Safety has become as natural and automatic as sipping that first cup of coffee in the morning, said Michael Muirhead, director of manufacturing at Arch Chemicals in Charleston.
Arch Chemicals has had no OSHA-recordable injuries since July 7, 2009 — almost 13 months.
OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According to its website, its goal is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; authorize enforcement of the standards developed; assist and encourage the states in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; and provide for research, information, education and training in the field of occupational safety and health.
OSHA considers an injury or illness to meet the general recording criteria, and therefore to be “recordable,” if it results in any of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid or loss of consciousness. A recordable injury case meets the recording criteria if it involves a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional, even if it does not result in death, days away from work, restricted work or job transfer, medical treatment beyond first aid or loss of consciousness.
“This achievement is significant in many ways,” said Michael Muirhead, director of manufacturing at Arch Chemicals.
The achievement of more than a year without a recordable injury is a major rarity in a plant employing between 300 to 400 people, he said.
“After 25 years in this industry, I have only seen maybe 5 percent of the industry of chemical plants our size achieve this number,” Muirhead said. “It’s rare.”
The local Arch plant has strong chemicals on its premises, huge equipment and high-temperature operations, all creating a possible chance for a mishap or accident. The way Arch accomplished the safety feat of no injuries was to focus on the basics. It emphasized the use of proper tools, how to properly climb ladders, how to properly conduct inspections of equipment, proper lifting techniques, and the like.
One advantage Arch has over other similar plants is that it receives two key raw materials out of three required to make the pool chemicals as its finished product at their Charleston plant through a pipeline direct from OLIN, which is right next door.
“It’s good because we don’t have to carry a high inventory and not carrying inventory helps make a safer environment,” Muirhead said. “When high volumes of chemicals sit around, the risks and consequences of exposure always get higher.”
Safety also is not just an operator or management issue. Everyone at the plant is involved with keeping the safety program foremost in everyone’s minds and actions.
They start every meeting anywhere in the plant talking about safety.
“And we have a lot of meetings,” Muirhead said. “That clearly sends the right message. We don’t make it something to do on the side. Safety policies are critical to us.”
Safety is the key in Arch’s seven-element “Responsible Care” program that consists of community awareness and emergency response; security; distribution; employee health and safety; pollution prevention; process safety; and product stewardship, environment, safety and sustainability.
To meet the safety element goals of this program, every shift starts with a brief safety toolbox meeting. In addition, outside safety lecturers are also brought in to speak to employees. Arch employs two full-time safety experts on site. Additional specific training is ongoing, such as fork-lift training. Employees take special training classes and regular refresher courses. All employees have to take 10 to 15 CBTs, or Computer-Based Training, every three months and they all must be passed successfully.
But, as an added benefit, Arch employees have taken what they learned at work and used the same training, information and techniques to make their homes and families safer.
“I can speak from practical experience,” Muirhead said.
Muirhead might never have had considered using safety shoes and/or safety glasses at home while mowing the lawn if he hadn’t been ingrained with safety information at work.
“The ultimate importance of our achievement is that employees come to work every day and they leave work every day injury free,” Muirhead said. “The pay-off is no injuries.”