McElroy Metal sets safety pace

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Bossier City, La.,-based McElroy Metal, Inc., has earned the honor of being the first NFBA supplier  member company to receive a Gail Miller Distinguished Safety Award.

The Gail Miller Award, presented each year during the NFBA Expo, goes to an individual or a company that makes a significant contribution to post-frame industry safety.

The award, named after the late Gail Miller as a tribute to his concern for the safety of those who work in the post-frame industry, recognizes winning companies’ efforts to make their work sites safe for their employees.

McElroy’s Light Gauge Manufacturing Division, with facilities in Marshall, Mich., Mauston, Wis. and Lewisport, Ky., manufactures McElroy Metals’ Max-Rib and Mesa panels, which are used by the company’s post-frame customer base. Plant managers Don Jones in Marshall, George Kleinhans in Mauston and Ernie Garrison in Lewisport were recognized for the Light Gauge Division’s exceptional safety record.

McElroy won the award for more than  its safety record in its Light Gauge plants. The company’s overall commitment to safety is key. Foster Conway, a corporate safety manager working out of McElroy’s Bossier City, La., headquarters, has been with the company for more than 10 years.

“Something that has contributed to our safety record is employee education,” Conway says. “Our employees learn the consequences of injury to themselves as individuals — both physical and mental — and also to their families, who can be financially devastated by their injury. After they understand these things, they can understand the true value of working safely.

“Our strong safety commitment from management and a DVD that is part of new employee orientation also lets employees know we are concerned about their safety,” Conway continues. “The manager of each division speaks on this DVD. New employee orientation educates new workers on every aspect of safety pertaining to the work that he or she will perform. We also provide employees with a voice to talk about safety. They have the right and ability to speak up if they have a safety concern, and this sends a strong message to the entire company.”

McElroy’s safetypractices include weekly tailgate-type meetings and training on forklift and crane operation, CPR and first aid, machine-specific operation, emergency procedures, electrical safety and machine guarding. Site-specific DVDs are produced so employees can observe the tasks they will perform on the job.

McElroy’s inspection process is stringent. There are daily forklift inspections; daily, monthly and annual crane inspections; and inspections of lifting equipment (performed by consultants in this specialty), machinery, grounds and overall facilities. Monthly, each facility’s housekeeping, electrical wiring and conduit are inspected. On the corporate level, McElroy conducts a biannual safety audit that examines 100 different items. Safety professionals representing insurance carriers also provide suggestions.

Rewards work; money talks
To reinforce the corporate commitment to safety, McElroy has designed an incentive compensation program that rewards managers and employees fiinancially for exceptional safety performance. This incentive likely contributed to the company’s stellar record of having just one recordable accident in 2009. Between 2004 and 2009, McElroy’s three Light Gauge facilities had an overall injury frequency rating of 1.6, which is well below the national average.

Transparency regarding the safety record contributes to McElroy’s success.

“I put together a monthly report on hours worked, injuries and frequency,” Conway says. “This gives employees a picture of how they are performing within the company and against other companies in the industry. This is one of the valuable tools that drive our safety program in a positive direction.”

Mark Brotherton, McElroy’s vice president of Midwest operations who works out of the Marshall facility, credits Foster’s biannual safety inspections as contributing to the company’s safety record.

“These inspections give Foster the opportunity to visit each facility at least twice a year, and this makes a huge difference because employees get to talk directly to him,” Brotherton says. “Foster also e-mails a weekly safety message and discussion to all 11 of our manufacturing facilities and other retail operations. This really keeps safety awareness in front of employees.”

Layers of protection
Fall protection and guarding of cutting machinery are top safety concerns.

“We manufacture metal that is formed through a high-speed machine that rotates,” Conway says. “We put mesh or steel guards around these machines so employees cannot reach in and get caught in a turning mechanism.”

Simple barriers and gates that can be easily removed (while machines continue to operate) are not acceptable safety precautions for McElroy.

Says Brotherton, “If a barrier can be easily removed and a machine can still operate, we lose a level of protection. If we are going to have a safe work environment, we cannot allow a machine to operate if a guard is not in place. Sometimes a guard must be removed so an employee can feed material into a machine, but we require that the guard be put back in place if the machine is to operate. Foster has developed an equipment-specific video to train employees about hazards to watch for.”

Foster bases his safety program on hazard assessments. Some hazards can be avoided with the use of personal protective equipment (PPE); others require guards, training, or something else.

Expect more OSHA oversight
Gary W. Auman, director, Dayton, Ohio-based Dunlevey, Mahan & Furry, is an attorney whose practice focuses on occupational, safety and health law. Auman, NFBA’s general counsel, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has assumed an aggressive position in enforcing safety regulations against employers in general, with a focus on the construction industry.
OSHA’s new posture concentrates more on enforcement (writing citations and issuing fines) than on assisting employers with compliance and voluntary protection programs, according to Auman.

“This is an extremely important change for NFBA members because if they are expecting help from OSHA, they won’t get as much of it now and for the next couple of years as they did earlier in the 21st century,” Auman says. “Also, Federal OSHA is increasing the number of its compliance officers by more than 100 in 2010. They are putting more people in the field who are trained to authorize and issue citations.”

In 2009, OSHA amended its Field Operations Manual (FOM), a day-to-day guide for its compliance officers. The FOM provides insight into how a compliance office may view employers during site visits. General-duty clause violations are now enforceable. Although every employer is required to provide its employees with a workplace free of recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious injury, the concept of “recognized hazard” can be murky.

Says Auman, “On March 29, OSHA added ‘common sense recognition’ to the FOM to identify hazards. I speculate this is intended to permit compliance officers to say that anyone with common sense would recognize a particular situation as a hazard. This change necessitates that NFBA members view every potential hazard from a common sense perspective and add this to their safety evaluations.”

In addition, Auman says that due to developments in recent months that pointed to soft enforcement of “state OSHA” regulations, many “state OSHA” states will need to get much more aggressive about enforcing safety regulations because they are now under the “federal OSHA” microscope.

Proper, safe equipment prevents incidents
So how should post-frame builders respond to tighter OSHA oversight? Gary W. Auman, director, Dayton, Ohio-based Dunlevey, Mahan & Furry, advises taking safety more seriously.

“First, determine what employees need and make sure they have the necessary safety equipment,” he says. “Bring in a consultant who can look at your overall operation and make recommendations. Many employers take shortcuts in this area. Next, make sure the equipment you provide (be it PPE, drills, or hammers) is in a safe and functional condition; if not, take it out of service and replace it. The next big thing to do is to train employees in hazard recognition. If you do this, employees are less likely to do things that are incorrect. Look at the OSHA 300 law and the recordkeeping log you need to use to record all injuries and look for injury patterns.

“Every day at random times, make sure that a competent person (usually for foreman or superintendent) walks the site to observe employees doing their jobs and makes sure their equipment is safe,” Auman continues. “Equipment that looks unsafe should be tagged and taken out of service. If an employee violates a safety rule, exercise progressive discipline. Bigger contractors employing 100 or more people at a site should have someone who deals with safety 100% of the time visit job sites two to three times a week.”

Auman acknowledges that as the post-frame industry becomes more involved in commercial and industrial construction markets, safety is becoming a higher priority. However, he believes the industry still has a way to go when it comes to safety, and he says contractors must increase their focus on fall protection and personal fall arrest equipment — a very expensive safety component from the perspectives of time and equipment cost.

“If a post-frame company is not sure about how to make fall prevention a higher priority, they should talk to other builders or bring in a consultant,” Auman advises. He also suggests that all NFBA members access OSHA’s user-friendly Web site on a daily basis (www.osha.gov). A search under the construction topic provides interpretations and access to all standards. Citation records for all U.S. companies also are searchable. OSHA staff provides timely answers to questions via the Web site, as well.

Another useful tool is NFBA’s Jobsite Safety Checklist, which is posted in the members-only section of the NFBA Web site. Armed with these safety resources, member companies can become well informed and provide safe work environments for their employees.

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