December 10, 2007

Safety–Round Three

By Paul Bieber

My Son, Philip, who is a better writer and editor than I, tells me never carry a thought longer than three times. So this will be the third and final installment on Safety in the Glass Industry.

Safety in the glass industry (and most industries) is driven by four things:

1.A desire to keep people safe and in one piece

2.A need to reduce worker’s comp costs

3.A need to keep people working and productive

4.A desire to avoid problems with governments (OSHA)

If you have a true desire to remain accident-free, read on. If you are willing to accept having some accidents, then stop reading and go to work because you are going to need every penny you can get your hands on to pay your comp bills and OSHA fines,

A while back I too believed that some accidents were unavoidable, and that a small accident was OK. As our worker’s comp rate slowly climbed, as our workforce became less experienced, I learned that having a safe company was not a cost, but an investment that pays real dollars and goodwill back to leadership.

If you allow a ‘simple cut’ as OK, where do you draw the line. Three stitches? Five stitches? A tendon in the wrist? As you work towards a zero accident rate, the three just mentioned would end up as: Nothing, Nothing, and Three stitches. The cut tendon could be avoided or at least the damage reduced. How?????? By teaching proper practices, enforcing handling and shop rules, and by wearing the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The biggest cause of glass accidents is handling glass too often. DUH! Of course. The less ‘touches’ you have, the less chance for an injury. Plan your travels during the day with the last stop on the inside of the rack, and the first stop towards the edge. You say, well the orders don’t come that way…and I say, get the scheduler in your company involved so that they schedule jobs with large glass on trucks that don’t have other stops, or later in the day on trucks with multiple stops. You see, it does takes everyone in a company to create a safe company. Wet glass is tougher to handle than dry glass, of course you know that. When your scheduler makes appointments for large glass, do they say that high winds or rain will cause a delay? Or is it up the the installer to make his stops, no matter what? Give the installer the authority to decide when it is not safe to carry certain glass. If you have a good team they will not abuse the privileges; your teams will grow because of your trust in them.

So ‘work smart’ will reduce accidents. I promise. In my observations, the next biggest cause of accidents was clutter around the shop or truck. If you are carrying a lite of glass and have to step over something, your balance changes and that can cause a slip. Always have clean walkways in your shop. Have clean racks so that glass doesn’t break when sliding out. Have good lighting so that a small run can be seen before a lite is picked up. Which begs the rule that every lite is inspected before it is picked up. Good lighting doesn’t work if people don’t open their eyes!

Working smart involves wearing shoes that support and protect you. Glass shops should allow only leather work boots, at least ankle height, with metal toes and a metatarsal guard. What is a metatarsal guard? It is a piece of steel worn on top of the shoe, above the ankle. They sure are wimpy looking—until you realize that major league umpires wear them because they prevent injuries—and umpires are far from wimpy.

If you require work boots, (YOU SHOULD) you will be responsible to pay for them. Sears is about the best choice, along with local uniform or work supply outlets. There are expensive boots, and there are realistic boots. You should offer to pay up to a set amount, usually $50-70, and if the worker wants more expensive boots than that, let them pay the difference. What do you do if the worker left his boots at home…send him home to get them, on his time, not yours. He is late when he goes for them and comes back. Too bad. Nobody wakes up in the morning and forgets to put shoes on. If employees are responsible they wear boots, if they are lazy or trouble-making they will wear their sneakers. No boots, no work, no exceptions.

Arm guards are next…there are many types to wear. I recommend a short pair of wrist guards, from the base of the hand up about six inches and then a cut protecting sleeve from the shoulder down to a point where the wrist guard is covered. Cut wrists are an expensive, and unfortunately too common injury in our trade.

If you are a manufacturer, then leg guards, or chaps should be part of your PPE program. I’ve found very few installation companies that use or provide chaps. So, if you don’t have chaps, insist on a heavy denim-type pant, not shorts!

Safety equipment is not going to be the most comfortable option for your staff. They will complain, they will try to get around the rules, just like the 3rd graders who pass notes, but this is for every one’s good. Enforce the rules you create. Use one or two people from your shop floor to help pick out various safety equipment. Try different types for a week, and you’ll find greater cooperation from the work force.

All of this helps point one and two. Point three calls for keeping people working. Let’s now tell you Bieber’s Brainstorm: ‘ONLY THE GOOD EMPLOYEES HURT THEMSELVES. THE INJURIES ONLY HAPPEN DURING BUSY TIMES OF THE YEAR. INJURIES ONLY OCCUR WHEN OTHER KEY PEOPLE ARE ON VACATION. When an accident occurs, of course you loose a good worker, even if it is just for that day. You also have three people talking about it for a day. Accidents hurt productivity beyond the person that has the injury. My feelings are that for every day an employee is lost due to an accident, you loose an additional day of productivity because of having to refocus efforts of others.

Number four, which will bite you when you are not looking is OSHA. If you have a serious injury rate higher than other firms like yours, you can expect a visit from OSHA. I have been involved with a couple of OSHA visits, and I was so surprised how careful and friendly the inspectors were. Of course, we didn’t argue with them, that may have helped. But they were not there to hurt us, but to find ways to prevent accidents. Their mantra, “zero accidents”, is what they will talk with you about. If you have a process in your business that has the potential of an accident, and you don’t have accident prevention in place, OSHA will tell you to stop doing that, now. The answer of: “It will cost money to build a guard”, or “it will take longer to do something”, will not fly. Trust me, the OSHA agents I met were unflappable in their goal of stopping accidents. They took no middle ground, no compromise. An OSHA visit, will, in the long run, make you a better company, but it will be expensive and time consuming. Avoid the visit by preventing accidents.

We could write three blogs on each of the points here, but you get the drift. Avoid accidents and you will be a better company. Still have questions? Catch me at, anytime.