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Dispensing safety advice

New North firms rely on regular training, common sense and preventative measures to keep employees out of harm’s way

Story by Lee Marie Reinsch, New North B2B editor

March 2017

Haste makes waste. A stitch in time saves nine. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Look before you leap. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Always wear clean underwear. Never put beans in your ears.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t run with scissors!!

Haste makes waste. A stitch in time saves nine. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Look before you leap. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Always wear clean underwear. Never put beans in your ears.

And for Pete’s sake, don’t run with scissors!!

Grandma knew best, and when it comes to safety, it seems some of the safest northeast Wisconsin workplaces are following her common-sense advice.

“It’s all about being proactive,” said Bryan Zaremba, director of safety and risk management at Tweet/Garot Mechanical Inc. in Green Bay. Tweet/Garot has been recognized many times for its safety record and is a finalist for a 2017 Wisconsin Safety Council corporate safety award, which it’s already won 11 times.

“Our chairman has a slogan that really simply says ‘If it’s not safe, don’t do it. Make it safe, then do it,’” Zaremba said. “Hearing that from ultimately the top person at Tweet/Garot really reinforces everything that the safety department does.”

The firm must practice what it preaches. Tweet/Garot Chairman Timothy Howald was inducted into the Wisconsin Safety Council Hall of Fame in 2013.

Sensible shoes on the runway

Admittedly, safety is not sexy. It’s not exciting to read about. Or research. Or practice. But then again, neither is falling off a ladder or losing a finger. Accidents in the workplace can devastate a company’s morale, reputation and bottom line.

“Complacency is the killjoy of safety,” said Dan Shea, chief operating officer of Shea Electric & Communications in Oshkosh. Sometimes people don’t want to bother shutting off an electrical panel or putting on safety gear.

“We live in an instant society. People want everything now,” Shea said. “People in hell want ice water, but I won’t put my people in harm’s way.”

Private-industry employers reported nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at a rate nationally of three cases per 100 fulltime workers.

Of that nearly 3 million, Wisconsin reported 68,000 cases, at a rate of 3.6 incidents per 100 fulltime workers. Wisconsin is one of 21 states with a workplace incident rate above the national average. The BLS attributes this to the density of and types of industry in those states. While nearly 75 percent of workplace injuries nationally happen in the service industry, injuries are most concentrated in the natural resources, construction and maintenance industries, according to the federal data.

Look before you leap

Safe workplaces have something in common: Forethought. They think things through before they act. They plan, troubleshoot, and envision the ‘what if.’

Tweet/Garot and Miron Construction of Fox Crossing start the day out with a huddle. Miron calls its practice the Daily Excellence Huddle.

“It’s where you lay out the game plan for the day: What are your people going to be doing, what are their performance expectations?” said Kevin Hildebrandt, director of risk management with Miron. “They lay out the tasks that they’re going to be performing, identify risks and lay out the safety considerations and measures that are going to be implemented to make sure those risks don’t materialize.”

Miron recently received the Excellence in Safety Award from Engineering News Record-Midwest magazine for its work on Fox Valley Hematology & Oncology facility in Appleton, a project for which it logged 145,000 hours and had no reportable injuries.

At a huddle, employees might bring up anything that’s different from the usual day.

“Maybe a set of deliveries is going to take place, resulting in an increased amount of traffic on the job site,” Tweet/Garot’s Zaremba said.

Workers are encouraged to consult a job hazard analysis or a job safety analysis to weigh what needs to be done to avert problems.

Shea Electric puts handbooks and information online for its electricians to access from the field. So there’s never a reason not to follow safe procedure.

“That’s what we lead with for everything – how we’re going to do it safely and how we’re going to do this job,” said Desmond Vincent, Shea’s director of safety and a journeyman electrician.

A stitch in time saves nine

Planning and prevention get a boost from new technology, too. In the construction industry, virtual construction and building information modeling can help work out the kinks in a project before it’s too late.

“For both clients and tradespeople, the visualization component – being able to see it in 3D, as opposed to on a flat plain – really helps them understand the entire scope of the project and understand the risks associated with it,” Hildebrandt said of virtual construction.

Ironing out glitches before crews get onsite can save labor and materials, in addition to lives.

“When you can identify things on the plan upfront and on drawings, it’s color coded and people can see it, you start doing things such as separating pedestrian traffic from vehicle traffic on site in the planning stage – that’s what virtual construction brings to the table,” Hildebrandt said. “It’s a pre-planning tool where you can start to build your project in a controlled environment first.”

Virtual construction simulation lets designers plan for future safety, too. Beyond the actual construction, the structure will need maintaining. So it makes sense to create a safe environment for whoever will be in charge of maintenance.

“If there’s valve or air filters that need to be maintained or anything like that, we can make sure those items are located in a place where we’re not going to put anyone at risk to maintain them,” said Blake Titus, virtual construction specialist with Miron. “They’re not going to have to be on a ladder reaching over.”

Think about a roof hatch. Often it’s located near a roof’s edge – dangerous in any condition, let alone in rain, ice or snow.

“If you can show what that looks like and what the maintenance person is going to have to do … you can show that ‘Yes, we have the roof hatch in this location, but is it really a good location for your people?’” Titus said. “You can visually show what it’s going to be like.”

VC also enables contractors to make parts in advance, and that reduces risks inherent to fieldwork.

“We’re able to prefabricate plumbing walls, so rather than have a pipefitter working out in the field where it can be cold conditions or hot conditions or whatever, they can build large assemblies of plumbing walls in a warehouse, in a controlled environment,” Titus said. “So it’s more efficient, it’s safer, and in the end, the owner gets a better product.”

Don’t run with scissors

At Wisconsin Plastics Inc. in Ashwaubenon, technology helps reduce injuries. Although WPI has plenty of big equipment – overhead cranes, lift trucks, injection molding machines, to name a few – the most common sources of injury are the knives used to trim off “flash,” the extra plastic that squirts out the sides of a mold when it’s cooling from liquid form.

Now robots at WPI perform many of the actions a human would normally do, including some of the flash trimming, according to Carl Bartle, plant manager.

“It gives you consistency as far as how the parts are handled and reduces the amount of injury with auxiliary hand tools,” Bartle said.

The business case for safety

When EMTs encounter accidents, they see blood and broken bones. When employers encounter workplace accidents, they see dollar signs. The average direct cost of a workplace accident is $38,000 to $48,000, with indirect costs averaging $152,000 to $192,000, according to Safety Management Group, a national workplace resource organization.

The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports employers pay around $1 billion per week just for workers’ compensation premiums.

Fines to a company for death or injury caused by work done improperly can wipe that company out. Even if that company subcontracted the work out to a vendor who did the poor work, the company can be on the hook, according to Shea. That’s one reason his small company of 17 employees performs all the work it takes on. He knows his workers will do the job right.

“We spend a lot of time and money on education and training,” Shea said.

It’s for the customer’s benefit as well, he said. If OSHA were to be called to look into a mishap caused by a subcontractor, it could set off a chain reaction of fines to the client for extraneous or unrelated violations.

Rehabilitating or replacing an injured employee, lost productivity to an entire business if it has to be shut down due to an accident, higher workers’ compensation insurance premiums, lawsuits, loss of reputation – the ramifications of unsafe work practices can have a huge ripple effect.

By the same token, a good safety record can reduce workers’ comp premiums, Shea said.  He estimates his company’s excellent safety record saves him thousands of dollars a year.

“People think it’s a cost to spend money on safety, but it’s not. It makes you more competitive,” Shea said. “Safety is embedded in our culture. But in 31 years in this trade, I see not everybody feels that way.”

Warranty on work lasts a short time, but liability can extend decades into the future, he said.

An ounce of prevention

Both Tweet/Garot and Miron also engage in an unlikely-sounding daily ritual for improving safety: Stretching. Yes, as in limbs.

“That’s part of the Daily Excellence Huddle,” Hildebrandt said. “It helps the individual shift their mind from homelife to worklife and stretch their body, make them more flexible for the day.”

Exercise professionals say stretching can improve blood flow and range of movement.

Tweet/Garot brought in an ergonomic specialist to evaluate the activities its employees were doing in the shop and in the field to come up with a series of appropriate stretches.

“We’ve got a warm-up stretch that can be followed by five different stretches that can be done each day, or depending upon the task,” said Zaremba from Tweet/Garot. Employees can modify and change the stretching they do each day based upon their scheduled jobs for the day ahead.

“They can focus on their hands and upper body, or they can focus on stretches dealing with that portion of their body they’ll be using.”

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

Employers in northeast Wisconsin have resources they can turn to for advice and help with issues related to keeping their workers safe. Local safety councils, such as the Oshkosh or Fond du Lac Area safety councils, offer training, meetings, information and updates on policies and regulations.

Wisconsin Safety Council provides onsite and off-site workplace safety training in a slew of areas, such as forklift safety, lift truck safety, creating a safety culture within an organization, OSHA compliance, fall protection, confined-space first aid and CPR, as examples.

Wisconsin Safety Council Director Janie Ritter admits most of its outreach focuses on the parts of the state in which membership is most concentrated: primarily Milwaukee, Madison, the Fox Valley and Green Bay.

Traveling to those locales isn’t always convenient, however, so the organization accommodates employers.

“We will take training right to their facility – it saves them money on travel time, overnight accommodations and food, and it’s easier because the employees can still sleep in their own bed and go to training,” Ritter said.

While the safety council doesn’t have industry experts on staff, it does contract with professionals in just about any area an employer might need training, Ritter said, from mining to manufacturing.

A division of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Safety Council is a chapter of the National Safety Council, which does research, develops curriculum and serves as the umbrella organization for safety councils around the country.

Fox Valley Safety Council is composed of safety professionals who provide resources to members with questions and issues. It meets monthly September through June at changing locations. Several times a year, it tours sites such as paper mills and foundries. In March, for example, it’s meeting at the Greenville Co-op and feed mill.

“We will bring in experts, like OSHA once a year, or the DOT (Department of Transportation) who speak to us about what’s new, what are the updates with regulations, what are they focusing on,” said Paige Dudovick, president of Fox Valley Safety Council. “It gives our members the opportunity to ask questions of these experts.”

So who joins a safety council? Not all companies have a designated safety department or person with a degree in safety whose job it is to look out for employees’ safety, Dudovick said.

“Sometimes duties get transferred to HR, or they may take someone off the floor and make them a safety director. They will send their individuals to us, because we have that outlet with professionals,” she said.

“Even if you are a safety professional, this is great place to get those updates,” Dudovick said. “Being able to take your current concerns and bring them to meetings to use as a sounding board and find out what are other companies’ best practices – that can be helpful.”