A plant sets aside one day to focus on safety

Sapa Extrusions halted operations for a day to emphasize safety and best practices with its 6,500 workers


Patrick Lawlor is the President of Sapa Extrusion North America. Courtesy: Sapa Extrusion North AmericaOn Thursday, Sept. 19, I halted production at 23 manufacturing plants in North America.

This was not related to a manufacturing glitch or a needed repair to our assembly lines. It was about something far more critical: the health and safety of 6,500 employees who work with me.

Last year, job-related injuries and illnesses cost American companies more than $250 billion—$31 billion more than the cost of all cancers and $76 billion more than the cost of diabetes. Every day, more than 12 workers die on the job; in 2012 alone, there were nearly 5,000 reported fatal work injuries in the U.S.

I don’t want Sapa Extrusions North America or my fellow co-workers to be a part of those statistics. There is nothing more important to me than making sure our plants and workers remain safe, healthy, and productive by adhering to the highest safety standards, year round.

So on September 19, all Sapa Extrusions North America manufacturing plants stopped production for a portion of the day for our fourth annual Health & Safety Day. The day is a celebration and reflection of our ongoing commitment and achievements to plant health and safety.

When I became president of Sapa, one of my first tasks was a review of workplace injuries. Our numbers were no better and no worse than those of our competitors, but we did find some room for improvement.

And so we launched an effort to promote health and safety. The results were immediate and lasting. In the four years since we began, on-the-job injuries have dropped by half in almost each of those years. While we are proud of that record, we are relentless in trying to bring that number to zero.

Since we launched our Health & Safety Day, though, something else has happened. Our entire culture has changed—for the better. We have created an environment where respect for one another permeates the workplace. A company whose message to its employees is, “I care about you, and I want you to be well and safe” is one in which workers feel valued, important, and empowered. That pride extends to our customers as well. A company that puts such a high premium on its employees tends to apply that same approach to its customers.

Health and safety isn’t just about reducing on-the-job injuries for our workers. We want to make sure their entire families are involved. Health & Safety Day now includes blood drives, health screenings, injury prevention exercises, fire drill training sessions, and more.

Though each Sapa plant customizes its Health & Safety Day activities, one thing is certain—we educate our employees about the importance of maintaining a safe and healthy work environment, as well as celebrate our achievements thus far. I encourage other manufactures to do the same.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Concern for man himself and his safety must always (be) for the chief interest of all technical endeavors.”

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