Ashland Specialty employees receive VPP plaqueAshland Specialty Ingredients received a flag to be flown at the plant and a plaque Aug. 15 that acknowledges the star rating achieved in the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program.

The Parlin, New Jersey plant, formerly Hercules Inc., received its star rating, the highest mark offered by the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), on June 22. According to Ana Martin, the environmental, health and safety manager at Ashland, the plant has gone over 900 days without a reportable injury, a lengthy streak and a notable achievement in the industry. This streak, coupled with a workplace commitment to health and safety, earned Ashland the rating that only 5 to 10 percent of companies recognized by the VPP receive.

“The record of the VPP is clear,” Patricia Jones, director of OSHA’s Avenel-area office, said. “Participants at VPP worksites have injury and illness rates far below the average for the industry. At the same time, VPP helps reduce cost and makes worksites more efficient, productive and competitive.”

The application process involved an extensive questionnaire that notified OSHA of all aspects of health and safety at Ashland. In turn, Martin explained, OSHA sent representatives to conduct a weeklong inspection that involved touring the facility, documentation and speaking to employees and union representatives.

“They strived and worked hard to earn star level,” Jones said. “Their management’s commitment, employee involvement, and union involvement in workplace safety and health is taking it above and beyond the OSHA’s standard requirements.”

The evaluation process has been a lengthy one — the company previously held merit status, a lower level of recognition from the VPP, in 2008. The company made changes and improvements as recommended by the OSHA in order to attain a star rating. As a result, Ashland’s company safety program is lengthy and detailed, including preventative measures and emergency management protocol. Martin identified several features that helped Ashland earn the prestigious mark, including extensive employee involvement, management’s commitment to 100 percent compliance, detailed employee training, and a strong equipment maintenance record.

“Part of excelling in health and safety is to have each person in the facility working towards that goal,” Martin said. “Our safety commitment can’t just be on paper.”

One procedure of note is the “lock out tag out” protocol, which provides instructions for emergency equipment shutdown that are so detailed anyone can follow them to turn off machinery.

“You can get off the street, and I can give you a procedure with pictures so you can shut down a machine, with 60 to 70 steps to follow,” Martin said. “It is so detailed that anyone can do it.”

Ashland also incorporated behavior based safety observation in order to attempt to stop injuries before they occur. This observation involves an employee observing co-workers and identifying which actions were performed correctly or incorrectly in an attempt to perfect employee performance.

Paul Tuck, plant manager, expressed gratitude for OSHA’s oversight and each of the 75 plant employees who “chose every day to work safely.”

“This has been a great program because this has brought great ideas to us to help us be safe,” Tuck said. “Being in the program is a commitment to work safely every day, to use our heads on every job and approach every job safely, recognize hazards, and keep from getting people hurt. It’s a commitment to yourself, your families, and to the wider world here.”