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USGNN Original StoryGlass Companies Talk About the Importance of a Safe Work Environment

A safe work place is critical for any manufacturing or production environment, but especially so when working with a material such as glass that can itself cause injury and even death. Even when glass companies take all the necessary precautions and follow strict safety procedures accidents can and do sometimes happen. That’s why it’s so critical to make sure not only the safety procedures are in place, but also that employees are aware of them and abide by them.

Coastal Glass Distributors in Charleston, S.C., for example, has a safety manager who, along with a group of other managers and front-line personnel, form the company’s safety council.

“Our focus is on making sure we have a good understanding of the safety requirements for each job and training new employees to work safely,” says Jack Hoey, president. “We have weekly safety meetings with all our shop floor departments to keep safe practices at the front of our employees' minds. We prepare a written analysis of every safety incident, no matter how seemingly small, so we can identify opportunities to improve safety further.”

Sharon Furnish, office manager for Glenny Glass Co. in Milford, Ohio, also says her company follows a number of measures to make sure employees are safe.

“We outfit all employees with safety gear, including protective sleeves and torso protection, aprons and chaps, goggles, gloves and they all wear steel-toed shoes,” says Furnish. She adds that they have also installed overhead cranes to transport the glass.

“This way employees do not have to physically lift and move every piece of glass,” Furnish adds.

So why is work-place safety so important for glass companies? One reason is the fact that glass itself is a potentially dangerous product.

“Protecting people's lives is obviously very important. After all, safety products are the primary things we produce; it would be inconsistent to concern ourselves with protecting customers but not employees,” says Hoey. “Second, from a manufacturing point of view, a safety-conscious environment can't be separated from a quality-conscious environment.”

According to Furnish, worker’s compensation costs are also very high, so that’s another reason plant safety is so important.
In order to keep everyone involved and ensure the importance of safety is carried throughout the company, some say they’ve had success offering incentives to employees. Furnish says as part of her company’s safety program sporadic safety walkthroughs take place from time to time and if employees are following all of the safety procedures they are awarded with a cash bonus.

For other companies, such as Coastal Glass Distributors, reward programs have not been very successful.

“I wonder if it's because it creates a sense that safety is optional--something over and above the job requirement that you get a bonus for, rather than an essential component of every job,” says Hoey. “We try to assure accountability for safe practices, and constant reminders that it's the employee's health we want to preserve. This isn't about the company, it's about them.”

Guardian Industries, headquartered in Auburn Hills, Mich., also follows a number of measures to ensure the safest possible work environment. Following all local and federal regulations, supplying all necessary personal with protective equipment and providing the training required by local or federal law is just the start.

“We want to put employees in a position to succeed in all areas, safety being one of them,” says Mike Marsala, Guardian loss control manager. He says at Guardian all employees at all levels are held accountable for safety and for most it is part of their regular performance evaluation.

“We expect employees to look out for their own safety, the safety of their co-workers and correct unsafe behaviors or unsafe conditions as they are identified,” Marsala says. Regular inspections are also important to help maintain a safe environment.

“We inspect ourselves internally at a specified frequency (often at least weekly in most plants) to ensure hazards are corrected as they are found; external inspectors perform inspections on fire equipment, boilers and machinery,” says Marsala. He adds though, that while the safety expectation is pushed from the top of the organization, it exists throughout the company.

“The safety culture that exists and thrives on the floor of our production facilities is the root of our phenomenal safety record,” he adds.

Maintaining a safe work environment is just as important for contract glaziers, too. MTH Industries in Chicago, for example, conducts safety-training sessions on a weekly basis. Pete Pontikis, the company’s safety director, says this meeting provides an opportunity to make sure employees are aware of the importance of safety.

“We stress that everyone is empowered to not do something if it seems unsafe,” says Pontikis. “We want employees to know they should not work on something if it doesn’t appear safe and they should let a supervisor know.” He also says all employees when hired go through a safety orientation and drug screening.

"Plus, our supervisors go through OSHA’s 10-hour or 30-hour out-reach training program,” he adds.

While MTH does offer safety incentives, the safety message is also carried out everyday within the company’s facilities.

“We want the employees to be cognizant of the fact that working with glass and steel is dangerous,” Pontikis adds. “We want them to think ahead always before doing anything and make sure it’s done safely and properly.”

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