One SHARP Company

April 12, 2007
DeBourgh Manufacturing has found that it pays to get SHARP - and stay SHARP.

DeBourgh Manufacturing Co. is one of OSHA's small-business success stories. In 2000, the LaJunta, Colo.-based manufacturer of custom athletic, corridor and industrial wardrobe lockers was accepted into OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement and Recognition Program (SHARP), which honors small businesses for having exemplary workplace safety and health programs. In 2005, DeBourgh was named OSHA's SHARP Employer of the Year.

DeBourgh, which employs about 100 people, has earned five SHARP certificates and is featured prominently on OSHA's SHARP Web page. DeBourgh President Bill Dutro - who also is the company's safety director - speaks at OSHA regional conferences to highlight the benefits of collaborating with the agency. DeBourgh's commitment to stay SHARP has helped the company drastically reduce its total recordable case rate as well as its lost-workday injury and illness (LWDII) rate and workers' compensation costs.

Considering all of that, it's probably hard to believe that DeBourgh once averaged 30 to 35 recordable injuries per year and, at one point, even found itself on OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting inspection list.

"It was in April of 1999 that we were listed in one of our local newspapers as being a company - along with a number of other companies - where you might be more apt to get hurt," Dutro explains. "So we were put on OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting list."

Although DeBourgh at that time had been making strides in improving its EHS program - the company had been working with OSHA consultants for several years - company officials decided to take DeBourgh's safety program to the next level.

"At that point we said, 'OK, let's make this jump. Let's take this leap of faith and see if we can qualify ourselves for SHARP in the next couple of years or so.'"

"A Complete Culture Change"

It took less than a year for DeBourgh - with the help of consultants from Colorado State University, which administers OSHA's consultation program in Colorado - to make the improvements necessary to become a SHARP company.

To meet OSHA's requirements for SHARP certification, Dutro recalls having to describe the components of DeBourgh's EHS program in a stack of documents "that kind of read like 'War and Peace.'" But while DeBourgh had to precisely demonstrate how its safety and health management system met OSHA's SHARP criteria, Dutro says that some improvements to the EHS program were a bit less quantifiable.

"It's the culture within our organization that has changed," Dutro says. " ... I think there was a complete culture change about how we approach safety and how we communicate to our team members about how important it is that they be as conscious of their work environment as possible.

"And I think another piece of that culture is that there isn't anybody here who's afraid to report something to their supervisor if they feel it is a safety hazard."

Today, DeBourgh's model EHS system includes an active safety committee; monthly, facilitywide safety audits; and - intensive and extensive - training and re-training that goes beyond SHARP requirements. At the time Dutro was interviewed for this article, DeBourgh employees were taking part in annual re-training on topics such as lockout/tagout; hazard communication; emergency transport; harness and lanyard safety (for maintenance workers); accidental spills; emergency shutdown; and forklift safety and operations.

Dutro notes that most training is "hands-on, right out on the shop floor."

"There will be two or three modules that will be done in a classroom, but the rest of it will be done right on the shop floor with actual pieces of equipment," Dutro explains. "And it will be taught by shop personnel who have proven to us that they are serious about safety and are experienced in what they're training."

Along with its efforts to improve its safety and health systems, DeBourgh also has tried to make its processes more environmentally friendly. The company, for example, "made the conscious decision" to switch from using liquid paints to a powder coating system, which "releases absolutely no volatile organic compounds to the outside environment."

Of course, initiatives such as these rarely get off the ground without the support of upper management, which is why OSHA stipulates upper management commitment as a basic requirement for SHARP certification. Dutro notes that he has benefited from the support of the Berg family - which founded DeBourgh in 1909 and still owns the company - ever since he joined the company in 1992 as vice president of operations. Dutro became company president in 2005.

"I received a commitment from all of the family owners that this was something we were going to do," Dutro says. "We knew we weren't going to be able to get it done overnight, but we knew that it was something that we had to do."

A Worthwhile Investment

Dutro acknowledges that building a successful EHS program requires time and money - two commodities that often are in short supply within small businesses. But he also is quick to mention that "the benefits more than outweigh the costs."

DeBourgh has watched its LWDII rate drop from about 10 in the 1990s to 4 in 2000 to 2 in 2006. The number of recordable injuries dropped from 30-plus per year in the 1990s to six in 2005 and eight in 2006. And workers' compensation costs have plummeted.

"Back in 2005, we had budgeted $100,000 just for workers' comp premiums, and this year our workers' comp premiums are going to be about $47,000," Dutro explains. "You can really make a huge impact on your bottom line if you take safety and health seriously."

Ironically, perhaps the best investment in DeBourgh's EHS program was free.

"We're really pleased, but I guarantee you that we would not have been able to do the things that we've been able to do without the guidance and the mentorship of our state consultation program," Dutro says. "We just wouldn't have been able to do it."

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