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‘Safety is more than just data. It is a culture we have to create’

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Safety is more than creating a certain environment—it's a culture change that to be effective involves a mentality that flows through a company from top to bottom. At least, that's how many steel industry players see it.

Steelmakers Republic Engineered Products Inc. and Commercial Metals Co. (CMC), along with pipe and tube distributor Marmon/Keystone LLC, are among those that have focused hard on safety and employ a top-down approach.

"We put a lot of emphasis on it (and) we have had tremendous results," Linda McCue, Marmon/Keystone's vice president of human resources and head of safety, said. "It's a credit to the commitment from the executive and management level and on down to employees."

Considering the challenges the company faced in 2009, including a reduction in staff, "our people stepped up to the plate and got work done without injury," she said. "We had 21 branches go accident-free in 2009—a record year—after 2008's 14 (accident-free) branches. We are ecstatic."

Butler, Pa.-based Marmon/Keystone had 13 recordable accidents in 2009, a 67.5-percent improvement from 40 the previous year, and reduced hours lost. "(But) we look at safety as more than just the data; it's a culture that we have to create," McCue said. "We spent a lot of time and effort on training. Managers get measured on it. Are they doing the training, having the meetings, doing all the proactive things we want them to do?"

Getting good safety results happens when management is committed and involved. "Starting in 2009, our branch managers have participated in quarterly warehouse inspections," a task formerly assigned only to shift supervisors, McCue said. "It's important for employees to see that commitment. And it gives managers a first-hand look at what the employees go through on a daily basis."

Marmon/Keystone runs a defined structure with a safety committee at every location, "so there is a mechanism for employees to bring to light hazards that need to be taken care of. It has been effective," she said.

CMC's Americas division also practices a top-down approach, according to Jeff Adams, the company's safety director. "Over the past couple of years, one initiative (developed by CMC) is the location manager safety evaluation. From a top-down management scenario, we have the commitment of our chief executive officer and other executives," he said. "But when you get to location manager—where the rubber meets the road—we evaluate managers on their performance and we look at incident rates."

CMC expects location managers to drive safety improvements and they are rated on their leadership in that area. They are required to outline the company's safety policies and procedures throughout the facility and ensure the procedures are fully implemented.

"Workers have to have a reference for what they're supposed to be doing. Otherwise, they might not do it," Adams said.

Irving, Texas-based CMC has facility managers report whether training has been completed and documented for every employee, whether weekly and monthly employee meetings are held, and whether the manager, when available, participates in the safety meetings.

But for a system to be effective, there have to be checks and balances. CMC, for example, developed a job safety analysis for every operational procedure, which is reviewed and updated as needed, Adams said. It is used for instruction as well as a checklist in investigating incidents.

"The industry still has a long way to go, but it has made a marked improvement over the past five to 10 years," Adams said. "Our leadership, and everyone else at the company, understand that true safety requires more than just OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) compliance. If all you do is meet OSHA requirements, you aren't going to be that safe. We go way beyond that."

The primary safety guideline at Canton, Ohio-based Republic Engineered Products is OSHAS 18001, an international occupational safety and health management system specification, according to Patrick Monnot, corporate manager of environment, health and safety.

Republic began the qualification process under the system in 2007, an approach that "was driven by our chief executive officer," and achieved certification in February 2009. Much like other standards certification programs, "you say what you are going to do, what your standard operating procedures are, and then you educate the employees and audit," Monnot said. "We have internal audits (conducted by line employees and salaried managers) and external audits to assess how we're doing against the system. Based on the audits, we know where to improve and fix things."

The system works because it is "so all-encompassing," including labor and management committees that meet monthly at each plant using a template of topics that are touched on—"whether talking about personal protective equipment or maybe one department that needs a certain type of glove" to handle material or equipment, he said.

Between meetings, each department's employee representative and a manager conduct a walk-through "just to do a visual look-see to find any issues that have to be fixed or attended to. And if they need assistance, it's brought up in the meetings."

Communication is part of the framework of OSHAS 18001, Monnot said. This includes communicating how to alert employees to dangers in the plant, communication between different levels of the company and communication with contractors.

Republic's accident rate improved 8.7 percent to 8.l3 incidents in 2009 from 8.9 the previous year, while the number of lost-time accidents fell to 1.99 from 2.4 in the same comparison. CORINNA PETRY


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