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Developing a safety culture

by Bill and Mary Weaver

Upon entering the ferrous metal recycling yard at Sadoff Iron and Metal in Fond Du Lac, WI, we were greeted by safety slogans clearly printed on the booms of every material handler and loader in sight.

“The hardest things to change in developing a safety culture at our 8 industrial metal recycling facilities,” explained Jason Lasky, company vice-president, who has been in charge of developing and implementing the safety culture for the past seven years, “have been behaviors, such as not taking the time to do a job right, rushing, taking short cuts, not being aware of distractions. Behaviors such as these have been our biggest challenge.”

The metal recycling industry, inherently dangerous because of its cutting/shredding/baling machinery and its mobile material handlers lifting large “bites” of metal is considered the fourth most dangerous industry by the U.S. Department of Labor. Sadoff’s aim is to proactively prevent accidents from happening, and the company and all its department and facility managers are working hard toward this goal.

The safety slogans on heavy machinery are part of Sadoff’s effort to prevent accidents. “Our goal is to reduce risks. If we can reduce risk, we can create safety, because safety is the absence of risk,” continued Jason Lasky. “That’s why we developed the safety core, which has become part of our culture. Safety is not considered a priority, because priorities can change from month to month, and even from minute to minute. Safety has become a value, a part of our business culture that does not change.”

In the ferrous recycling yard, all heavy machinery has been retrofitted with back-up cameras, and employees on foot have instant radio communication with individual machinery operators. The use of proper safety equipment is not negotiable. At Sadoff, workers can get fired for not wearing hard hats and safety glasses.

“Employees will go through the disciplinary process,” explained Jason Lasky. “The warning for the first offence will be verbal. The second offence will bring a written warning, and the third will result in termination.” This is part of the safety culture — another pro-active way of preventing certain types of potentially serious injury. “If you don’t honor our work rules for wearing hard hats and safety glasses, you don’t have the privilege of working here.”

These examples only scratch the surface of deeper changes that have been made to create Sadoff’s safety core, which has six components. Anyone reading them for the first time will be struck by the investment of on-the-clock work time in the safety program. This safety culture does not come cheap. “But,” added Jason Lasky, “’Cost’ and ‘safety’ should never both be used in the same sentence.

“We recognize that, although there is a cost to our safety core in time and expense, the risks created by not following those six steps can be ten-fold what the safety core program costs. So it seems like a cheap investment.”

Not only accidents, but also near misses, are taken very seriously, and employees are strongly encouraged to report them and to file an incident report. “We meet as a leadership team, including our HR Director, our Facility Director, and our Safety Director (who has held that position for 21 years at Sadoff), once weekly to review each incident report of an accident or a near miss, and to discuss how we can find opportunities for corrective action.”

Employees are also taught “from day one” that they have the right to stop work in progress in the event they feel seriously unsafe. Employees are also taught, “If you see something that looks unsafe, say something,” because it probably is unsafe. Hand written “atta boy” notes, modest cash payments, awards and privileges are regularly used to honor employees who make a positive contribution to safety.

Even basic housekeeping is an important proactive contributor to plant safety, and this leads us to the first of the six basic points of Sadoff’s Safety Core: every month Safety Director Jerry Heitman performs a scored safety audit. “Our managers have to achieve a minimum of 95 on their safety score to pass.”

Second: every month each department or facility manager is required to complete a non-scored safety audit measured as “complete,” (they did it,) or “incomplete” (they didn’t.)

Third: all managers have are the responsibility of making sure that all of their employees meet all of the training required on a monthly basis, including ensuring attendance. This is also scored as complete or incomplete. This is a more complex undertaking than it might appear to be on the surface.

For example, there are the daily “Toolbox Talks,” held by every manager for about 15 minutes of on-the-clock time every morning. “Our safety director directs the safety culture, but our managers lead the safety culture. Each manager uses what has been going on in their operation and the issues they’v encountered as the basis for these daily talks, which focus on safety.

“If you think about it, this is what we should be doing. It’s telling people what to expect for the day. They are informed about anything that needs attention, correction or awareness. They talk about whatever is necessary to discuss with all the folks together in one room. This facilitates healthy communication,” said Jason Lasky.

Fourth: one and a half days are spent with each new employee in pre-employment training and go through the pre-employment safety checklist. Before the new employee starts his first shift, his manager sits down with him and reviews both the safety culture and specific safety information about his particular job.

An employee who works in the nonferrous warehouse with the powerful Harris baler, for example, will be taught the lockout procedure to be used when he is working around the baler.

Fifth: every facility manager holds a monthly manager’s meeting with all their staff to discuss concerns about safety operations, environmental considerations and anything else that is appropriate to inform all their employees about that month (again on-the-clock.)

And sixth: “We have the expectation that employees will do safety audits of other departments, so that we’ll get new eyes looking at each area. These can be termed ‘cross-pollination’ audits, to make sure nothing has been missed.

“These six elements of the Safety Core are at the heart of what we do here for safety. This Safety Core was designed to drive the safety culture, using leading indicators for addressing things that have not happened yet,” said Lasky.

“Leading indicators — including preventive audits, making sure all employees are well trained, making sure all facilities are following housekeeping requirements — are all meant to assist in reducing risk and preventing accidents by proactively addressing potential causes. The definition of safety is the absence of risk.”

Sadoff also partners with others to reduce risk in the industry. “When we’re going around to other companies in the regular course of business, we’re noticing safety risks, among other things.” As an example, Sadoff provides small, self-dumping hoppers to some of their manufacturers.

“We had an incident involving one of those hoppers, and we realized that if we could put a safety chain on that device, we could prevent it from causing that same injury that we had experienced.” This is not a small project. Sadoff has hundreds of those small hoppers out in the field. “They are in use, so we can’t just go out and collect them all and fix them.

“It’s a process where, as our employees are going out to our industrial customers, they are looking for equipment that could use this safety assist. We’re being proactive in providing it for the companies,” said Lasky.

Sadoff also participates in something called the ‘Safety Circle of Excellence’ with the international industry group ISRI. “This involves meeting with other like-minded companies in discussing opportunities to realize health and safety promotion within the industry, and we do assist the industry with some of their safety programs. These meetings take place in the course of business, depending on what we’re doing operationally.”


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