of 5S:

1) Sort: Keep only what is necessary and discard everything else.

2) Set in Order: Arrange and label only necessary items for easy use and return by anyone.

3) Shine: Keep everything swept and clean for inspection for safety and preventive maintenance of equipment.

4) Standardize: The state that exists when the first three pillars or “S’s” are followed.

5) Sustain: Make a habit of properly maintaining correct procedures.


Solution: Sanitation with 5S shadow boards

“Our challenge each day is to maintain a sterile environment in the dairy,” said Jeff Horak, production manager of Shamrock Farms Dairy Division. “We absolutely can’t co-mingle raw and pasteurized products.”

Brushes and cleaning supplies also must be separated between sterile and non-sterile work areas. Horak improved the traditional 5S board by posting 3D images of each tool on the boards.

 “When I looked at the boards, I said ‘Why isn’t this a 3D image instead of an outline for the tools on the boards?’” said Horak.

“The 3D boards created for us give a sense of professionalism to the boards. Pictures are much better than outlines,” Horak continued. We know right away if something is in place or out of place. We pride ourselves on being tour ready at all times! Everything has a place and should be in its place.”

Some of the tools used on the boards required Horak to develop a unique anchor system so they wouldn’t fall down and break. He also mounted several of the boards on wheeled carts so they could be even closer to the workers using them.

Solution: Personalized sanitation fogging signs

Many areas in a dairy are sensitive to microbe issues. To kill all the airborne bacteria, the company does regularly scheduled foggings that gets into all the cracks and crevices.

“There’s no danger to our animals because they aren’t on site,” Horak said. “But we wanted to be sure our associates were aware whenever a fogging was to take place.”

Working with a safety sign manufacturer, the company developed a CAUTION: FOGGING IN PROGRESS sign that features black type on a bright yellow background. Another change was to the company’s logo. The logo is included on all the safety signs, but this one features Roxie the Cow wearing a respirator to really drive home the potential danger.

“Why is Roxie wearing a respirator?” Horak continued. “In addition to personalizing this sign, we wanted to do something that would make readers stop and take that extra second to pay attention to it.”

Solution: Sanitation on the receiving bay

The quality Shamrock Farms’ product begins when the milk is loaded into tankers for delivery to the company’s dairy processing plant. To simplify the sanitation process, when the milk is being unloaded, the company’s Quality Control department developed a Raw Receiving Padlocks 5S board.

The board features a large corporate logo to remind workers to be proud of their brand. In addition, 27 numbered hooks are on the board.

“The hooks hold the keys for the tankers,” Horak said. “After the numbered tankers are filled with milk at the farms and everything is signed off as sanitary, the trailers are locked and the keys are given to Quality Control who doesn’t release them until after they take samples at the plant to be sure nothing has happened to the milk in transit.

“This prevents a tanker being backed in accidently that is not quality controlled. It has really simplified our quality control process at the docks.”

Solution: Sanitation in the plant

Almost every plant has some kind of sign recognizing safe operations with a “Days without an Accident” sign. Shamrock Farms personalized this sign by taking a large photograph of several of its dairy farm cows, superimposing the digital days without an accident clock on it and headlining it, “Safety Keeps Us Moooving.” The sign serves as a constant reminder of the importance
of safety to everyone.

Solution: Safety signs that communicate in any language

Since more than 40 percent of Shamrock Farms associates are bi-lingual, the company wanted its safety signs to use images instead of words to communicate what those working in the plant needed to wear to stay safe. They also wanted it to be very obvious.

“It’s very important that our associates have all the equipment they need before they go into our work areas, especially before they go into the chemical work stations,” Horak said. “We developed two signs to solve the problem.”

The first sign for a potentially unsafe area of the plant uses a large image of Roxie the Cow to illustrate the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that must be used. A line leading from her ear shows the kinds of hearing protection necessary. Another line leads from her eye to the different types of eye protection that can be used. A third line ends by showing the kind of body protection required, while a fourth line from her foot leads to illustrations of the kinds of boots needed. The caring nature of the company is brought out with “Safety is a Family Value” headline along the bottom of the sign.

“The second sign near our chemical work stations takes our cow board to next level,” Horak said. “Associates can take the equipment they need right off our posted board to use. Once removed, a picture of the equipment missing is visible along with its name and the code needed to replace it.”

Results: No chemical-related incidents

“Replacing the standard signs with these new ones has been great for our bi-lingual work force. The clever use of Roxie on the signs has been great for morale,” Horak continued.

“The results have been excellent as well. Clearly the 5S boards have had an impact. Our people are more economical and more careful. We have monetary safety rewards each quarter for our associates who perform well and these signs are helping us to give out more rewards.

“This safety signage program shows that we are at a different level now in our company regarding safety,” Horak continued. “We are in control of our destiny. We want to look beyond the traditional ways used in safety for our industry.”