July 21, 2014
A consultant told the management of McAlpin Industries, Rochester, N.Y., that it was only a matter of time before the metal fabricator suffered a major safety incident. That spurred the shop to take steps to create a safety-first environment. Today, McAlpin Industries has been recognized with one of the top safety awards in manufacturing: the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association’s Rusty Demeules Award for Safety Excellence.
McAlpin Industries, Rochester, N.Y., has gone from a company that was fortunate it didn’t have a lot of worker injuries to one that is determining its own future as it relates to worker safety.
Back in 2004 the metal fabrication shop’s management team was continuing to look for ways to reduce expenses related to injuries and illness. Mike McAlpin, one of the company’s second-generation owners, together with his management team decided to hire a safety consultant.
As part of his review, the consultant took a long look at every manufacturing department within the business and interviewed key personnel. Thirty days later, the consultant delivered his report. McAlpin called it a “wake-up call.”
The consultant’s report inspired the company to move forward and take to heart the simple comments and recommendations cited. From that point on, McAlpin Industries was determined to establish a more safety-conscious work environment, the start of a companywide cultural shift.
Over the course of many years, the results have paid off in a large way.
McAlpin Industries is the proud 2014 winner of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association’s Rusty Demeules Award for Safety Excellence.
One of the tools that the consultant used 10 years ago to gauge the safety awareness of McAlpin Industries employees was a simple attitudinal survey. The survey asked people for their anonymous input on subjects covering management’s commitment to safety, safety practices, and training opportunities. A baseline was established. That same tool is used today.
The survey is an integral tool because it provides management with a picture of what the company’s 150 employees think about its safety efforts. The management team takes the input very seriously, relying on the data and feedback to make changes and improvements aimed at increasing employee safety awareness.
“If we don’t provide the right resources and hire the right people, it’s not going to happen. You aren’t going to see a strategically safer workplace,” McAlpin said. “You might get lucky year after year, but sooner or later something is going to happen.”
One of the key investments the metal fabricator made early on was hiring a full-time safety manager, more specifically, a health, safety, and environmental coordinator. Justin Kretzmann, who has been with the company for three years, currently holds that position. Both he and his predecessor are products of the Rochester Institute of Technology, one of the first universities to combine the disciplines of environmental, health, and safety studies into one field of study within the College of Applied Science and Technology.
McAlpin said that it is unusual for a company of this size to have someone dedicated to that type of full-time role, but it’s absolutely necessary to have that person who can dedicate him- or herself to the task. Kretzmann is able not only to initiate health- and safety-related projects, he also is integral to creating an environment where safety efforts become sustainable while new safety projects are tackled.
Kretzmann said that the management team doesn’t shy away from the constant focus on safety efforts within the company. When regularly occurring senior staff meetings are held, safety is the first thing that is talked about. When quarterly company meetings are conducted, upper management always begins the event with discussions about safety efforts and results.
“People begin to understand that safety is something to be considered seriously,” Kretzmann said.
He added that his role is to turn that management commitment into real-world results on the shop floor. That means closing the loop on safety issues as quickly and effectively as possible.
“When an issue is brought up, we need to bring some resolution to it as quickly as possible,” he said. “When you have safety-related unresolved problems or loose ends, people begin to get discouraged.Timely closure and corrective, preventive actions are critical. Unless our associates see that we address safety-related issues swiftly and effectively, they are less likely to make us aware of other potential problems.”
The responsibility for safety doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the HSE coordinator. McAlpin Industries has had success in recent years with the employees—or “associates” as they are called internally—fostering the safety-first environment. The company’s safety committee plays a big role in this.
Made up of hourly workers from all departments and management representatives, the safety committee meets monthly to discuss safety problems and potential fixes that were revealed in a previous month’s safety audit. The group also takes advantage of everyone being together to conduct an inspection of a specific department on the shop floor. Kretzmann said that over a calendar year the committee audits each and every manufacturing and office area.
With management and employees now pulling in the same direction, McAlpin Industries has turned a negative into a positive over the last decade.
“This has gone from something that the company might have been embarrassed about to something that the owners are very proud of. It’s gotten to the point where our safety efforts are included in our marketing efforts,” Kretzmann said. “More and more of our customers and prospects are interested in our safety program.
There is definitely more attention being given to this business indicator.”
McAlpin Industries is confident enough in its safety efforts that it is enrolled in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). In short, the company invites OSHA into its manufacturing facility, and the two parties work together to correct any safety hazards, apply best practices, and develop a comprehensive injury and illness prevention program. In return for participating in the program, McAlpin Industries is exempt from routine OSHA inspections for at least two years.
The metal fabricator has been a part of the OSHA program since 2011 and is one of only 72 New York companies participating.
Kretzmann said the program requires a large commitment. It’s not a simple pledge-to-participate arrangement that keeps OSHA away. OSHA representatives are in the shop at least twice per year, and when they show up, they spend the whole day at the company. They look at current safety programs, inspect machine guarding and electrical components, and interview employees and management. They also provide questionnaires to management and those on the shop floor that can be filled out anonymously and sent back with the OSHA officials.
“This whole process can be very eye-opening. Everything is on the table at that point,” Kretzmann said.
As a part of SHARP, the company is vulnerable to fines just like any other manufacturer. If OSHA officials notice anything that needs to be addressed, it typically needs to be fixed within 30 to 60 days. The metal fabricator has committed to playing by OSHA’s rules.
That’s OK for McAlpin Industries. The safety culture it has worked so hard to implement and improve appears to be bearing fruit.
Over 313,727 employee hours worked in 2012, the fabricator recorded zero lost workdays because of injury or illness on the job. It has had only two such days from the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2012. Also, the company’s workers’ compensation experience modification rate, a calculation used to determine insurance premium rates, decreased from 0.89 in 2010 to 0.79 in 2012.
The effort to keep everyone safe has moved from a reactive action to a proactive effort. On their first day, new associates meet with Kretzmann for a short safety orientation and basic safety rules. And before they leave, he asks that they take a hard look at the manufacturing practices occurring on the shop floor. They are seeing it with fresh eyes, and they might have recommendations to reduce the risk of injuries based on prior work experiences.
At McAlpin, being safe is everyone’s job, even those who just clocked in for the very first time.
Rusty Demeules was the guiding force behind the Fabricators & Manufacturers 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.
When he wasn’t volunteering his time working on FMA matters, he worked for the family company, Standard Iron and Wire Works, in Monticello, Minn. He began as a machine operator back in 1966 and worked his way up the ladder before retiring in 1996 after 10 years as the company’s president and CEO.
In 1996 FMA honored Demeules with its Chairman’s Award for his long service to the industry and to FMA.
McAlpin Industries, Rochester, N.Y., not only talks about have a healthy workforce, but it has taken steps to provide tangible evidence to its workers.
For example, an analysis of employee suggestions revealed that the frequency of cut fingers because of sharp sheet metal edges was on the rise. Management and shop floor employees revisited the personal protective equipment recommendations, and new cut-resistant gloves were introduced. Since then injuries related to cuts have been greatly minimized.
The company’s safety officials also noticed foot injuries occurring, so it implemented a mandatory safety shoe program. It now provides free American National Standards Institute-approved safety shoes for all workers, and it is no coincidence that foot injuries caused by heavy steel dies or coils have been reduced greatly.
Perhaps the most visible sign that the company wants everyone to be as healthy as possible is the fact that it has an on-call physician who actually visits the facility every two weeks. The doctor meets with employees who may have issues or questions, work or nonwork related, and then meets with Justin Kretzmann, McAlpin Industries’ health, safety, and environmental coordinator. If the employee has visited the doctor for a non-work-related issue, the doctor doesn’t comment on the discussion details. If it is work-related, she provides the context, and any potential workspace improvements are then considered.
For instance, if an employee is complaining about wrist pain, Kretzmann might add a wrist rest to a computer keyboard. The workplace improvement attempts to comfort a small pain before it emerges into a full-blown case of carpal tunnel syndrome.
“The doctor’s feedback has allowed us to be very, very proactive,” Kretzmann said.
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