Even a company with an above-average safety record has a lot to learn about operating safely and creating a safety culture. Once we opened our doors to the OSHA Consultation Program, we learned a lot, improving our safety.
Even a company with an above-average safety record has a
lot to learn about operating safely and creating a safety culture. Once we
opened our doors to the OSHA Consultation Program, we learned a lot, improving
By Lisa Dunn
2001, when Dan Becker joined his father and brother in the management of Becker
Iron & Metal (Venice, Ill.), the company already had above-average safety
performance. Still, he realized there was a lot he did not know about safety.
He added to his knowledge over time, but with his other responsibilities, he
could not make safety his full-time job. Other issues often took precedence.
Becker Iron made plans to move to a greenfield facility in summer 2011, the
owners took the opportunity to design and build the new facility with safety as
a priority. They also decided to pursue certification under the Recycling
Industry Operating Standard™, which requires the implementation of a
management system for quality, environmental protection, and health and safety.
Becker Iron hired me in August 2012 as a cashier and to help implement RIOS.
Little did I know then that I would become passionate about safety. The more I
familiarized myself with RIOS, the more I realized what I didn’t know. Coming
from the education field, however, one thing I did know was how to find
information. And that’s what I did. I spent countless hours educating myself on
the RIOS standard and how it could improve our operations, and I used that and
other research to improve our safety best practices. As this continued, my
position evolved into quality, environment, health, and safety director.
made full use of our ISRI membership to learn more about safety. ISRI staff
members conducted the ISRI Safety Blueprint program here on several occasions
and gave us real, practical suggestions for improvement. We also called upon
ISRI experts for any and all safety questions, we attended conferences, and we
built relationships with other ISRI members. These relationships have proven
invaluable in our quest for safety excellence. Shortly after Becker Iron moved
to its new facility, Dan attended an ISRI Safety and Environmental Council
meeting and learned about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s
On-Site Consultation Program. Thinking that “you don’t know what you don’t
know,” he decided to take advantage of this program.
On-Site Consultation Program brings OSHA consultants to small and medium-sized
facilities to identify workplace hazards, review your compliance with OSHA
standards, and provide advice and guidance on your safety programs. The entire
program is free and confidential so long as you commit to correcting serious
hazards the consultants identify and make those corrections in a timely manner.
You won’t face fines or citations for anything the consultants find so long as
you meet those requirements.
though we knew the consultation was confidential, when the time came for the
OSHA consultants’ first visit in fall 2012, we were nervous. We were inviting
the “Big Bad Wolf” onto our property. Most companies have a healthy fear of—or
at least an aversion to—OSHA. But we opened the door and let them in. The
consultants reviewed all of our programs and procedures, training logs,
OSHA-required reports, and required signage, and they conducted a full site
learned that we had nothing to fear. The consultants that have worked with us
through the years from the Illinois Department of Labor have all proven to be
extremely knowledgeable, professional, and willing to help. I’ve called upon
them many times to ask questions, get clarification on issues, or just ask for
advice. They have responded every time with professionalism—and with answers.
They have become part of our go-to safety network.
first visit was truly eye-opening. While we believed we were in great shape,
the consultants found multiple hazards for us to correct within the time frame
they specified. The hazards included frayed electrical cords, a lack of machine
guarding, and improper propane tank storage. The consultants also suggested
revisions to some of our safety policies and the creation of new ones.
as important as learning what we were doing wrong was learning what we were
doing right. This information gave us enough confidence or courage to continue
with this journey. The consultants made multiple visits to our facility (at our
invitation) from 2012 through 2014. They even provided specialists who
conducted air monitoring and noise monitoring at no cost to us.
time, the policies, programs, and procedures we revised or instituted as a
direct result of the consultation program included our respiratory program,
hearing conservation, near-miss reporting, accident investigation (including
root-cause analysis), “lock-out/clock-out,” and a system of self-auditing and
inspecting. Some changes were small, such as adding mirrors to forklifts,
revising our hard-hat-required area, and improving heat awareness. Some were
complete overhauls or new creations.
new policy for which we had a little difficulty getting buy-in was near-miss
reporting. Many looked upon this as either “confessing their sins” or
“snitching on co-workers.” It wasn’t until the policy was in effect and
employees could confirm that there were no negative repercussions to such
reporting that it started to take hold.
of our most fundamental policies is lock-out/clock-out. Simply put, employees
whom we catch not properly locking out—or working on a piece of equipment that
is not locked out—are sent home without pay for the rest of the day. This is
done not so much as a punishment, but to save their lives. As Dan Becker
explains to employees who break the rule, “I’m going to do you and your family
a favor and send you home while you’re still safe.”
working with the IDOL consultants, we learned about OSHA’s Safety and Health
Recognition Program, or SHARP, which recognizes small employers who operate an
exemplary safety and health management system. This motivated us to further
raise the bar for safety and embrace SHARP recognition as our new goal. We were
already good—we had well-below-average accident rates—but we knew we could be
great. We continued to revise our safety operations as a result of the SHARP
A Safety Culture
of our biggest challenges was creating a truly collaborative safety culture.
While the owners have always had an open-door policy and have been very
attentive to any worker who brought anything safety-oriented to their
attention, there was not a sense of community. To build community, we created a
safety committee, had contests, and instituted the near-miss reporting program.
Eventually we began to see employee buy-in. Now I consider employee involvement
one of our biggest successes in becoming a SHARP company. Employees are
thinking about safety and not just about following rules. We frequently receive
suggestions regarding improving processes and other concerns.
of the changes we’ve made have come from employee suggestions and concerns. One
worth mentioning is the placement of the table we use for preparing copper
scrap. By simply adjusting the height of the table, the worker is able to not
only work more efficiently, but also reduce strain on his body due to the
ergonomic positioning of the equipment. The same is true of adjustments we made
to desks in the office areas. At the suggestion of—and with the collaboration
of—warehouse employees, we put in place a new truck unloading and loading
procedure that increases safety for both the drivers and the loaders.
want to acknowledge the owners of Becker Iron & Metal for “putting their
money where their mouth is.” They fully committed to making the changes
necessary and made sure there was money in the budget to do so. While the costs
were not astronomical, any additional costs to doing business cut into profits,
and they proved they were willing to put the safety of their employees above
their profits. Although many things changed during this process, one thing that
remained the same was the owners’ dedication to safety. One of the owners
attends almost every safety meeting. When Dan Becker asks employees—especially
new employees—“What is your No. 1 job here at Becker Iron & Metal?” the
answers often vary. In his mind, there is only one correct answer: “To go home
in the same condition as you showed up. Everything else is secondary
Rewards Of Greater Safety
2014, our injury and illness rate fell to zero, and in December 2014 we learned
we had achieved SHARP status, becoming the first scrap facility in Illinois to
do so. We celebrated this achievement with a party for all the employees,
business friends, community members, and the OSHA consultants and department
leaders. We also quickly began to realize some direct benefits, such as a
lowered experience modification factor, or mod rate, which lowered our
insurance premiums. Our DART rate—the number of employee days away,
restrictions, and transfers—also fell. We saw an uptick in business, as
companies would rather do business with someone who has been “OSHA approved.”
This approval helps alleviate customer fears of getting caught up in downstream
issues or litigation as a result of business dealings. I’m also seeing an
increased level of employee pride in the company—you just can’t put a dollar sign
the next two years we continued to improve our programs, focusing on training
and employee involvement. We continued to use the consultation program and have
had regular monitoring and visits. In December 2016, Becker Iron & Metal
was once again given SHARP status based upon our continued efforts and
dedication to creating the safest workplace possible.
a result of our SHARP status, our continuous effort to improve working
conditions, and our relationship with our Illinois OSHA consulting team,
earlier this year IDOL asked us to host the lieutenant governor of Illinois and
representatives of OSHA for their annual Labor Day proclamation. We were
honored to say yes. On Aug. 30, we welcomed to our facility Lt. Gov. Evelyn
Sanguinetti and her assistants, plus IDOL Acting Director Joe Beyer, Acting
Assistant Director Chris Wieneke, Illinois OSHA Industrial Service Consultant
Jeff Tisckos and Industrial Hygiene Consultant Dave Farris, and IDOL Public
Information Officer Ben Noble. We gave the visitors a tour of the facility,
showing off our site and employees and also creating a more positive perception
of the recycling industry as a whole.
Gov. Sanguinetti gave a short speech highlighting the importance of the labor
force to not only the business for which they work but also the entire economy
and structure of society. She stressed the need for continued education within
one’s field in order to stay competitive and productive. She commended Becker
for its commitment to ongoing training for all employees. After a short
question-and-answer period, the lieutenant governor met with everyone present
and engaged in conversations and picture-taking.
at Becker Iron & Metal, we continue to strive to enhance our safety
program. We operate as if there are always lessons to be learned and hazards
lurking in our facility waiting to be uncovered. We feel it’s our job to find
them before they find us.
Dunn is quality, environment, health, and safety director for Becker Iron &
Metal, a fourth-generation scrap recycling firm in Venice, Ill.