There's no stopping the pursuit of safety at ADM Mechanical, the winner of FMA's 2012 Rusty Demeules Award for Safety Excellence
August 3, 2012
Going almost 11 years with only one injury isn't luck. That fabricating operation has taken steps to ensure that safety is considered before anyone undertakes a task on the shop floor. This is how ADM Mechanical, Decatur, Ill., created that environment.
The stop light in the parking lot of ADM Mechanical, Decatur, Ill., has been green for more than three years. Employees go forward knowing that all is safe at work.
But before you start wondering how a one-color traffic light can keep people safe, you need to realize that this light is used for communication, not providing driving instructions. When the light is green, people pulling into the parking lot know that all 68 employees who work for ADM Mechanical went home safely the day before. When the light is yellow, employees realize that a possible injury—a “near-miss” is the official terminology—almost occurred. A red light indicates that a recordable accident has occurred. The stop light works like it’s designed to: People stop, wanting to know what happened.
Employees haven’t had to worry about a red light in the parking lot or on the two similar lights inside the facility for a long time. They have gone three years without a recordable injury, as prescribed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or a lost workday.
“That is a remarkable streak considering the large items that we fabricate and handle here,” said Martin Redshaw, ADM Mechanical’s plant manager.
ADM Mechanical is a full-scale fabricating and machine shop dedicated to producing equipment for Archer Daniels Midlands’ (ADM) agricultural processing plants. It provides equipment for ADM’s processing plants in North America, South America, and occasionally some overseas. The core business is structured around manufacturing and rebuilding heat exchangers, evaporators, reactors, tanks, and high-pressure pipe fabrications. The facility also repairs gearboxes, centrifuges, and pumps. Even though it’s a “captive” shop with one main customer, ADM Mechanical is a functioning job shop, offering engineering and design services, tackling complex fabrications, working on challenging repair jobs, and battling tight turnaround times on projects.
Like any fabricating shop, potential safety hazards are at almost every turn. Running equipment requires engaged operators. The fabrications typically are huge, with some as heavy as 200,000 lbs., so material handling has to be done very carefully. Welding produces fumes and sparks that can hurt workers without the proper personal protective equipment. Rigging this large equipment requires planning and careful attention to detail.
Yet ADM Mechanical has maintained a stellar safety record over the years, which helped it garner two Safety Awards of Honor from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) in 2009 and 2010. Based on that track record, another injury-free year in 2011, and the company’s commitment to maintaining a safe work environment, FMA named ADM Mechanical as its first winner of the Rusty Demeules Award for Safety Excellence. (For more information on the award, see The Name Behind the Safety Award sidebar.)
Safety isn’t a concern only for ADM Mechanical, but also for the entire $80 billion company. With 30,000 employees all over the world, that’s a big initiative.
Bruce Nielsen, the facility superintendent, said that companywide concern is evident in the phrases “Zero is possible” and “Know it. See it. Do it,” which have been the philosophy to build up safety awareness in ADM facilities. Employees are given the knowledge to recognize potential safety hazards and empowered to make necessary changes to keep everyone safe.
“One of the greatest things that I’ve seen in our facility is that our colleagues here are not afraid to take action,” Nielsen said. “What I mean by that is they have been trained very thoroughly and they put that training to work. So if they see something that they feel is in any way unsafe, they step up.”
That “safety-first” indoctrination takes place on the very first day new hires walk into the facility. From the very beginning, they are encouraged to be a part of committees and inspection teams. Later they are given the proper training on what to look for during safety inspections and how to complete safety audits.
Ultimately, the employees become involved in all aspects of the safety process: investigating near-misses and accidents if they should occur; publicizing safety activities throughout the plant; recognizing safety achievements through such events as luncheons; reviewing audits; and writing and updating policies and procedures. Their buy-in is evident, according to Nielsen, when you consider that 90 percent of the hourly workforce drives the many inspections and meetings.
“Safety evolves daily. It’s an evolution that you can just continue to improve upon,” Nielsen said. “If you have committed individuals, the growth never stops.”
The safety reminders don’t end after the first day on the job. Actually, every day begins with the reminders.
These “toolbox” meetings, which begin at the start of the first shift at 6 a.m., include a discussion of a safety-related topic, whether it’s an OSHA-inspired reminder or a simple observation that someone made on the shop floor the previous day. If anyone has an issue to discuss or a story to share, they can speak up. Afterward, a review of what was discussed is conducted to reinforce the most important points.
“That’s very effective. It gets everyone to think about safety as they start the day,” said Steven Lehning, safety and environmental coordinator, ADM Mechanical.
But before everyone heads to their stations, they are also asked to participate in “dynamic stretching.” These are stretching exercises intended to get everyone loosened up for the day. The exercises, typically led by the safety manager, last about five minutes.
After the discussions and stretching, which last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, everyone heads off to start the day. If ADM Mechanical is running a second shift, a similar toolbox discussion and stretching session take place prior to everyone going to work.
But before an employee can begin any tasks, he or she has to fill out a job hazard analysis (JHA). The employee takes a look at the job task and identifies the top 10 to 15 hazards associated with performing the assigned duty. If the employee can’t remedy the potential safety hazard, he or she approaches the lead man to discuss an alternative means to do the job.
In many instances, regularly occurring safety audits have identified the correct way to tackle a job task or standard operating procedures define the correct—and safe—steps to take. Yet employees still are asked to fill out the JHA checklist to get their mind focused on a potentially dangerous job.
The JHAs are then turned in to a lead man for review. When completed, they are handed to Lehning for further scrutiny.
“I’m looking for inconsistencies, but also to see that the lead man’s signature is on them and he has reviewed them, if we have had a similar task in the past, if people are finding the same hazards, and if they feel the same hazards are out there,” Lehning said.
Redshaw said three separate types of safety “personal contacts and observations” are used to maintain safety awareness on the shop floor.
The most informal of these is a safety observation report (SOR). Redshaw said this could entail a personal contact with a co-worker inside the ADM Mechanical facility or someone outside the building—at home, in the neighborhood, at a store, or wherever. If employees observe an action that stands out as an incident to be remembered because the person took steps to be safe or, on the other hand, showed unsafe behavior, they are to make a “contact,” where they offer praise or constructive criticism to the person that was observed. Often these SORs become fodder for the toolbox discussions at the beginning of every shift.
Another type of contact is a job cycle check (JCC), which is an observation of an employee performing a particular task. The JCC group consists of two or more people using a standard operating procedure (SOP) as the basis for observation because it provides a description as to how the task is to be done in regards to procedure, safety, and quality. The employee is observed doing the task and then spoken with about how his actions compared to the SOP. The engagement from co-workers is considered to be a motivator for the observed employee to be more cognizant of how the job can be carried out in the safest manner possible.
The final observation or contact is much more formal. This is called value-based safety (VBS). An employee is notified that an observation focusing on his current task is about to take place at his workstation. Soon afterward, one hourly or salary co-worker begins an observation in which detailed note-taking occurs. At the end of the observation period, the parties meet to discuss questionable and successful actions. The discussion doesn’t end there, however, as these formal observations also generate topics for the morning toolbox talks.
All of these efforts have resulted in what is now an award-winning safety record for ADM Mechanical. But at the end of the day, the ultimate reward is keeping people injury-free so that their families don’t have to worry. In a way, however, it keeps the families safer too.
“They don’t take their safety and leave it at the door. They take it home. They live it 365 days,” Nielsen said.
As with any project, a champion—that one person who spearheads the effort and guides the action until the ultimate goal is achieved—is integral. The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association’s Award for Safety Excellence is named for its safety champion—Rusty Demeules.
Demeules was the guiding force behind the association’s push to heighten awareness of safety in the metal fabricating industry. Not only did Demeules serve on the FMA board of directors from 1983 to 1989, he also served as president of the FMA/CNA Safety Committee from its inception in 1989 until 1996. While heading the committee, he helped to develop the FMA-sponsored insurance program, which is tailored for metal fabricators and tool- and diemakers.