April 1, 1992 is the last day an employee was injured on the job at the Sonoco composite can manufacturing plant in West Chicago.
Seven-and-a-half years, 2.3 billion composite cans and 1 million work hours later, the entire 17,000 employee team has remained injury-free.
To commemorate the West Chicago plant's safety achievement, Sonoco President and Chief Executive Officer Peter Browning joined the employees on Friday to celebrate their safety milestone.
"A strong safety record indicates a work environment and people-oriented culture where individuals actively demonstrate their concern for one another," said Browning. "This has been the basis of Sonoco's success in the past and it will be the basis for our continued success in the future."
Despite a variety of changes in production at the facility during 1999, safety was never sacrificed.
"We faced some extraordinary challenges this past year," said Steve Lutes, plant manager." "We had a lot of new employees, significant overtime and numerous job openings. We also introduced a new manufacturing line with different technology. All of these factors can weigh heavily on a safety program when you have a three-shift, seven days-per-week operation."
Employees at the plant say the reason for this success story is due to a long-standing company philosophy that "safety is the number one priority."
"We all look out for each other," explained John Lyon, a materials coordinator, and member of the plant's safety committee. "I know something could happen to me, and I will do everything in my power to make sure I work safely and that others around me work safely too."
Finding a safer way to do the job is one of many topics addressed by the plant safety committee.
For example, in addition to monthly plant meetings, shifts hold regular meeting to proactively talk about safety.
One of the best tools used by Sonoco, said Zachary Neff, quality systems/process improvement manager and plant safety coordinator, is the jobs safety analysis (JSA).
JSA is a written document that describes the safe way to perform every task for each job at the plant. Another is sharing best practices among the plants.
These tools have proven to be effective. After once having one of the worst safety records, the West Chicago facility is now recognized as being one of the top performers in Sonoco's consumer products division.
"We've come a long way," said winder operator Will Riley. "We've made a great step forward, but we need to keep going further. We've got a lot of work to do to remain injury-free."
Winder operator John Mayhan agreed with his coworkers. Since Sonoco acquired the plant from Boise Cascade in 1987, people have become more conscious of their actions.
"When I started working here 24 years ago, we didn't wear safety glasses, hearing protection or safety shoes," said Mayhan. "Those days are long gone. We even take our safety practices home with us."
Since 1980, Sonoco's injury rate has decreased by approximately 87 percent.
Now that the 1 million milestone has been reached, awareness has kicked up another notch.
"Every single person in this plant contributed to our record," said Sandra Burfield, a quality system technician with 13 years of service. "I will continue to contribute by making sure I work safely every day."
Sonoco is a global packaging company headquartered in Hartsville, S.C. The company provides industrial and consumer packaging products and services to some of the world's largest businesses.