Safety programs are gaining traction in the industry, but
for further progress to be made the industry has to be
proactive-which means lots of communication and training.
That's exactly the approach two Washington-based trade groups
are taking to promote workplace safety.
The Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), whose member
companies represent 70 percent of U.S. steel production
capacity, tracks safety issues among its members and the
industry as a whole.
"Safety is absolutely critical for our industry. We have a
safety committee, the largest and most active in the industry,
that regularly draws 100 to 150 people to meetings," said Adam
Parr, the group's director of policy and communications.
One of the most vital parts of the SMA's ongoing programs is
communication and training. "We occasionally put on safety
seminars in conjunction with committee meetings," Parr said,
noting that recent seminars have focused on five key areas
where fatalities occur. The committee is in charge of
collecting statistics, developing a safety Web site for members
and conducting surveys on the topic, and producing a monthly
report on the number of recordable cases, lost workday cases,
days lost and hours worked. Compiled data is circulated to
Some member companies have brought hourly workers to safety
committee meetings, Parr said. "Safety is a great way to build
trust with the union."
The committee has identified best practices for safety at
steel facilities, and has produced five safety DVDs
disseminated to member companies, he added.
And the trade group works closely with the U.S. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). "SMA has a good
relationship with OSHA," Parr said, adding that OSHA
representatives are regularly invited to the association's
safety committee meetings and the SMA is trying to facilitate a
meeting between its board of directors and newly confirmed OSHA
director David Michaels.
The SMA also works with other industries and tries to
emulate the best. "When we did a safety fatality study, we
benchmarked against other industries," he said. "We are glad to
see continuous improvement year over year. I think it is an
indication of the focus on safety from the top down. We hope it
continues to get better."
Even during the severe economic downturn in 2009, "cuts were
not made in (steel plant) safety," Parr said. "Companies are
still spending and investing and trying to improve."
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI),
Washington, also takes a proactive approach, but obtaining hard
data can be difficult. Reliable statistics on worker accidents
in the scrap industry are hard to come by, John Gilstrap,
ISRI's director of safety, said.
"The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking
injuries and fatalities in recycling-separate from waste
collection-for the first time" in 2007, he said. Historically,
all scrap and waste processing was lumped together. Accident
statistics for 2009 aren't yet available, and ISRI has
questions about the accuracy of the 2008 data. "They are not
happy numbers," Gilstrap said. "The industry is still hurting
far too many workers."
On the plus side, ISRI's safety programs have gained
traction over the past two to three years. "The dialogue is
changing. At the institute, we're hearing more about safety
(from member companies), with business owners seeking
assistance," he said. "The frequency of requests for assistance
is increasing, which we find to be a positive sign."
ISRI runs a safety outreach program, under which institute
staff visit facilities to help them solve problems, Gilstrap
told AMM while on the road at a member's facility. The
trade group also offers a broad range of job-specific safety
training and information. "We have a lot of different programs,
from torch-cutting operations to radiation protection," he
ISRI sends out an e-mail once a week to as many as 5,000
individuals on general recycling plant safety and driver
safety. Plus, "every month we have a driver-oriented video
series called the 'Two-Minute Drill' with 'Dave the Driver.'
The videos address driver-specific issues on how to protect
them from hazards, including driving in snow," Gilstrap
ISRI also promotes the use of the Recycling Industry
Operating Standard (RIOS), "an ISO-like quality certification
program in which members take part in a long series of tasks to
get certified," he said. Ocala Recycling LLC, Ocala, Fla.,
which was purchased in early March by Charlotte, N.C.-based
Nucor Corp., last November was the first company worldwide to
be certified under RIOS, using a scrap safety blueprint
developed by ISRI.
"Safety is among the top priorities of our trade association
staff and board of directors," Gilstrap said, noting that much
time and effort have been spent on promoting improvements. "All
indications are that we are making an impact. Certainly, worker
safety is being discussed by more people and at higher levels
than five years ago. It's all about commitment and
communication. Accidents are not inevitable and our members are
starting to understand that."