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Safety Takes Leadership, Time
Safety Best Practices: Industry safety coordinators share what they have done to improve safety at their facilities.
By DeAnna Stephens Baker
Date Posted: 10/1/2013
Pallet and wood manufacturing facilities are considered one of the most dangerous places to work. And considering the machinery and equipment that are used in such facilities, few company leaders question the need for having safety policies in place. But policies alone cannot prevent accidents; it also takes effective practices to protect workers from harm and companies from costly compensation claims.
To find out what contributes to an effective safety program, the Pallet Enterprise spoke with safety representatives from several companies in the industry to discover how they have improved safety at their facilities.
Before starting any safety program, it is important to ensure that the company leaders support what is happening. Without their support, a program has little chance of succeeding.
“Unless you have leadership that is fully committed to it, it’s very difficult to have a solid safety program,” said Steven Redrick, president of Phoenix Wood Products, a pallet and crate manufacturer with locations in Ocala, Fla. and Ashburn, Ga.
Phoenix Wood Products should know because it is part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). Success in SHARP has only been possible due to a companywide commitment to safety from the top leadership all the way down to the lowest entry-level worker.
More than just talking about the importance of safety, this requires that leaders demonstrate that safety is one of their top priorities through their actions as well. This can be seen in how they respond when accidents and near-misses occur. Do you work to identify potential hazards and ensure that safety policies are implemented and followed? Or do you simply ignore the issue and move on?
Company owners, managers and other leaders are the ones that ultimately are responsible for creating a culture of safety at a facility. If they do not take ownership of a safety program and fully support it, those that follow them won’t either.
“You must have support beginning at the top level,” said Lynn Greene, the director of safety at Edwards Wood Products Inc. (EWPI), a pallet and lumber manufacturer and OSHA SHARP participant with several facilities in North Carolina. “It is easy to say ‘follow by example’ when it starts at the top.”
In addition to leaders’ support, effective safety programs also require an ongoing emphasis – both to see change happen and to maintain a safe work environment.
“It’s not something that you can just achieve and you’re there,” said Redrick. “It’s an everyday practice.”
Many companies have regular safety meetings – some daily – and are constantly looking for ways to improve safety. These businesses adjust policies to reflect new conditions and safety regulations.
“We are constantly reminding each and every employee of the importance of safety and the importance of reporting any unsafe activity,” said Joyce Sprouse, who manages the safety program at Dominion Pallet, a wooden pallet manufacturer in Mineral, Va. “To keep your employees safe you need to have them thinking safety at all times. We remind them that not only does an unsafe activity or injury hurt him, it also hurts the company and other employees.”
At Phoenix Wood Products, this is done by sharing any near-misses that occur between locations and addressing them at a safety meeting the next day while it is still fresh in everyone’s mind. The company also provides all managers with an iPhone that they use to take pictures of any hazard that they see to share on a large screen during the daily production meeting. Mid-Valley Wood Products in Amity, Ore., a division of Mid-Valley Rehabilitation, Inc., keeps a picture of one particularly frightening near-miss to remind workers of the importance of wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). It shows a nail that was embedded into a pair of safety glasses after the nail missed a board, ricocheted off a hammer on the table and hit the glasses, stopping less than an inch from reaching the wearer’s eye. These are all ways of helping everyone see the importance of safety policies that are in place and remembering to be aware of what is happening around them.
“One of the hardest parts of maintaining a safe work environment is keeping everyone focused,” said Greene.
At EWPI, a mix of rewards when there are no injuries and discipline for safety violations is part of the safety program. This includes a zero tolerance for lockout/tagout violations and drawing for monetary rewards each month that the company maintains zero lost-time injuries.
“We award thousands of dollars each year,” said Greene. “This combination, we feel, has been successful for EWPI.”
Because safety is an ongoing job, it is also important to not give up on a program just because it does not give fast results. Some companies make the mistake of trying a safety program and giving up on it in under a year when incident rates don’t quickly drop. They then switch to a new program, which can cause workers to see safety programs as nothing more than short-lived fads that no one really believes in.
“One big mistake I’ve seen in safety is people expecting a problem that has been growing over five or six decades to be solved in six months,” said Terry Evans, the safety manager at Boise Cascade, a manufacturer and distributor of engineered wood products, plywood, lumber, particleboard and building materials and an OSHA SHARP participant. “If you’re going to commit to changing culture and improving safety, then you have to be committed for the long-haul, and that’s a minimum three year commitment.”
If workers are not prepared to accept a new program, effectively implementing it will be difficult. This might be one of the most difficult parts of coordinating a safety program because it takes more than writing a list of rules. It takes understanding how the workers think and respecting them enough to find ways to give them ownership of the program and not just expecting them to fall in line.
“You have to be half diplomat, half psychologist, half counselor and half bouncer at times,” said Evans. “You have to be good at reading people. You can say the same concept in a dozen different ways and it just depends on how you say it as to whether people will accept it or not. You’ve got to be able to match your message to your audience.”
One of the most crucial elements of a successful safety program is the attitude of the workers. Mid-Valley Wood Products just celebrated 20 years without a time-loss accident, an accomplishment that manager Teddi Beard credits to the attitude of the workers.
“These guys continue to amaze me because they watch out for everybody,” said Beard. “It’s like they consider their team their work family. Everybody’s watching out for everybody else and watching for hazards and taking care of them when they see them.”
Boise Cascade’s safety program also includes an emphasis on attitude and personal behavior.
“An overriding principle is that each and every employee is responsible for ourselves when it comes to safety as well as the people around us,” said Evans. “In the wood products industry it’s not a difficult thing for people to look out for each other, but that is the key to changing safety in any industry, and it doesn’t happen near enough. You have to be able to show employees that it is a good thing to be reliant on the people around them rather than just being ‘one man is an island.’ It’s getting people to understand that the strength of a safety program lies in the ability of one person to care about the person next to him and to go out and do something about it.”
Evans said that Boise Cascade fosters a culture where workers are encouraged to approach others that are seen doing something unsafe and help them find a safer way to complete the task as well as giving positive reinforcement when someone is seen performing a task safely.
Even at a company that has workers dedicated to safety, new or temporary workers can be the weak spot of a safety program. Redrick said that at Phoenix Wood Products, it has found that most accidents happen with new employees. Similarly, Beard said that Mid-Valley Wood Products used to have a lot of safety issues with temporary production workers. In addition to covering all safety policies during a new employee’s orientation, Phoenix began pairing new employees with veteran workers to address this problem.
“Our goal is to put them with a veteran where they have an opportunity to get comfortable with their job,” said Redrick. “We let them work together and get a feel for what is going on. A new truck driver would ride with another driver for a week or a resaw operator would work side-by-side with an experienced veteran to learn what the job is and what the hazards of the operation are.”
Sometimes, thinking a little outside the box helps a company find safety solutions that work the best with their workers, facilities and processes. Creating safety teams is an approach used successfully by many companies. But Dominion Pallet found that safety teams were not the best approach for its workers. Instead of continuing a practice that did not work for its employees, Dominion Pallet tried something different.
“We tried on several occasions to create a safety committee, but for us we found it did not work,” said Sprouse. “We stress to every employee to report all unsafe working conditions that they are aware of in their area. This seems to work better for us.”
At Mid-Valley Wood Products, the standard industry machine guards were not sufficient to allow workers with some disabilities to safely operate the equipment. So foreman Bob Dodson designed special guards on various equipment to help protect the workers, including a thick Plexiglas guard for the drill press that made it possible for even a blind person to operate the drill without being in danger of getting their hand anywhere near the drill.
Another creative solution that helped Mid-Valley Wood Products reach 20 years without a time-loss accident was temporarily reassigning workers that had small injuries to jobs that could be done one-handed while sitting down. They had previously paid to have archived files shredded, but now offer that job as one of the possible temporary jobs for workers that cannot operate machinery.
Putting together an effective safety program requires time, experience and knowledge. All companies that reach a high level of safety do so by drawing on resources available to them. Resources available through OSHA and the SHARP program are obvious places to start. Although an OSHA inspection can be a nerve-wracking experience, any company that ever experiences one should take the opportunity to see what can be learned about improving safety.
“OSHA is a valuable resource,” said Sprouse. “I have learned a lot from OSHA, they have helped with the writing of our safety program and they have helped us create a safe working environment. My advice to everyone, if OSHA walks through your door, don’t dread their visit, instead, use their visit as a learning experience.”
OSHA’s website, http://www.osha.gov, also includes all applicable regulations, safety training materials, consultation contact information and other helpful resources. But other, less unnerving, resources are also available to companies. The National Wooden Pallet & Container Association offers a good safety program and consulting process to its members. For more information, visit http://palletcentral.com/management/safety
Talking with independent safety consultants, insurance inspectors and other industry companies can be effective resources to find successful ways of improving safety and protecting workers.