“When we started to look at workers’ compensation insurance premiums, we realized very good savings,” she continues. “If we go 30 percent below the industry average, it directly impacts our insurance premiums, which are probably also about 30 percent lower.”
Currently, incident rates among the company’s 250 employees are about half of the industry average.
This concentration on safety has earned Rochester Meats a number of local and national awards, including the Minnesota Governor’s Award of Honor for workplace safety and health, and recognition from the Minnesota Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (MNSHARP), a program run by the Minnesota State Department of Labor and Industry in conjunction with OSHA.
Murphy Warehouse Co., a third-party warehousing firm in Minneapolis that specializes in food and related items, received the same award last year. The company operates nine facilities, totaling about 1.8 million square feet, in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
The company boasts an environment “where managers and employees work together to develop safety and health programs that go beyond basic compliance with all acceptable OSHA standards and results in immediate and long-term prevention of job-related injuries and illnesses,” according to Richard Murphy, the company’s president and CEO.
The company has made “valiant efforts during the past 15 years to build a solid safety culture,” says Murphy. Those efforts have included “equipment modifications, training and developing a sensitivity toward safety and ergonomics best practices,” he says.
Danger Still Lurks
Despite the success of some companies, logistics in general is still a very dangerous business, according to OSHA and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Warehousing and transportation across all industries last year saw a total of 829 total workplace fatalities, second only to the construction industry, according to Bob Kublick, an area director for OSHA.
Forklift accidents resulted in a total of 271 fatalities last year, up 8 percent over the previous year, he says.
Typically, the forklift fatalities are the result of tip-overs and falling off the docks. “Many occur at the loading dock because trucks are not being chocked properly,” he states. “We continue to have fatalities with forklifts because of a lack of proper training of forklift operators. We continue to find violations of forklift policies because of a lack of training and recertification programs, and because of forklift drivers not wearing their seat belts.”
Between 10 percent and 25 percent of all reported workplace injuries occur at warehouse loading docks, according to the National Safety Council. To counter this, most companies are now pushing the use of wheel chocks to secure trailers in position, angling docks toward the building, installing bumpers and cushions on the outside edges of the dock door to prevent structural damage from trucks backing in, turning to electronic dock boards to bridge the gaps between the dock surface and the floor of the trailer, installing guard rails at dock edges and putting in better dock lighting systems.
Clutter on the loading docks is also a frequent cause of safety hazards. Unused or discarded cartons, pallets, banding wire or other debris can obstruct movement, impede access to fire extinguishers, disconnects, breaker panels and fire exits, and cause tripping hazards.
According to Kublick, warehouses that handle food often fare much better than those in other industries with regard to their safety records because of stringent food safety and security requirements, but there are still violations and accidents.
OSHA has expanded its facility inspection service and “we continue to find the same violations,” he says. Among them are slippery and uneven floors, inadequate facilities for charging forklift batteries, forklift seatbelts not being worn by drivers, and, “even though we don’t issue violations for them yet, we see a lot of ergonomics issues.”
“Developing an effective safety and injury prevention program will go a long way,” says Kublick, who has recently begun to encourage facilities to sponsor programs to get employees’ eyes checked. “Especially for people operating forklifts or material handling equipment, there should be normal eye screenings,” he adds.