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Sonoco West Chicago Team Achieves One Million Injury-Free Hours

Submitted by: Sonoco Products Company

Categories: Human Resources & Diversity1

Posted: Jan 20, 2000 – 11:00 PM EST

 

April 1, 1992 is a date everyone at
the Sonoco composite can manufacturing plant here remembers. That is the last
day an employee was injured on the job. Since then -- more than seven-and-a-
half years, 2.3 billion composite cans and one million work hours later -- the
entire team has remained injury-free. That is the equivalent of one person
working 500 years without an injury.
To commemorate the West Chicago plant's safety achievement, Sonoco
president and chief executive officer Peter Browning and other company leaders
will join the employee team on Fri., Jan. 21 for a host of activities
celebrating their world-class safety milestone. "A strong safety record
indicates a work environment and people-oriented culture where individuals
actively demonstrate their concern for one another," Browning said. "This has
been the basis of Sonoco's success in the past and it will be the basis for
our continued success in the future."
All of the employees are excited about Browning's first visit to the
plant, says Julie Michalak, sales correspondent and coordinator of the team
planning the celebration. "Employees will have many opportunities to interact
with Sonoco senior managers. They will discuss our safety program and what
we've done to make it work." The West Chicago plant manufactures composite
canisters used to package frozen concentrate, snacks, nuts, powdered food and
beverages as well as other non-food stuffs.
Last year was an exceptional year for the facility, as new business
boosted production by 22 percent. Plant manager Steve Lutes says this growth,
coupled with a robust economy, made it difficult to staff the manufacturing
operations. "We faced some extraordinary challenges during 1999," he says.
"We had a lot of new employees, significant overtime and numerous job
vacancies. We also introduced a completely new manufacturing line with
different technology. All of those factors can weigh heavily on a safety
program when you have a three-shift, seven days-per-week operation."
The pride in Lutes' voice is obvious when he describes the positive
attitude of the 67-member team at the West Chicago plant. "Our employees have
what I consider to be three key ingredients for success: knowledge, experience
and concern. They care about their work and each other," he says. "This is
one of the best workforces I've been associated with during my career at
Sonoco. We all work together as a team."
Everyone at the plant readily acknowledges the reason for this success
story is due to a long-standing Sonoco philosophy: Safety is the number one
priority. Every employee willingly assumes responsibility for their own
safety and the safety of their co-workers. "We all look out for each other,"
explains John Lyon, a materials coordinator with 24 years of service with the
plant, and a member of the safety committee. "I know something could happen
to me, and I will do everything in my power to make sure I work safely and
that others around me work safely too."
Zachary Neff, quality systems/process improvement manager and plant safety
coordinator, notes that one of the key factors in remaining injury-free is the
support from the top. "We are given the resources to do what needs to be
done. No one is afraid to tell someone else there is a safer way," he adds.
Finding a safer way to do the job is one of many topics addressed by the
plant safety committee. Comprised of volunteers, the committee shares
information on issues related to jobs, production and maintenance.
Opportunities exist for employees to volunteer for audits, inspections or
participate on the plant's emergency response team. In addition to monthly
plant meetings, shifts hold regular meetings to proactively talk about safety.
Special initiatives -- such as this year's forklift/pedestrian safety,
electrical work practices and development of a safety index -- provide
detailed focus on key division-wide topics.
One of the best tools used by Sonoco, says Neff, is the job safety
analysis (JSA). It is a written document that describes the safe way to
perform every task for each job in the plant. Another is sharing best
practices among plants. After once having one of the worst safety records,
the West Chicago facility is now recognized as being one of the top performers
in Sonoco's consumer products division.
"We've come a long way," says winder operator Will Riley. Throughout his
18 years at the plant, he's been a part of the progress made in the area of
safety. Wisely, Riley remains cautiously optimistic. "We've made a great
step forward, but we need to keep going further. We've got a lot of work to
do to remain injury-free."
Winder operator John Mayhan agrees with his co-workers. Since Sonoco
acquired the plant from Boise Cascade in 1987, people became more conscious of
their actions. "When I started working here 24 years ago, we didn't wear
safety glasses, hearing protection or safety shoes. Even the machines didn't
have guards. Those days are long gone. We even take our safety practices
home with us," he observes.
Employee-driven safety programs are successful throughout Sonoco, a
$2.6 billion Fortune 600, global packaging company headquartered in
Hartsville, S.C. The company provides industrial and consumer packaging
products and services to some of the world's largest businesses. Sonoco has
been recognized throughout the industry for its outstanding safety record.
Many of Sonoco's 275 operations worldwide have received safety awards from the
American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), the British Safety Council and
various states and governments.
With a passion for safety matched only by the company's passion for
profitable growth, Sonoco's 17,000 team members have made tremendous steps
toward achieving their goal of zero injuries. Since 1980, Sonoco's injury
rate has decreased by approximately 87%.
Now that the one million milestone has been reached, awareness has kicked
up another notch. "Every single person in this plant contributed to our
record," says Sandra Burfield, a quality system technician with 13 years of
service. "I will continue to contribute by making sure I work safely every
day."

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