Four ways we’re proactively protecting our employees
The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused people around the world to focus their attention on health and safety, and Columbia Steel is no different. To protect our employees from infection, we’ve introduced stringent new sanitation procedures and social distancing practices. Especially since manufacturing is an Essential Industry, we’ve proactively taken these steps to keep our employees safe, and we’ll continue observing these additional precautions for as long as the virus is considered a threat.
Steps like these that put employee health at the forefront are in line with the attitude we’ve always taken to foster an enhanced spirit of safety in our regular operations. This all begins with training, while continuously utilizing our facility engineering staff to help with safety design and fabrication work.
1. Our Safety Training Goes Above and Beyond
With nearly 260 employees working in a variety of jobs, safety training never ends. However, we take great pride in our approach which goes above and beyond Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.
All new employees participate in a 16-20 hour customized safety training course that includes video and in-person communication. Some individual training sessions can run for 4-6 hours. Several departments at Columbia Steel also conduct general hazard awareness training, which teaches employees how to spot potentially dangerous work environments. Depending on their role, team members may receive additional detailed instruction on topics like:
>> Ladder Safety and Fall Prevention
>> Confined Space Awareness
>> Fire Extinguisher Use
>> Lock-Out and Tag Out Procedures
>> Safety Data Sheets
>> Driver Training
>> Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
>> Crane Operation and Rigging
>> Mobile Equipment Operation
Before the start of every workday, our teams hold pre-shift safety meetings. In addition, all our employees, regardless of their position, receive annual training on essential safety topics and must pass a test to ensure their compliance. This ongoing work creates an environment where safety is an attitude, rather than merely a topic of conversation.
2. Top-of-the-Line Safety Equipment
We understand that safety training does little good without the right equipment. That’s why having the right PPE is crucial for every Columbia Steel employee. As part of our training program, we discuss hard hats, Z87 frame safety glasses and toe protection. Additionally, we conduct annual audiometric testing for every production employee to ensure that our hearing protection efforts are effective. Because some of our employees work with hazardous materials, safety masks are also critically important to our operation. We use multiple types of respirators depending on the need.
>> Paper Respirators (Masks): These could include N95 or N100 masks which prevent dust and smoke inhalation. We also use R95 charcoal-based masks to protect against vapors and half-mask respirators to keep out vapors, dust particulates and smoke.
>> PAPR Unit: Our manganese or hexavalent chrome workers use this pressurized system, which pushes air through HEPA filters into welding or grinding helmets.
>> Supplied Air Respirator System: We individually fit compressed air breathing systems to each employee who does burning or arcing on manganese and stainless steel. Employees are also trained on how to conduct pre-use inspections before donning this important piece of equipment.
Combining the proper knowledge with the right safety tools keeps our workforce safe while on the job.
3. A Dedicated Safety Committee
To ensure our working environment remains as safe as possible, Columbia Steel formed a safety committee that meets twice per month. One of the safety committee’s most important responsibilities is to conduct area checks throughout the 21 buildings on our 87-acre campus. Committee members tour four buildings each month looking for potential safety hazards, speaking with supervisors and following up on any corrective action.
A systemized approach creates a safer working environment for all Columbia Steel employees.
4. Soliciting Expert Advice
Of course, every organization has blind spots. Despite our best efforts, it’s possible we might miss an important health and safety measure. That’s why we proactively seek advice from safety experts.
Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
Over the last two years, Columbia Steel has taken advantage of the Oregon OSHA consultation program. Through this voluntary process, an OSHA consultant tours our plant looking for issues. At the end of the tour, the inspector provides us with a list of preventative ideas for us to work on.
These inspections cover three different areas:
>> Ergonomics: In some roles, workers must lift heavy items, reach overhead, push or pull large loads or do other tasks that could lead to injury. An ergonomics review looks for opportunities to reduce this type of work-related injury.
>> Safety: This review looks for general health and safety risks throughout our operation.
>> Air Quality (Industrial Hygiene): To ensure the air we breathe is clean and fresh, OSHA places air sampling devices throughout our facility. These samples check that dioxins and hexavalent chrome are within safe limits.
For many in our industry, OSHA is a dirty word. Some companies might resist this feedback or seek to hide violations for fear of the cost to correct them. However, we believe that by creating positive relationships with OSHA, we can work to protect our employees proactively, regardless of the potential cost.
State Accident Insurance Fund (SAIF) Cooperation
Columbia Steel also enjoys a good relationship with SAIF — our accident insurance provider. We utilize their advice to stay compliant with health and safety regulations and to protect our workforce. The organization has provided our team with training sessions on promoting safety, how to identify hazards in the workplace, creating safe walking paths and more.
While we’re not required to participate in these training sessions as a condition of our coverage, we believe that when it comes to safety, you can never do too much.
Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Environmental Training
We also partner with the Oregon DEQ for training related to spill response, hazardous waste handling, manifest training and material data sheet procedures. This optional training benefits both the environment and our employees.
Also resources available through our vendors and industry associations, like the Steel Founders Society of America and the American Foundry society, bring in specialists or provide comprehensive online training sessions.
Safety is a State of Mind
While the COVID-19 crisis has refocused much of the world’s attention on matters of health and safety, we’ve been promoting these efforts for years. Through our proactive measures, promoting a culture of safety at work and seeking advice from industry experts, we put our employee’s health at the forefront.