In the late 00’s Trinity began a new safety program. When I began working for them they had the same kind of safety program as Brighton and Trinity. They showed videos and put up posters showing how to work safely. And we were provided personal protection equipment, such as safety glasses and hearing protection, and sometimes a hard hat. We were also provided a stipend to purchase steel-toed safety shoes and work gloves. But if there was a serious injury, OSHA would investigate, give out fines for any safety violations it discovered, and demand the unsafe conditions be fixed. Of course, any action by OSHA would cause the company’s insurance, which all companies pay into the disability fund that pays for the treatment and care of employees injured in the workplace, to go up.
This new policy was intended to take OSHA out of the equation. If there were no injuries, then this insurance rate would go down, saving the company money. The company would have to make an initial investment to get the ball rolling, but after that the reduced insurance rates would more than pay for the safety program. So a safety director was hired. Our first, Hal, wasn’t very good. But the next, Jeff W., was effective. And there were many other changes. The company began giving out work gloves, instead of giving out money for people to buy them. People were likely to buy the cheapest they could find, or, like me, keep the money and not buy them at all. The company also insisted people wear them. I never wore work gloves during most of my life. As a result, I constantly got burns and cuts and steel splinters. Once I got in the habit of wearing gloves my hands became so soft my wife couldn’t believe it. The company also got better safety glasses, with a foam seal. And it was mandated that we affix plastic face shields onto our hard hats whenever we were machining or grinding. Anyone working around the acid tanks not only had to wear a face shield, but also an apron. Anyone performing hot work, which meant welding or burning or cutting, had to wear leather guards over their clothing to prevent it from catching fire. Also, half-face respirators that covered your nose and mouth had to be worn whenever grinding or doing hot work with certain metals.
Of course, you can lead a horse, yada,yada. But Jeff W. made us drink the water. If he caught you without any of your safety equipment he suggested you put it on. If that didn’t work, he would report you and the foreman would demand you put it on, reminding you that safety violations could be cause for dismissal. But it seldom, if ever, got that far. Jeff was a friendly guy, and a suggestion from him was enough. With Hal, as soon as his back was turned you went back to doing what you wanted to do. But Jeff was gently insistent. Also, you got the impression he really cared about doing a good job, which for him was insuring our well-being.
There were other changes. We began having daily safety meetings. These would happen after our morning break, and would generally last 5 to 10 minutes. Jeff usually had a topic to discuss, and we could bring up any safety-related issue that was going on out in the shop. Also, at the beginning of every shift the lead man would hold a brief safety meeting with his department at which any ongoing hazards in the shop were discussed. We began having monthly safety lunches, at which the company catered a meal, if there had been no injuries that month. We were also issued gift cards, usually for $50, monthly if there had been no injuries. More and better safety videos were shown. Anyone interested was given CPR training. The company sent people to be trained as first responders. A defibrillator station was set up. A first aid station was also set up. The eye wash and shower stations were greatly improved. Also, near misses were reported. A near miss was an incident in which no one was injured, but easily could have been. Any pain-killing medication you were on had to be reported in writing to the office. And your physician had to certify that any medication he has prescribed for you would not imperil you at work.
The results were amazing. Injuries dropped dramatically. It was truly astounding. We went an entire year once without a single lost time accident. Some people gripe and complain that nothing ever changes, that all these changes are accomplishing nothing. They just don’t remember, or are willfully forgetting, what this place used to be like. I sure wouldn’t recognize it from the dangerous place I walked into 44 years ago.