Every day, Tape Craft workers make fabric that will eventually become sleeping bags, automotive materials and other products. Any one of the many machines there could be a potential hazard.
And yet in the last three years, no employee has had a single accident there that resulted in anyone missing time from work. It’s a feat many manufacturers strive for to not only keep employees healthy, but to also keep down costs and improve efficiency, occupational safety experts say.
Due to its safety record, the Alabama Department of Labor recently issued Tape Craft a superior achievement workplace safety award for its efforts. Khaled El-Zeaiter, human resources and safety manager for Tape Craft, said the company began implementing a safety management system in 2005.
El-Zeaiter said when improving safety at any company, the No. 1 goal must be getting management completely committed to the program.
“They have to be willing to do whatever it takes to minimize work injury and not just have employees working to increase production,” El-Zeaiter said.
El-Zeaiter said consistent employee commitment to a safety program is a must as well.
“There are problems that come with new machines and things like that and the people working on those are more knowledgeable at finding problems with them,” he said.
El-Zeaiter said Tape Craft also has an employee-run safety committee that makes recommendations to improve work safety. Some safety ideas that Tape Craft has implemented over the years include simple things like slowing down forklift speeds.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 there were 1,000 work-related injuries at Alabama manufacturers that required employees to miss days from their jobs. Also in 2011, there were 11 work-related fatalities in the Alabama manufacturing industry, four of which were due to contact with equipment.
Jess Godbey, program coordinator and associate professor for the occupational safety and health management program at Jacksonville State University, said worker safety is a top priority for manufacturers. JSU’s four-year program teaches students how to keep employees safe at work, including how to build management support of worker safety programs.
Besides being a moral, humanitarian thing to do, worker safety is also a good economic decision for employers, Godbey said.
“Worker compensation is quite a big expense, especially with escalating health-care costs,” Godbey said.
Godbey said violating federal worker safety regulations can also be very costly.
Blake Hardwich, spokeswoman for Manufacture Alabama, a trade association dedicated solely to the promotion of the state’s manufacturers, agreed with Godbey that worker safety is a priority for the manufacturing industry.
“No element of the manufacturing process is more important than worker safety,” Hardwich wrote in an email to The Star.
Harwich said Manufacture Alabama has its own safety awards program to help promote injury-free workplaces among state manufacturers.
“Manufacture Alabama's annual Safety Achievement program is for all manufacturing members and serves as a motivational tool … to provide members with a standard method of measuring and comparing safety performance with similar size plants producing similar products,” Hardwich wrote.
Godbey noted that what constitutes a safe work environment has changed over the years. In the past, federal regulations mainly focused on environmental safety, such as guardrails, Godbey said.
Research has found that though those help, what works better is safe behavior of workers,” Godbey said.
Despite improvements in overall worker safety standards, there are still problems – with work-related fatalities averaging out about 5,000 per year across the country, Godbey said.
“Companies like Tape Craft and others that focus on safety should be congratulated,” he said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.