Treasury Secretary Paul O''Neill, who made workplace safety a priority during his tenure as chairman and CEO of Alcoa from 1987 to 1999, says he plans a turnaround for the troubled U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
O''Neill said recently that the agency is addressing safety problems at the mint and plans to make it "a benchmark of federal manufacturing."
An inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) turned up 47 serious health and safety violations at the facility. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
Officials at the mint were presented with a draft report in February for the OSHA inspection that was conducted between January and June of 2001. OSHA already determined that the two coin-making facilities - the one in Philadelphia and another in Denver - are two of the most dangerous federal worksites. Some 650 employees work at the Philadelphia facility.
Mint officials claim that their facilities, where coins are stamped out of metal blanks by huge presses, are inherently more dangerous than other facilities, more closely resemble traditional manufacturing facilities than other federal worksites, which tend to have more of an office environment.
According to OSHA inspectors, they found 4,000-pound coin bins stacked so precariously that workers feared they could topple over. They also cited the mint for inadequate fire-escape routes and a failure to provide hepatitis B vaccinations to employees who assist bleeding or injured coworkers.
"The safety and well being of every employee across the mint is of paramount importance," said U.S. Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore following the release of OSHA''s report. "The majority of these issues have already been addressed. Nevertheless, I have directed a top to bottom review of the entire Philadelphia facility. The mint will continue to work collaboratively with OSHA to immediately address any and all outstanding issues."
On March 4, 2002 the Philadelphia facility suspended production until all safety concerns were addressed in a satisfactory manner. All employees were asked to continue to report to work and give their full time and attention to safety, retraining on all safety programs and procedures, and improving the housekeeping and cleanliness standards of the facility.
Throughout this process, Holsman Fore said the mint would continue to work closely with OSHA to immediately address any and all outstanding issues. The mint will subsequently invite OSHA to return to the plant to review and verify all actions taken to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.
"The safety of our employees and the workplace is a priority and we evaluate our programs, performance, and training on an ongoing basis. We are taking this opportunity to thoroughly review our programs Mint-wide including all of our manufacturing plants," said Brad Cooper, associate director of Manufacturing.
While at Alcoa, O''Neill championed the importance of management leadership of a company''s safety effort. The best way to send a message to employees that they are an important asset to their employer is to make sure their workplace is safe, according to O''Neill.
by Sandy Smith ([email protected])