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Almost as soon as they achieved Star status Nucor Decatur realized they were at a crossroads that led to either continuous improvement or complacency
<p> Almost as soon as they achieved Star status, Nucor Decatur realized they were at a crossroads that led to either continuous improvement or complacency.</p>

VPPPA: What Happens After the Star?

Once Nucor Decatur reached Star status in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) in a quick 10 months, everyone at the facility wanted to ensure that they didn’t plateau after the evaluation

It only took 10 months for Nucor’s Decatur, Ala., facility to achieve Star status in OSHA’s VPP program. However, management and employees wanted to ensure that the facility continued to experience continuous improvement, the Nucor team shared with their audience at the annual VPPPA National Conference in Nashville.

"We were in a sprint in the beginning, we were moving fast,” said George Stephenson. “We had to turn it into a marathon. We had to make it last a long time.“

Stephenson, Tim Reeves and Patrick Vaughn discussed how mentoring other sites, writing a book called “Pathfinder” and using ANSI Z10 & OHSAS 18001 helped them with continuing improvement. They also discussed how their 24/7 safety culture – taking safety home – has been the building block to keep a passion for VPP strong and alive.

Stephenson offered these ways the facility fostered excellence and continued improvement:

  • “The mentoring process really helped. We mentored other Nucor sites and our customers. Kept us thinking about the VPP process and continuous improvement in safety,” said Stephenson.
  • Employees at the facility realized that housekeeping could be a bellweather for a slide in safety, so they created the Dirty Pig Award. The manager of any department that received the Dirty Pig had to display it on his or her desk for the week. It didn’t take long for housekeeping at the site to be top notch, said Stephenson, at which point managers started resisting accepting the award, because their areas were clean, and the award was going to areas that were slightly less spotless, joked Stephenson. So, the game changed and areas started getting acknowledged for having the best housekeeping.
  • They decentralized safety and made everyone responsible for its continuous improvement. “Are you a spectator or a player?” Stephenson asked. They got everyone involved in special safety training teams and everyone became a player.
  • Written procedures were followed to the letter, “otherwise, it’s just a suggestion,” said Stephenson. “What we say we’re doing, we actually do.”
  • Make training interesting. Nucor starts with team-building exercises, special speakers and visual aids.
  • Team members at the facility wrote a book called “Pathfinder” that follows their journey to becoming a Star site.
  • Committed leaders are important to drive safety excellence efforts forward. “The attitude is a reflection of leadership. The culture is predicted by leadership,” said Stephenson.

Another way the facility concentrated on continuous improvement was to adopt safety management standards such as ANSI Z-10 and OHSAS 18001. According to Reeves, the injury rate for the steel industry is 3. The injury rate for steel companies in VPP is slightly less than half the industry average. But steel companies that not only participate in VPP but also follow ANSI Z-10 or other safety management standards have a rate of .5. The combination of VPP and ANSI Z-10 is a winner, he said.

Take Safety Home

Nucor realized that continuous improvement in safety had to have a 24/7 emphasis. The company’s concern for safe and healthy employees didn’t stop at the plant gate. A program called Take Safety Home was developed and kits were handed out to employees that include a fire extinguisher, a flashlight, hand protection, hearing protection and eye protection.

“I used to work at a place that thought if you took earplugs or safety glasses home to use on a project, they thought it was stealing,” said Vaughn.

That’s not the case at Nucor Decatur. The company encourages employees to take PPE home and encourages them to share it with family members, friends and neighbors. Employees can borrow tools, such as ladders, from the facility, to ensure they’re using the right equipment for home projects.

Employees also helped with community cleanup after tornadoes swept through the state of Alabama, and even Nucor employees from other states traveled to Alabama on their days off to help. The facility, with its huge furnaces, also disposes of drugs and weapons for the local law enforcement community, as well as old prescription medications and paints.

“A safe community is one that looks out for one another. It takes responsibility for supporting its members,” noted Vaughn.

He could have been talking about Nucor Decatur or the community at large. To the employees at the facility, there is no difference.


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