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 member companies.
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 said.
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 said.
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."