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ISP Columbus Takes Safety One Day at a Time

A focus on the present yields long-lasting improvements in safety and health.

If you're a fan of professional sports, you've probably heard your favorite player or coach say this during a post-game interview: "We're taking it one game at a time."

While it may seem like just another sports platitude, the one-game-at-a-time concept or something similar was a rallying cry for International Specialty Products' (ISP) Columbus, Ohio, facility.

When ISP Columbus decided to improve upon a safety and health track record that Site Director Phillip Popovec admitted was "terrible" before 1997, initially it set its sights on longer-range goals such as reducing recordable injuries over the course of a year.

But officials at ISP Columbus, which is part of the Wayne, N.J.-based global specialty chemical manufacturer ISP, realized "we were looking too far down the road," Popovec said.

"We came to the conclusion that we don't have to worry about how many recordable injuries we get this year. We don't have to worry about how many recordable injuries we get this quarter," Popovec said. "The only thing we have to worry about is not getting hurt today."

Out of this one-day-at-a-time philosophy grew a simple, behavior-based safety program that became the building block of ISP Columbus' safety and health initiatives, even producing a program aptly named "One Day at a Time."

Created by former Safety Manager Holger Hille, the safety program has yielded some impressive results since it was implemented in 1997: From November 1997 through September 2004, ISP Columbus, which has about 80 employees, went 1.2 million hours without a lost-time accident.

From November 1997 through press time, ISP Columbus had experienced one lost-time accident a November 2004 "minor recordable injury" that resulted in 2 days away from work, according to Popovec.

Safety First Meetings Make Safety a Daily Priority

With the one-day-at-a-time approach in mind, ISP Columbus introduced "Safety First" meetings, which are 5-minute safety toolbox talks held prior to every shift in every department every day.

While each department manager typically chooses the topic for each Safety First meeting, ISP Columbus has created more than 200 Safety First cards with information on specific processes and chemicals that are meant to serve as conversation-starters.

Likewise, when the various department managers get together for their daily meeting, each session begins with a Safety First discussion.

"Those are two key initiatives we implemented that we still do today to focus on what we are going to do today to not get hurt," Popovec explained.

While Safety First meetings focus on the short term, ISP Columbus wanted to make sure that safety would be a long-term commitment. Company officials also wanted to create a safety program with built-in "checks and balances," Popovec explained.

One of their solutions was the "Safety Cog" committee. The Safety Cog, which meets once a month, includes employees from each department of the plant and is led by the facility's safety manager. Where the plant's safety committee, in its previous incarnation, basically was a "big complaint session," Popovec said, the Safety Cog committee was designed to empower plant-level employees not only to identify safety issues but also to resolve them as well as to present their safety ideas to upper management when capital investment is needed.

As part of the system of checks and balances, senior managers meet once a quarter to take a panoramic view of the safety program, Popovec explained. During these quarterly meetings, managers analyze "what's working and what's not working" as well as consider budget requests made by the Safety Cog.

Wellness Program Bearing Fruit

ISP Columbus representatives who attended the America's Safest Companies banquet, held Sept. 21 in Orlando, Fla., were quick to praise the facility's wellness program as a key component of its safety and health success.

Spearheaded by Senior Administrative Specialist/Human Resources Jacqueline Lewis, the program stems from the company's awareness of the link between wellness on the job and at home and safety, productivity and cost control.

"People [in today's economy] are stressed and pushed to the max, and it's important that that's recognized," Lewis said. "If people are down emotionally, and depressed, that's going to affect how they work, and cause accidents."

Several times a month, Lewis arranges for local health and wellness experts to come to ISP Columbus for brown bag lunches. During these lunches, experts hold free seminars and workshops on topics such as stress management, disease management, healthy eating habits, sleep deprivation and shift work. Brown bag lunches and other wellness seminars are open to employees' families as well.

Lewis launched the wellness program about 4 years ago by organizing a wellness fair, which, with the help of a local hospital, offered employees free blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol screenings as well as other health information.

The fair continues to bear fruit. Employees who identified health issues at the fair still are taking steps often literally to keep those issues in check.

"After the fair, employees started doing things about their health," Lewis said. "A lot of them have joined gyms. Some walk here every day. There's a group that walks clear around the plant every day." ISP Columbus offers plenty of room to walk, with about 15 acres of undisturbed forest on its 100-acre site.

Along with waistlines, the wellness program has been trimming the bottom line. Lewis estimated that the number of disability cases has been steadily declining since the program was implemented. The year prior to the wellness program's launch, there were seven disability cases; this year there have been zero.

ISP Columbus on the Cutting Edge

ISP Columbus, which makes the fine ingredients that go into pharmaceutical, cosmetic, hair care and agricultural products (the site may be best known for developing the pheromone that all but wiped out the boll weevil), also takes the "E" in EHS very seriously. To reduce air and water pollutants, ISP Columbus over the past decade has spent more than $7 million, including $6 million for a state-of-the-art wastewater pre-treatment system.

The investment has paid off. ISP Columbus is classified as a minor generator of hazardous air emissions, and it has reduced off-site hazardous waste disposal by more than 30 percent since 1999, according to its application. It received the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council's Responsible Care award in 1999 and 2000.

Environmental and Materials Manager Jere Ellison pointed to the $6-million membrane bioreactor which pre-treats the site's wastewater before sending it to the city of Columbus for further treatment built in 2001 as a shining example of the facility's commitment to being environmentally responsible.

"This is not adding one dollar of sales to the bottom line," Ellison said. "This is control of pollutants."

Ellison noted that the site's commitment to safety, health and the environment goes hand in hand with the facility's emphasis on quality.

"We are looking for continuous improvement," Ellison said. "When we get one thing up and mastered, we look to what's next. [We ask] 'what should we do that would reduce our impact on the environment and how can we implement it?'"

Small but Mighty: Safety at Keystone Wood Specialties

Nestled in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, in bucolic Lancaster, is perhaps the smallest company ever named one of America's Safest by Occupational Hazards.

by Sandy Smith

Tiny Keystone Wood Specialties Inc., which manufactures specialty wood items such as drawer fronts and waintscoting for builders and contractors, has 52 employees, including company President/owner Sam Stoltzfus, and David Landis, safety/compliance coordinator. There's very little turnover at the company, which means an aging work force, and the work is "hands-on," creating more opportunities for injuries. But injuries don't happen at Keystone, at least not in 2004 and so far, not in 2005.

The company is an OSHA SHARP site, a program that recognizes small employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system. In September, Keystone learned it was going to be named one of the state's best places to work.

Innovative Thinking

At Keystone, the motto seems to be, "If it can be built safer, we will do it."

In a message to employees, Stoltzfus wrote, "Our main purpose is to safeguard your life, health and physical well-being. This can only be achieved by your awareness of safety practices and your involvement in eliminating safety hazards that can cause accidents."

Employees take him seriously: They stop him and Landis on the shop floor and point out what they consider to be hazardous conditions. As a result, Stoltzfus has redesigned some of the company's equipment to improve safety.

One safety concern employees shared with Stoltzfus was the danger inherent in transporting bundles of long wood rippings from a horizontal position to a vertical position to place in the wood grinder. He listened to their concerns, designed a custom vertical dumping hopper and had it fabricated straightaway, eliminating the employee safety concern.

"We always have eyes looking for ways to make the work environment safer," says Landis. "We got a new forklift; it's a big one, it can lift 10,000 pounds. The operator is a short person, and the step up into the truck was very high and it was difficult for him to climb up into the truck. That's a potential sprain/strain or fall injury. The driver brought it to our attention, and the maintenance department fabricated a new, lower step."

Near-Misses and Maintenance

You know that at a company such as Keystone, near-misses are taken very seriously. All near-misses involving machinery or a work process are tracked on a potential hazards log and are dealt with promptly. The outcome, along with the correction date, is posted. Employees, says Landis, keep a close eye on those logs and correction dates. All near-misses and corrections are reviewed monthly by the safety committee.

The safety process, potential hazards and near-misses, housekeeping and maintenance issues are under constant review, says Landis, because Stoltzfus "is always looking for better, safer ways to do things."

Stoltzfus' innovations aren't limited to the machinery in the shop. He and his brother created a logging system for preventative maintenance procedures. Maintenance is considered an element of a safe work environment, so the maintenance department reports to Landis.

Every machine in the 40,000-square-foot building has a maintenance schedule. The computerized program spits out maintenance activities for each machine automatically, along with lockout/tagout procedures. The maintenance worker takes that printout, conducts the maintenance work using appropriate lockout/tagout procedures, fixes any problems, makes note of anything out of the ordinary and brings the printout back to Landis, who logs the information into the system.

"It makes for easy tracking," he says. "I have a number for every machine, its name, where we bought it, how much we paid and the complete maintenance log. OSHA was really interested in the software. We're in the process of patenting it so we can share it with OSHA and other companies."

At Kinetic Systems Inc., Safety Is SOP

When the CEO is conducting safety audits, occupational safety and health becomes part of business as usual.

by William Atkinson

Kinetic Systems Inc. of Union City, Calif., is a mechanical contractor and process piping installer with numerous domestic and international operations. The company employs about 1,500 people at approximately 500 individual project worksites. It also employs 23 safety and health professionals.

Kinetic has won the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) safety award for the last 4 years (2001-2004) for having an injury/illness rate at least 25 percent below the national average. While the lost-time case rate for the industry is 2.70, Kinetic's lost-time case rate for 2004 was an impressive 0.44. And YTD, its lost-time case rate for 2005 is 0.18.

The company attributes its success to a number of innovative safety-related initiatives, including the fact that the CEO and president personally conduct project safety audits.

"Senior management really leads the safety culture, and they have a strong commitment to it," reports Paul W. Thomas, P.E., vice president, safety and security. "In our organization, safety is a core value, not a priority. The reason is that core values are permanent, but priorities change."

Pre-Task Planning

One of the most significant keys to success, according to Thomas, is the fact that the company requires safety-focused pre-task planning meetings before all construction activities. "We work with the foremen and the crew to develop a plan for every task they do," he explains. The team:

  • Identifies any hazard potentials that might exist;
  • Addresses those hazards with specific plans;
  • Ensures that they have the proper equipment to do the job; and
  • Ensures that they have the proper personal protective equipment.

"Employees often come up with some very good ideas about how to do the various tasks safely," Thomas says.

Once the planning document is created, all employees assigned to that project are required to sign off on it. "We then post the plan at the jobsite so everyone can see it," Thomas says. In fact, when the CEO and president do their audits, they take the time to review the posted plans.

During the project, if employees run into anything that is different than what they planned, they are required to stop work immediately, re-evaluate what they are doing and revise their pre-task plan. In addition, senior management has made it very clear, in writing, that any employee is empowered to stop work if they see something unsafe, and they are not required to begin work again until all conditions are safe and acceptable.

Kinetic started the pre-task planning process almost 4 years ago, after a couple of its clients began to require it. "Once we saw the results, though, we decided to use it for all our projects, whether our clients require it or not," says Thomas.

There are numerous steps to getting such a program started, but the most important, according to Thomas, is to get supervisors and employees involved so that they buy into the program. "Once they get used to it, though, they end up supporting it, because they find that it doesn't hinder their work; it helps them significantly."

Another key to success is a mandatory glove program, launched in January 2004. "We had a 60 percent reduction in the number of hand injuries the first year," states Thomas. "We also reduced the severity of the injuries that do occur." Since the inception of the program, employees who do cut their hands working near sharp edges typically require minimal first aid instead of stitches.

CEO Commitment

The fact that CEO Kurt P. Gilson is probably the company's greatest cheerleader for safety doesn't hurt when it comes to management and employee buy-in.

In a letter to managers, Gilson noted, "The elimination of accidents is a corporate responsibility we all share. Though our operational activities are diverse, one common thread that binds us all together is the need to provide a safe place for all of our employees to work. I expect every member of our management team to be proactive and personally committed to the belief that 'Safety Begins with Me.'"

Gilson said he feels a "personal responsibility to this important effort that can mean happiness or sorrow, health or disaster, for the most valuable resource and investment that Kinetics has the lives of our employees."

William Atkinson is a freelance writer. and frequent contributor to Occupational Hazards.

Employee Involvement Fuels Safety

When one-third of the employees sit on safety committees, you know safety is an important aspect of operations.

by Sandy Smith

A Star site in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program, Marathon Petroleum Co.'s Illinois Refining Division (IRD) in Robinson, Ill., has a lot going for it: zero lost-time cases; four National Petrochemical & Refiners Association safety awards for 2004; a President's Award recognizing exemplary safety and environmental performance; and a number of components that add up to an outstanding safety process.

The company's STAR team promotes the safety slogan, "I have the right and the responsibility to go home uninjured," and employees take it very seriously.

"IRD's management has set the tone for all employees and contractors that safety is each individual's responsibility. Each employee and contractor is encouraged to be part of the safety process by this attitude," says Von J. Meeks, safety supervisor at the facility.

Steps for Safety

IRD has instituted a process called STEPS (Systems to Ensure Participation in Safety) to reduce and, eventually, eliminate injuries at the refinery. All employees and lead contractor representatives receive training in STEPS, which is a structured safety program emphasizing direct involvement and accountability of every employee at all levels of the organization. A few key points of the process are:

  • All managers manage, lead and champion the STEPS process throughout their area of responsibility.
  • Each employee and lead contractor representative is trained, learning his or her specific safety responsibilities. Each employee is held accountable for the quality execution of these assigned responsibilities.
  • A planned sequence of safety meetings is implemented (department, area, work group) and every employee and routine contractor in the refinery participates in these safety meetings.
  • STEPS tracks the completion of required area inspections, job hazard analysis reviews, what-if drills, individual toolbox meetings and annual safety performance reviews.
  • Existing safety committees continue to provide support to the line organization in its execution of prevention activities.
  • Maintenance of safe work conditions through engineering controls, inspections, etc., is more structured and stringently audited for completion.
  • The development of safe work behavior observations continues to be expanded through the existing behavioral-based safety committee.

The ACTS Team

In 1996, division management empowered a behavioral-based committee called the ACTS Team (Areas Communicating Trust in Safety) to lead the company's behavioral-based safety effort. In 2004, the group conducted 4,268 employee observations with 19,036 actual individual contacts made. The team is led by hourly employees and is the primary safety committee at the refinery. In all, some 200 employees sit on some type of safety committee at the facility.

The mission statement of the ACTS Team is "To develop and implement, by hourly employees, a process to promote a safe working environment for individual areas based on trust and communication."

In 2000, the "Surveying to Help Observe Risk Today" (SHORT shot) program was introduced. SHORT shots are designed to increase hazard recognition skills and raise safety awareness of "at-risk" and "safe" behaviors of employees.

"They are brief, one-to-one field safety observations of an ongoing job or task," says Meeks. "Before participating as an observer, an employee receives 8 hours of training."

Observers either utilize a checklist or a video camera, says Meeks, who adds that feedback to the employee being observed is immediate. "The data derived from both the video observations and the SHORT shots are added to the safety observation database."

Trends are analyzed and published as part of a monthly safety meeting. Several contractors at the facility have been trained and participate in the SHORT shot program.

The ACTS Team also has implemented the SOS (Safety Opportunities Shared) program and the ACTS Safety Action Process (ASAP) form. SOS are near-miss reports that are given to the ACTS Team for publication in the plant-wide weekly newsletter, "The Mainstream." The ASAP form is an avenue to ensure employees have an additional way to voice their safety concerns in which a written response is guaranteed. The ASAP is a way to address an issue or problem related to safety, after all other avenues to solve the problem have been exhausted.

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