OSHA jump-starts a culture of safety

Tell employees to 'never take a chance'

Many new employees are surprised when they are hired at Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing and find out they are encouraged to report accidents and safety concerns, says Curtis Holmes, plant manager.

"It always amazes me when new employees tell us they've had former employers discourage them from reporting accidents, and if they got hurt, they would use their own insurance because they were afraid they'd be fired," says Holmes. "We tell our employees to never take a chance, to go to the doctor even if they have a simple injury just so they can get checked out."

Workers also are not afraid to report anything they see on the production floor that they believe is unsafe, says Holmes. This attitude is largely due to quarterly safety meetings that involve cross-sectional team discussions of safety issues, he says. During the meetings, brewery operations are shut down, and each group discussion results in a list of three top areas of concern that are forwarded to top management for action and resolution.

"Once you ask them directly about safety concerns, they start coming up with stuff they normally wouldn't think to mention," says Holmes. The first few meetings took more than three hours, because so many concerns were discussed, he recalls. "People used to wait for the safety meetings to bring up issues, but they are only held every three months, so now they have learned to be proactive and tell us sooner," says Holmes. "They will usually give us a work order or e-mail reporting a safety issue." Even minor problems such as broken light switch covers or ice in the parking lot are now routinely reported, he says.

The companywide safety meetings are a cornerstone of the company's "culture of safety" says Heather Conlin, human resources/special projects manager: "By working closely with OSHA [the Occupational Safety & Health Administration], we have developed a stellar record of safety in the workplace," says Conlin.

Getting an outside view

As the firm's operations grew, it became even more important to have an outside view of the facility, says Conlin. "We've built safety and training into each capital improvement," she says. "OSHA also has helped guide us through changing regulations and the introduction of new equipment and protective devices that help keep us on the leading edge of workplace safety."

For example, some of the company's older equipment needed updated safety features, such as motor covers and chain covers. "A lot of the equipment in our bottling line was made back in the 1960s, and employee safety wasn't as big an issue back then. So a lot of times our machines didn't have guarding around it," says Holmes. When equipment is upgraded, or when pieces are custom-made, OSHA's visual inspection identifies any areas where an employee can get too close to the machinery, he says.

When the brewery upgraded their bottling line in 2001, the newer machined had better built-in guarding, but OSHA's consultant helped point out areas on the line that still needed additional protection for employees.

If you haven't scheduled an OSHA onsite consultative visit, which is offered free of charge to employers, there is no time like the present, says Conlin. "The feedback report you receive will not only improve your employee safety record, it will also improve the operations of your facility, employee awareness, and your bottom line by reducing loss-time accidents," she says.

OSHA site visits also can lead to a lot of good publicity for your workplace. During one of their voluntary inspections, the consultant recommended that Alaskan Brewing apply for OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). With the help of the consultant, the brewery met the requirements and was the only second business in the state to receive this safety recognition award. But over a dozen companies have since applied in the state, partly due to the example set by the company, which is featured on the OSHA web site. "We've had a few people call asking how we set up the program," says Holmes. "Also, when employees start here, we can tell them we belong to SHARP because we are a safe company and we put a lot of work into our safety program."

Take full advantage of visit

An OSHA consultative visit may be somewhat intimidating, but you should not hesitate to ask a lot of questions, advises Conlin. "There are many things you can correct immediately, even with the consultant by your side, and there are some things that may take some time, investment, and effort, but every correction is worthwhile."

Leah Skaggs, RN, an occupational health nurse at Honeywell Aerospace, LORI Heat Transfer Operations in Tulsa, OK, reports that OSHA site visits made it easier to obtain funding for safety improvements. "The only hesitation I had was that going with the OSHA consultant would generate open actions, which can be a problem if you are very busy, short staffed, or lack money to make the changes," she says. However, getting the recommendations straight from OSHA was a very strong motivator to make changes that otherwise might have fallen by the wayside, says Skaggs. "Budgets are tight, but if you go to your leadership team and let them know that OSHA is saying this is something we need to do, they are going to do it," says Skaggs. "If you are out of compliance, you have to take care of it."

Here are services that OSHA will do for free

Consultants from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) will provide the following services free of charge:

  • Help to identify hazards in the workplace.
  • Suggest approaches or options for solving a safety or health problem.
  • Identify sources of help available to a company if they need further assistance, such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, OSHA's education centers for training issues and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' funded state entities for record keeping training.
  • Provide with a written report that summarizes the findings of an inspection.
  • Assist companies in developing or maintaining an effective safety and health program.
  • Offer training and education for a small business and its employees at their workplace and, in some cases, away from the worksite.
  • Recommend a small business for recognition by OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).