OMG Electronic Chemicals Is Big on Safety

Nov. 1, 2008
A small but mighty company achieves the elusive "zero."

You might assume that a company with only 42 on-site employees would have few, if any, safety concerns. But working with specialty chemicals offers a variety of safety challenges.

Those challenges include the risk of chemical burns and musculoskeletal injury (heavy lifting), chronic health risks from inhalation and carcinogen exposure (eg, formaldehyde) and the devastating consequences of fires or explosions (flammable/reactive substances). Add the potential for environmental harm, and you start to get a clearer picture.

By any standards, the safety record of OMG Electronic Chemicals (formerly Electrochemicals Inc.) is impressive, but in this context, it's nothing short of exceptional. Employees have worked over 12 years - 1.5 million hours - without a single lost-time injury, and two of those years (2006, 2007) without an OSHA-recordable/restricted work activity incident.


Based in Maple Plain, Minn., with plants in China and Taiwan and a distribution facility in England, OMG blends acids, bases, etchants and other chemicals for the printed circuit board and metal finishing industries, and distributes their products throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

Safety is a shared responsibility, says EHS manager David Brickley, CHMM, who adds that “wholehearted, genuine cooperation” is a condition of employment for the entire work force. Safety is on the agenda of each bi-monthly company meeting, and a joint management/employee safety committee, representing each department, meets monthly.

Along with protecting its workforce, OMG is charged with protecting the environment. And in this arena, OMG's record is no less impressive, shipping millions of pounds of hazardous materials around the globe incident-free. On-site issues include spill-control, containment and disposal.


It's the company's emphasis on prevention that Brickley cites as central to its exemplary safety performance. “Employee involvement gives everyone a strong sense of ownership,” he says, and OMG doesn't just listen to its work force; it responds.

Letterman's “Top 10 List” gets laughs, but OMG's gets action. Each year, armed with input from each department's personnel, a group of OMG employees and managers comes together as the Risk Review Committee to determine the year's top 10 risks. All concerns are addressed, but the “top 10” are given priority. A few examples include chemical fumes escaping into the production room (this was curtailed with ventilation system improvements); manual container filling that put employees at risk of contact with chemicals, lifting injuries and inhalation (solved with automatic drum fillers with local ventilation); and on-road cell phone use (the company instituted a hands-free policy for drviers).

Near-miss reporting is both encouraged and rewarded, Brickley stresses. “When we go an entire year without a lost-time incident, each employee is rewarded with $100, and one near-miss report per employee is part of the award determination.”


When risks range from minor to potentially life-threatening, “there can be no short cuts in training,” says Brickley, both for new hires and long-time employees.

Brickley conducts much of the OSHA, EPA and DOT training. OMG also relies heavily on the Minnesota Safety Council for instruction in everything from first aid to transport to proper use and care of personal protective gear. Contractors complete a mandatory safety orientation and vendor approval is contingent upon passing a safety audit.

Required training for managers and supervisors covers administrative issues (leadership, loss control, planned inspections) as well as accident investigation and emergency preparedness. The training can be completed in a week-long, off-site course or online.

Training for all employees involved with transport and shipping is especially stringent, and focuses on required packaging and shipping containers, as well as labeling and paperwork to provide first responders with needed information in the event of a problem. OMG is ISO 9001-certified; every 3 years, all safety systems are audited by a DNV-trained auditor.

In short, says Brickley, “We're all responsible for the well-being of each of our co-workers and, as a small company, we take that responsibility personally.”

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