Letters From The Earth

Worker safety

March 3, 2006

Letters from the Earth is a rather ubiquitous column. It allows the author plenty of liberal editorializing. While topics are or should be generally "green", the column can engage readers in any area of environment or health or safety. Or, at least, so the author presumes.

To that end, I thought I would focus the first 2006 column on safety in our workplace. I wonder how many of you consider safety and health major focus points in your plant. When you develop your short term and long term objectives, is safety part of that plan? I must admit that until several years ago I was derelict in this regard. I didn't know what DART rate meant, and anything to do with OSHA smacked of government intervention. I had buried my head in the sand and ignored the fact that safety and health play a major role in contributing to a company's success and profitability.

In our business I have witnessed the dilemma many converters face when cleaning nip points on presses. The press manufacturer zealously guards areas from hands and fingers and eyes with covers. They don't want lawsuits. Operators, rated on efficiencies and productivity, remove the guards so they can clean more quickly. The covers are impractical and create unwanted down time. The dilemma: the OEM will not sell a press without guards. The converter, on the other hand, removes the guards because they are impractical and inefficient. There's a disconnect here, it seems to me.

Which is more important, operator safety or profitability? Shades here of my question in an earlier column: Which is more important, profitability or good environmental practices? What are the focal points of safety? What is DART? How can we develop an effective safety system in our businesses? Finally, what suggestions should be considered to solve the issue of guards on presses?

The road to OSHA and beyond

I recently read a column by Pamela Cordier in Pulp and Paper magazine. Cordier is the executive director of the Pulp and Paper Safety Association. She reflects on the different approaches to safety and interpretations of compliance issues in the US. One would think that regulation and compliance would be pretty simple. Well, there's nothing further from the truth. Manufacturers interpret rules and regulations differently. Second, many of the standards were compiled before 1970 when the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created by, of all people, President Richard Nixon. Much of the information that was used to create those standards was pre-1970. Therefore, US standards today are 30 or even 40 years old. No wonder there is room for misinterpretation.

An example, so apropos to our business, is the OSHA standard that an "in-running nip point within reach of workers needs to be guarded." The standards, however, don't tell you what kind of guard. The guard could be round, square, metal, composite, and so on. But, what does matter, is that if there is a guard on one machine, but not on another with a similar hazard, you are out of compliance.

The industrial safety movement began in the United States when 100 workers were killed at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911. After that, in the 1940s and '50s, safety was encouraged in manufacturing and a "safety cop" would patrol plants encouraging employees to follow better rules. This went on until the '70s, when OSHA was established. To be sure, the 1960s saw the creation of safety committees, but they didn't have a lot of authority and support from senior management. In the 1980s, "self-directed work groups and safety circles" were formed. This encouraged line workers to get more involved. By the 1990s we had what became known as "behavior based safety", which eventually led to the acknowledgment of safety as a major contributor to satisfaction in the work place, efficiency, and profitability.

DART rate

Was I alone in the late '90s not knowing what DART meant? Maybe I'll find out from some of you. In the meantime, DART stands for "days away, restricted, transferred." It's a way to measure lost time accidents or down time and was established by OSHA. DART rate is figured this way: the total number of injuries multiplied by 200,000 divided by the number of hours worked by all employees. The 200,000 figure in the formula represents the number of hours that 100 employees will work if they put in 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year; it is the standard formula that is used by OSHA.

Below is a chart of a company that had a significant problem and did something about it. A safety team was formed led by line staff and supported by management. Excellent. Let's hope they are at that 5.33 level in 2006.

One last comment on DART: the higher your DART rate, the higher your worker's compensation rate. Poor safety records cost money because of higher worker's compensation, down and lost time, higher insurance rates, and (not the least) employee morale.

The team rules

Over the years I've noticed that companies that empower their line employees have the most effective safety records. Management must not only endorse safety but give employees the authority to make change. Employee involvement is critical. David Coble, president of Coble, Taylor, and Jones Safety Associates, believes that safety begins with a central committee, run by supervisors and line staff. If this group develops protocols such as seat belts for forklift operators, safety glasses, and the like, the procedures are from the workplace and by the workforce. The entire team is part of the regulatory process. They don't just follow the rules, they create the rules. Morale, esprit de corp, make for effective safety.

Finally, I mentioned the dilemma that our industry has with "guarding". Every one of the major press manufacturers recognizes the incongruity of safety guards. They know that an operator will remove the guard, or guards, to have access to cleaning nip points and plates. Their position is quite simple: We supply presses that are not only efficient but safe. We will not supply a press that is not properly guarded. If the printer removes the guard the element of safety is eliminated and we are not responsible.

During a meeting I attended in October, both press manufacturers and printers acknowledged the issue. There was one suggestion that came out of this meeting that warrants consideration: Take the issue to employees who work with these presses. Ask them to develop ideas that will embrace both the OEM and the converter. Create a contest and submit ideas that address the issue of guarding with a cash award for the best, most realistic and logical solution.

I like this. The award doesn't have to be much. It is the idea of asking our employees for help and ideas to solve a major problem that both OEM and the converter face. There is probably no better direction to a solution than going to the operator who works with these machines every day. I hope the group that attended the meeting will consider this approach.

In conclusion, and reverting to the trilogy of topics under the by-line "Letters from the Earth," I wanted to make you all aware of an interesting theory regarding the source of carbon dioxide emissions: US Senator Joseph Biden. According to Peter Fehrenbach, associate editor of Waste News, "Scientists surmise that the Delaware Democrat's incessant yammering during the confirmation hearing for US Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito produced levels of carbon dioxide that could prove harmful to many of the earth's species."

And so, another "Letter from the Earth".

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group (CRG), headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His e-mail address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.