By: Chaille Brindley
This article was originally posted by Pallet Enterprise, here, on November 1, 2017.
Allegheny Wood Products sets the standard for plant safety in the hardwood sector. The Princeton, W. Va. mill is one of the few in the country that is certified as part of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs.
Two plants operated by Allegheny Wood Products Inc. have the distinction of being the only hardwood sawmills in the country that participate in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). And it requires a lot of work and widespread employee involvement. VPP recognizes leading companies with strong safety programs and exempts them from ordinary surprise inspections that the agency conducts.
Josh Chandler, plant manager at the company’s Princeton, West Virginia plant, said, “It requires a lot of documentation and recordkeeping to be part of VPP.” However, the initiative is worth the effort according to Chandler. Allegheny operates two VPP facilities – one in Princeton and the other in Marble, Pennsylvania. The company has been involved in the program since 2004 and has taken principles it has learned and deployed them at other facilities.
Mark Jones, the southern area manager for Allegheny Wood Products, commented, “The biggest improvement you make when joining VPP is employee involvement. They have a voice on safety matters.”
Giving Employees a Voice
Allegheny Wood Products (AWP) relies on its plant employees in conjunction with its management staff to keep the operation safe. Each plant has a daily pre-shift meeting to discuss the production schedule that day as well as any safety considerations that have arisen. The company also has monthly safety meetings. The Safety Action Committee at each plant involves hourly employees as well as management. Chandler added that AWP involves hourly production workers in the monthly safety inspections as much as possible. It isn’t odd to have production employees conducting safety inspections for things they use or areas where they work. All of this information is tracked and used to address any safety issues.
“We do a lot of inspections here,” said Chandler. “It all goes back to employee involvement. The paperwork is completed and filed by production employees. They take ownership of that document.”
Routine safety inspections are done by production employees with oversight by management. They check each item and look at everything from ladders to trip hazards, electrical wiring, fire extinguishers, etc. They look for wood dust buildup or hydraulic leaks. Every part of the plant is inspected monthly. This process allows us to faster identify problem areas and worn out safety equipment.
AWP from its corporate office has a monthly safety focus and newsletter that goes out to managers. These supervisors in turn share key information with production workers. AWP provides personal protection equipment and requires all new hires to go through a half-day safety training class before ever setting foot on the property. AWP has observation checklists that managers go through with new hires. New employees are then assigned to shadow and work with a veteran employee for two weeks to a month depending on the job required. And each new hire is evaluated after the first 30 days to review performance and adherence to safety guidelines.
Safety training has been translated into Spanish so that materials can be clearly understood by Hispanic workers. The company also rewards employees for participating in safety training and answering questions.
VPP Worth the Effort
Safe working conditions only happen when everyone is paying attention and addressing hazards. Chandler admitted that it isn’t an issue where you have to sacrifice safety for production. He explained, “We run as hard as we need to and rely on our veteran employees to maintain production and a safe working environment. We do have a high turnover rate in some positions, so we rely on our veteran employees who know what to do. They have bought into the system and watch out for the new hires to ensure safety.”
New employees at the Princeton facility wear yellow hard hats, and the veteran employees wear orange ones. This helps visually identify who might be new and need some extra assistance.
AWP’s safety focus has translated into a safer work environment. Currently, the Princeton facility sawmill has not had a loss time incident in 9 months, and the drying yard has not had an incident in over 2 years.
Safety Areas of Concern
The forest products sector is known for being hard work, but AWP strives to make the operations as safe as possible. John DiLorenzo, the safety and human resources manager for AWP, commented, “The biggest issue we deal with in our industry daily is lockout/tagout. We run a lot of big saws with high electricity voltage requirements...People can get hurt if they don’t follow lockout/tagout requirements while working on a machine.”
Another major concern is hand injuries because the sawmill involves a lot of manual labor when it comes to grabbing boards and handling lumber. DiLorenzo said that the company provides gloves and training to reduce incidents of smashed fingers or back strain related to lifting materials.
The other major concern is forklift safety due to the amount of product that is moved through the plant via forklift. You want to ensure that the driver as well as others in the plant are safe.
The Princeton sawmill processes 20 million board feet per year and has 60 employees. The Princeton dry yard processes 24 million board feet annually using 60 employees. That’s a lot to keep track of for management.
Since everyone has a role in the safety program, it does diffuse the responsibility across all departments and areas of the plant. The Princeton facility was recently inspected and recertified for VPP. This takes place every 4 years and involves detailed inspection, analysis of records and even employee interviews by OSHA. Chandler stated that his team is very proud to once again be part of VPP. The current certification lasts for 4 years.
AWP Company Basics
The Princeton facility processes a lot of oak and poplar. Much of that material is exported to overseas markets. It also produces lumber for flooring, crossties, pallet material and some furniture grade material. AWP bought the Princeton facility from Georgia Pacific in 2004.
AWP started in 1973 and is a family-owned enterprise operating nine sawmills and 5 dry kiln facilities.
DiLorenzo said, “The company doesn’t hold anything back in terms of safety.” This can be seen by its commitment to VPP, which is not very common in the sawmill industry. VPP is designed to encourage a company to develop best practices and focus on safety. For more information on AWP, visit http://www.alleghenywood.com. For more information on OSHA’s VPP, visit https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/vpp/.