Sixteen years is a long time to maintain a record of no lost-time accidents. Just ask Fabricated Products Inc.’s (FPI) facility in Casa Grande, Arizona. Employees there have worked 1.5 million hours with no lost-time accidents, totaling more than 1.5 million consecutive safe hours at its two locations.
“If you would have told me 15 years ago, when we had one full year under our belt, that 16 years later we’d still be adding to this record, I doubt I would have believed it,” said Tim Rango, sales, human resources and safety manager for FPI, a subsidiary of Doe Run specializing in metal fabrication. “But today, knowing our team and the culture we have here, I believe we have what it takes to continue our record long into the future.”
FPI’s Casa Grande facility fabricates lead and lead alloy products, while the facility in Vancouver, Washington, produces lead oxides for the battery industry.
“FPI employees work in an environment with mechanical equipment, mobile equipment, and heavy suspended loads of hot or molten materials. It is critical that we have strong safety processes in place to protect our employees, keep our operations running smoothly and provide quality products to our customers,” says Mark Yingling, vice president – environmental, health & safety at Doe Run. “Our FPI employees have created an exemplary culture of safety, and we congratulate them for their commitment to keeping each other safe year over year.”
When asked what the key has been to such a safe environment, Dave Olkkonen, general manager, says it starts with hiring for the right fit. “Our first step is to find employees who share our common values of safety and respect for one another. We want to be a good fit for them, and they have to also share in our commitment to our safety performance. It is understood that we must always find a way to do a job safely, or we won’t do it at all.
“The division rewards employees with a lunch celebration when they achieve good results. We invite employees to ask our leadership team questions anytime they have questions or suggestions,” Olkkonen said. “By promoting communication, we’re fostering a level of respect and team work that carries over into the workday. We watch out for one another.”
Working Safely Protects Lives, Jobs and the Community
Just ask Steve Rhoades, general supervisor at Resource Recycling, Doe Run’s secondary lead smelter located in southeastern Missouri. In 2015, Doe Run’s Resource Recycling facility invested in new measures to keep both employees and the environment safer.
“Our people are what keep us in business, and our community allows us to operate, so it’s critical that we take steps to work safely and protect our employees and neighbors,” said Rhoades.
Doe Run took a big step in improving air quality in 2015 with a $1.2 million ventilation project that reduces exposure to potential airborne lead particles at Resource Recycling’s metal refinery. In order to reduce the potential for fugitive emissions from the refinery and other process buildings, the facility’s operations are enclosed in negative pressure buildings. Negative pressure is produced by large ventilation fans that draw the air in through ductwork and eventually through baghouses, which collect lead particles and other airborne materials before releasing the air outside.
“We are always working to lower employee exposure to airborne lead,” said Bruce Chamberlain, operations manager, Metals Division. “Doe Run made several improvements in this area, and the ventilation is a part of that success. We set our levels for employees well below the government requirements, and in 2015 our average blood-lead level for Metal Division employees was 15.01 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL). We focus on this for continuous improvement and establish metrics to help us continue the path of reduced exposure.”
The project construction took place over eight months and includes a 250-horsepower fan that can draw between 110-120 thousand cubic feet of air per minute. Missouri-based Lee Mechanical fabricated and installed the system.
One of Doe Run’s core values is being safe – protecting one another. This means a commitment from the company to continually invest in safety programs and equipment to protect employees and neighbors, and a commitment from employees to operate safely and watch out for fellow co-workers.
Behind the Numbers
Total Case Incident Rates, Lost Time Accidents, Blood-Lead Levels. What do they have in common? Lower is better when it comes to employee safety.
“There are various ways to measure progress in keeping employees safe,” said Justin Province, environmental, health & safety (EHS) manager. “In our industry, we routinely work with large equipment and around molten metal. Clear safety processes and open communication among employees helps us create a safe, productive environment. We must always maintain our focus and dedication to safety.”
Doe Run tracks and reports on blood-lead levels (the trace amount of lead the body may absorb through exposure), accidents and incident rates monthly and annually in each of the above categories, and in 2015 the company identified several areas for focused improvement.
“We are always monitoring our health and safety numbers, and identifying ways to make adjustments to improve safety at our facilities,” said Yingling.
Throughout 2015, Doe Run analyzed the safety performance numbers and the related incidents. In many cases, these lost time accidents involved soft tissue injuries, like deep bruises, muscle pulls or sprains, that take time to heal. While these types of injuries are common among any type of industrial job, Doe Run wanted to assess what changes could be made to minimize accidents like these.
“We are fortunate to have a knowledgeable and experienced workforce,” said Yingling. “Being too familiar with a job can sometimes lead to overconfidence. It’s important to stay alert and look out for potential dangers through continued assessment.”
Doe Run reassessed its performance against the mining industry’s CORESafety® Program, which the company first introduced in 2013. Building on the company’s progress, EHS team members conducted a companywide assessment in each of the program’s 20 key areas. Following assessment, the CORESafety team determined they would focus primarily on these categories: collaborating and communication, risk management, change management, assurance, and management systems coordination.
“We worked with employees throughout the organization, both hourly and salary, production and supervision, to identify safety improvement opportunities, prioritize them and put plans in place to address them.”
The central CORESafety team focused on collaboration and communication first to engage more employees in the process. The initial team of more than 75 employees (across all locations, divisions and, including, both hourly and salary staff) discussed how Doe Run could foster stronger two-way communication about safety issues. Location teams meet monthly to share ideas, research solutions and, when appropriate, present suggested improvements to division leadership teams so that any necessary corrective measures are taken.
One of the specific areas of focus was hand safety. “After investigating past incidents related to hand burns, the CORESafety team researched alternative hand protection products and identified a different glove that better protects employees,” stated Province. “After introducing the new glove and processes for the casting area, the number of hand-related injuries has greatly reduced.”
Separately, the team also responded to employee suggestions to research cooling gear for those who work closest to the furnaces. The company purchased the new gear, which keeps employees cooler and more comfortable.
Success one microgram at a time
Doe Run’s standards for workforce exposure to lead are more stringent than government requirements, and monthly progress is measured to the microgram, one millionth of a gram. In 2015, the average blood-lead levels companywide declined to 11.02 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) and the number of employees who recorded a blood-lead level of greater than 19 ug/dL also declined from 223 to 188.
“Doe Run proactively reassigns workers who have a blood-lead level of 30 µg/dL to a job area with reduced exposure,” stated Mark Yingling. “That’s 20 points less than the standard set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for medical reassignment.” Yingling attributes the success to concerted efforts at each division. “We also counsel employees who cross a certain threshold to identify particular areas of exposure, and work on individualized plans to address those areas.”