Safety is No Accident

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:39 pm

Three years ago, Semco Products Inc., a Milwaukee manufacturer of standardized and custom file folders, had two large workplace injury claims. Although neither of the claims was directly related to a single workplace injury (one was from repetitive motion), the company’s executives decided they needed to renew their commitment to workplace safety.

Almost three years later, that commitment is paying off. On June 14, Semco celebrated 1,000 days of no workplace injuries.

One of the keys to reaching the milestone has been the involvement of the company’s safety committee. Jay Weber, president of Semco, said the committee had been in place long before its two large insurance claims, but it needed to be recharged and re-activated. Semco, its insurance agency of R&R Insurance, and West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., worked together to revamp its safety program.

"We had the tools in place," Weber said. "We re-engaged our safety committee, and asked them what we needed to do. It’s not just the safety committee’s job, it’s getting the (workforce) culture to commit to it and live the change."

In monthly safety meetings with employees, many more matters come to the table, Weber said, which have been far more critical in reducing workplace injuries.

"We talk about the way processes are handled," Weber said. "If we find unsafe conditions or practices, we take the responsibility to put them behind us. Ultimately, they get off the list."

Anita Cosby, records manager and receptionist at Semco, has been on the company’s safety committee for about 10 years. She said the recently increased focus on safety also has increased the interaction between the committee and the company’s employees.

"When we have meetings, we always ask if (other employees) have anything to discuss," she said. Those simple requests have brought about significant changes in Semco’s workplace, she said, including dress codes, footwear, hair management and even the way they do their jobs.

The safety committee walks through the company’s manufacturing floor at least once a month, although many of its members are in it daily.

"The process has been beneficial in terms of housekeeping items like, ‘That pallet shouldn’t be on its end,’" Weber said.

Some of the changes at Semco include holding quarterly walk-throughs with Scott Huibregtse, an account executive with R&R Insurance who handles Semco’s account.

Semco also started holding safety milestone celebrations, when it would publicly recognize its employees by giving away T-shirts and holding awards lunches.

The milestone of 1,000 days with no workplace injuries is very significant, considering U.S. averages, said George Yoksas, area director of the Milwaukee office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Manufacturing and industrial companies average two to four injuries per year per 100 full-time employees. Semco has 120 employees, working three shifts.

"So, three years without one is real good," Yoksas said.

Huibregtse agreed, saying most manufacturers of Semco’s size average about one injury per six months.

"It’s not luck," Huibregtse said. "They start with the safety program and the safety committee. They rededicated themselves. It’s got upper management support. What I like about this story is that it’s a change in culture, and that’s not easy to do."

The company has been in its northwest side Milwaukee location at 11225 W. Heather Ave. since 1999, when it moved from a Tower Avenue site.

Semco projects a 15-percent increase in sales in 2006.

The company has grown steadily in recent years, as it has greatly reduced the time it takes to ship orders.

"Lead time is king," Weber said. "We’ve done a phenomenal job of (implementing) just-on-time. We’re in a mature, flat market. We’re stealing market share."

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