When Tim Martin took a job at Victaulic a decade ago, it was very different than the industry-leading plant it is today.
“This was a dangerous place when I started,” says Martin, who began as foundry manager and worked his way up to the plant manager position he now holds.
But thanks to a commitment from management, that all changed.
“They’ve made a huge change in our safety culture since then. This is a much safer place to work,” Martin says.
In fact, Victaulic slashed its number of OSHA-recordable injuries by 82% in eight years and now is recognized as a safety powerhouse.
That’s why, when Martin found out his facility in Easton, Pa., was a finalist for the 2015 IW Best Plants Award and would be receiving a site evaluation by a member of the IndustryWeek staff, he didn’t tell workers until the day of the visit. He believed in the employees and wanted them to see that they could earn industry accolades for the everyday state and operation of the plant.
And they did.
Employees: 300, union
Total Square Footage: 313,000
Primary Product/Market: Ductile iron couplings and valves
Start-up Date: 1977
Achievements: 82% reduction in OSHA-recordable injuries in 8 years; 20% reduction in in-plant defect rate in past 3 years; 20% of plant’s production is represented by new or redesigned products introduced in the previous 12 months
The 279,000 square feet of manufacturing space – including a ductile iron foundry, a machine shop and a warehouse – is a vertically integrated, lean operation that manufactures mechanical pipe joining systems primarily for the fire protection, HVAC, mining and the oil and gas industries.
At Victaulic, the team has recognized that world class performance is a byproduct of a safe operation, and runs the business through a lens of safety.
In the past five years alone, Victaulic invested $2 million for facility improvements to enhance safety. That included purchasing new lifting equipment to keep workers from lifting more than 40 pounds; converting all heated auto-pour furnaces to unheated cold boxes; and installing air conditioned control rooms on the melt and pour decks to serve as barriers to molten splash and to provide reprieve from the heat.
And these safety improvements don’t just filter down from above; they are the product of employee input, too.
Take, for instance, the new foundry coat employees don. Relying on employee feedback for design, Victaulic developed a new coat using a lighter and more comfortable material. The new coat is just as protective but much less restrictive and cooler than the standard aluminized glass coats used in the industry.
“Whenever we needed to do anything that revolved around safety, this management team was always there. They put their money where their mouth was. It helps when you go out on the floor and say, ‘we’re going to spend a lot of money on this new piece of equipment not because it’s more productive but because it’s safer,’” says Chris Misiak, director of manufacturing.
And that’s gone a long way with the 300 union workers in Easton.
Represented by the United Steelworkers, the workers have confidence in their workplace, which they characterize as efficient, clean and safe.
If there’s a safety problem, “we shut down immediately,” says Roy Borger, an employee at the plant for more than 30 years.
That kind of employee engagement is exactly what Victaulic management was hoping for when it decided to pursue a path of safety excellence.
“If we were going to get to the next level, their engagement and involvement was critical,” says Bill D’Amico, director of EH&S and quality assurance.