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Safety Pays at Pallet Manufacturing Plant Operated by Sheltered Workshop
Mid-Valley Wood Products Eyes 12 Years Without Time Loss Accident
By Donna Gordon Blankinship
Date Posted: 4/1/2005
But the manager of the sheltered workshop, which is part of Mid-Valley Rehabilitation, says that the pallet manufacturing facility has another secret weapon: neatness.
“We have been told by many people, including OSHA and fire inspectors, that we have the cleanest shop they have ever seen,” said Teddi Beard. “Not only do we insist that people take the time to keep work areas clean on a regular basis, but everyone looks out for hazards -- such as old banding on the ground, oil spills from the forklifts, tripping hazards, and so on -- and will actually take care of the problem without having to be asked.”
Teddi remembers an incident that could have turned into an accident, but didn’t, thanks to the care and consideration of an employee. He noticed an oil spill on the floor as he was on the way to his job station. Instead of ignoring the spill, the employee made a detour to the saw area, grabbed a handful of sawdust, returned to the site of the spill and sprinkled the sawdust on it before heading to his workstation.
Mid-Valley Wood Products hopes to celebrate 12 years without a time loss accident in August. In 2000, the National Safety Council gave the organization a first place award for improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities.
SAIF Corp., an
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports an average of six injuries a year causing lost work time for every 100 workers. According to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, Mid-Valley’s worker’s compensation rate reflects an accident rate that is 31% below the industry average.
The mission of Mid-Valley Wood Products is two-fold: to provide training for people with disabilities while also providing customers with quality products built to their specifications with on-time delivery. Word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers has kept Mid-Valley so busy it has done little marketing or direct selling for years. In fact, the company has not had a
The entire organization was founded in 1966 by family members of people with disabilities. Mid-Valley Rehabilitation has numerous operations and enterprises. For example, a transportation division gets disabled people to and from work and activities, and a residential division provides housing and support for those living independently. While some divisions, such as janitorial services and packaging assembly, at least break even, the organization depends on the wood products division to make a profit in order to financially support the other operations.
The wood products workshop was started in 1967 in a small building with five trainees and was open one day a week. It moved several times over the years until finding a home in its current 20,000-square-foot building in 1975.
The organization manufactures new pallets, which make up 80% of its business, and bins; Mid-Valley is not engaged in any pallet recycling operations. Mid-Valley produces an average of 26,000 pallets per month. Production in 2004 was 246,499 pallets and 2,387 bins.
It sells some scrap wood for firewood, and sawdust is sold to a local farmer. The company also participates in other money-making efforts to recycle wood scrap material.
Mid-Valley has more than 100 customers, and many of them have been doing business with the organization for more than 30 years. Most customers are within a 50-mile radius, mainly serving the
Mid-Valley uses mainly green Douglas fir and hemlock. The company also uses some treated lumber for customers who ship products to export markets.
Mid-Valley buys mainly economy grade 2x4 and 2x6, and some 3x4 and 4x4 and random length cants up to 24 feet long. It buys from mills in
Mid-Valley is equipped with a Producto resaw with 20-inch infeed conveyor for resawing material. It also has five Precision Products chop saws (Model 18M) for cutting material to length. The company recently invested in a Baker Products double-head notching machine for forming notched stringers; the notching machine uses Econotool cutting tools.
The company selected its particular machines for efficiency by reducing down-time for maintenance and repairs and also for safety, said Teddi. None of the equipment has been modified in any way.
Mid-Valley uses Stanley-Bostitch power nailing tools and collated nails. Workers are trained very carefully in the correct way to use power nailing tools -- and very often -- to keep them working safely, Teddi said.
The majority of production workers have developmental disabilities, such as mental retardation, autism, or severe seizure disorders. Other disabilities represented deafness, Down’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperkinetic disorder, traumatic brain injury and schizoid personality.
Some developmentally disabled employees may have the IQ of a 4-year-old, and some arrive at the workshop behaving as a 4-year-old, too. “It’s amazing how much they can learn given the opportunity,” Teddi said. She attributes the company’s success to the strong sense of teamwork and dedication to both employees and customers.
Mid-Valley manufactures a wide variety of pallet sizes and footprints. “No two customers have the same specifications for their pallets,” said Teddi. Pallets range in size from 16 inches by 24 inches to 8 feet by 12 feet.
The most unusual project it completed was an order of crates to ship helicopter components to
Every team member must be dedicated to the Mid-Valley safety philosophy – both disabled and not — in order for the company to achieve its success in
“If they see a staff person walking around without their safety glasses or they see a staff person walking on a pallet, they speak up and tell them,” said Teddi. “Everybody kind of watches over to see that our work family stays safe.”
Mid-Valley’s board of directors established a safety bonus program that extends to every member of the staff. The wood products division took it one step further and came up with its own safety bonus for temporary production workers. “Money talks,” said Teddi. Temporary employees can earn up to $3 extra per day per day for a safe work day with no accidents.
(The actual bonus is $1.50 per day for every day a worker does not have an injury that requires more than first aid; another $1.50 per day is added to the bonus if no one in the division has an accident that requires more than first aid for that quarter.)
The company’s savings in worker’s compensation insurance premiums more than make up for the extra cost of paying safety bonuses. For example, during the 2001-2002 fiscal year, Mid-Valley saved $6,000 on worker’s compensation premiums and paid out $5,100 in safety bonuses.
A ‘wall of safety’ in the lunchroom continues the cheerleading atmosphere. It features OSHA awards and letters from the past two presidential first ladies. When you walk into the main plant, the first thing you would notice is a big safety banner from SAIF Corp. Mid-Valley holds regular special events to promote and recognize safety, such as a barbecue or pizza lunch. Company t-shirts, hats and jackets have been given out as rewards for meeting goals and safety performance. Other reward celebrations include closing the plant for a day to take everyone for a trip to the coast or other recreational activities.
As important as safety is, however, some people may care little about it. One of the company’s main forklift operators came very close once to knocking a storage rack full of pallet assembly jigs onto another worker. “He just sort of shrugged it off,” Teddi recalled. She took him off forklift duty for a while, and then the individual quit. “Anybody who doesn’t buy into (our safety campaign) has no business working here,” she said.
If someone who is less than enthusiastic about the company’s safety rules makes it through their careful hiring process, they are quickly weeded out, according to Teddi. This policy usually applies to people who are not disabled, she indicated; disabled employees normally have a strong interest in being a good employee and abiding by safety rules.
“The main reason we’re here is the clients, the people,” said Teddi. “The pallet business is secondary, but if it weren’t for the pallets, we wouldn’t be able to help the people. The fact that we can do all that and give our customers great service and quality products makes it even better.”