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Everyone’s a safety expert at CFAN

By David Wylie
Editorial Coordinator

Five minutes into my tour of CFAN’s 270,000 square foot facility, one thing was abundantly clear: Don Vigil is a science guy.

Don Vigil conducts tour of CFAN

Don Vigil, environmental health and safety director at CFAN, conducts a tour of the company's 270,000 square-foot facility for (l-r) John Stephens, TAM safety consultant; Stacy Looney, TAM administrator; and Mike Archip, Texas Mutual loss prevention specialist..

Vigil is a former chemist who has been managing CFAN’s safety program since 1993.

As soon as he started dropping words like autoclave, ultrasonic inspections, immersion systems and epoxy into the conversation, I feared he had lost me for the duration.

Fortunately, I didn’t need a dictionary to understand Vigil’s simple workplace safety message: Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

That philosophy has propelled CFAN to six Texas Mutual safety awards, recognition in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, and the Texas Department of Insurance’s Peer Review Safety Program award.

“CFAN has one of the best safety and health programs I’ve seen in my 30 years of working in safety,” said John Hicks, CFAN’s Texas Mutual loss prevention consultant. “On a scale of 1-10, I give them a 20.”

The foundation: management support
CFAN accepted the Peer Review Safety Program award during the 2011 Safety Summit, hosted by the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) this spring. You might have expected CFAN’s safety staff and a few high-level members of management to attend the event.

“Actually, we reserved an entire table,” said Vigil. “Our president was there. We also brought members of my staff, as well as people from the shop. Management understands that it takes a team to build fan blades, and it takes a team to prevent workplace accidents.”

CFAN accepts Peer Review Safety Program Award

CFAN accepts the Peer Review Safety Program award during Safety Summit. Ladies, left-right: Sonia Magallanez, Zoe Trieff, Monica Betancur, Lourdes Holguin. Men, left-right: Jon Williams, Ben Cloutier, Brent Wheeler, Don Vigil, Brandon Branch, Carlos Gonzalez

CFAN’s strong turnout for the DWC event is indicative of management’s support for the safety program. In an industry driven by production, it speaks volumes that President Ben Cloutier pulled people off their workstations for half a day to accept a safety award.

“At CFAN, safety is as important as quality and production,” said Cloutier. “The safety program gets the same funding as every other department.”

Molding new hires into safe workers
CFAN employees work with heavy machinery, sharp objects and other hazardous materials. Vigil and his team work hard to control the hazards and reduce the danger. They know, however, the job would not be complete without a system for correcting the unsafe behaviors that contribute to accidents.

When employees take shortcuts, disregard personal protective equipment requirements and ignore other safety rules, they put themselves and their co-workers in danger.

That’s why CFAN starts molding new hires into safe workers the minute they walk in the door. Every new hire gets 50 hours of classroom training. Nearly half of those hours are on safety.

“From day one, we make it clear that safety is our number one priority,” said Lourdes Holguin, environmental health and safety assistant. “We want all our employees to go home safely to their families at the end of the day.”

To ensure that happens, CFAN doesn’t simply turn new hires loose after they complete their training. The company calls on supervisors and experienced employees to mentor their new co-workers after they hit the shop floor.

Building fan blades is a detailed, complicated process with hundreds of steps. CFAN has completed job safety analyses (JSA) for most of the tasks employees do. A JSA is a document that identifies the hazards associated with a task and specifies preventive measures. If a new hire discovers a task that doesn’t have a JSA, Vigil’s team challenges him to write one.

Morning ergonomics

(L-R) Bryan Whitfield, Jeanie Hoevel and Pat Johnson start the day with stretching to reduce the risk of ergonomic injuries.

Constant evolution
Throughout our visit, Vigil talked a lot about evolution. He’s seen CFAN streamline its processes and constantly improve its product over the past 18 years.

Vigil and his team make sure the safety program keeps step by calling on employees to help constantly improve it.

CFAN has created an environment where employees are comfortable reporting unsafe conditions and bringing their suggestions to management.

“For example, our employees used to seal hundreds of bags a day with clamps by hand," remembered Zoe Trieff, environmental compliance specialist at CFAN. "We started to see ergonomic issues related to repetitive motion. So a team of machinists came up with an automated way to complete the task."

By empowering employees, CFAN gives them a sense of ownership in the safety program. When people feel a sense of ownership, they are more likely to take pride in the safety program, participate in it and constantly improve it.

Patti Scanlan and Lourdes Holguin review a safety inspection

It’s not unusual for office workers like Patti Scanlan (right) of human resources to conduct safety audits in the shop, and vice versa. Scanlan reviews a safety audit with Lourdes Holguin, environmental health and safety assistant.

As we were wrapping up our visit, Vigil abruptly stopped Patti Scanlan of human resources. Scanlan was pouring over a checklist with Holguin.

“What department do you work in?” asked Vigil.

“Human resources,” responded Scanlan, a bit cautiously.

“And what did you just finish doing?” followed Vigil.

“A safety audit,” responded Scanlan.

“A safety audit where?” continued Vigil.

“In the shop,” responded Scanlan, a little concerned about Vigil’s line of questioning.

It turns out that it’s not uncommon to see office people like Scanlan conduct safety audits in the shop at CFAN, and vice versa.

“Employees are more likely to catch safety hazards when they are not in their normal work environment,” explained Holguin.

“At CFAN, everyone is a safety expert,” added Vigil.

All Star Metals breaks down safety to its core components

By David Wylie
Editorial Coordinator

The USS Nimitz has served America’s Navy since 1976. Its tour of duty has included stops in the Mediterranean Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Like the soldiers who serve their country, though, the Nimitz will eventually retire. But where will it go?

It will probably end up at a shipbreaking facility like All Star Metals in Brownsville. The company has been dismantling ships for the U.S. government and private entities since 2003. In that time, it has earned a reputation for putting employee safety first.

For its efforts, All Star Metals became the first shipbreaking facility admitted to OSHA’s prestigious Voluntary Protection Program.

All Star Metals

An All Star Metals employee uses a torch cutter to dismantle part of a ship.

Investing in the safety program
Most shipbreaking is done abroad in countries such as Turkey, China, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. All Star Metals and its seven domestic competitors bid for the remaining jobs.

Deadlines are tight, and production is crucial. Still, nothing trumps safety at All Star.

“In an industry as competitive and deadline-driven as ours, how many companies would shut down for three days each year to conduct OSHA 10-hour training like we do?” asked Lopa Shah, environmental health and safety director at All Star Metals.

The retired oil tankers, cargo ships, troop carriers and barges that are towed into All Star Metals weigh up to 12,000 tons. Employees cut 20-ton chunks that are placed in the dismantling yard and further processed.

Besides the dangers associated with working around heavy, unforgiving metal, All Star employees are exposed to confined spaces, loud noises, heat and chemicals that can cause serious injuries.

Lopa is passionate about keeping the company’s 100 employees injury-free. She has an ally in president Nick Shah.

Nick is an experienced businessman who happens to hold a safety certification in general industry and construction. He puts his expertise to work serving alongside hourly workers and management on the company’s safety committee. He also makes sure Lopa has the funds she needs to constantly improve the safety program.

All Star Metals

Propellers cannot be cut with a torch, so
All Star dismantles them manually.

“When we’ve earned dividends from Texas Mutual, Nick has turned the money over to me to reinvest in the safety program,” said Lopa. “We’ve bought personal protective equipment and provided safety training. That kind of management commitment is crucial to sustaining a safety program.”

Getting the right people
Some companies don’t fix things until they’re broken. That’s not how All Star Metals operates.

Lead by Nick, six full-time safety experts and a safety committee, All Star identifies hazards and unsafe behaviors before they result in accidents.

“Shipbreaking is dangerous work,” said Lopa. “I’d hate to imagine the consequences if we didn’t focus on safety until someone got hurt.”

The process starts before job candidates ever step foot on a ship. All Star Metals’ hiring process includes pre-employment drug tests, background checks and physicals. Candidates take a copy of the job description to the doctor.

“Shipbreaking is physically demanding work,” added Lopa. “We want to make sure new hires can do the job without compromising their safety.”

Once on board, All Star Metals employees quickly assimilate into the safety program. Besides the three days of OSHA 10-hour training, All Star provides safety training throughout the year. Topics include hearing conservation, working in confined spaces, fire prevention and respiratory protection.

“We believe training has helped all our employees understand what is expected of them and what hazards they work with on a day-to-day basis,” said Nick.

All Star Metals

The Bayamon marine merchant ship waits to be dismantled.

Fostering a safety culture
Keeping up with safety hazards can be challenging at All Star Metals.

Not long after a ship arrives, the crew inspects it for lead-based paint, asbestos and other potential hazards. Within a few weeks, they have a pretty good feel for what employees will be exposed to.

But as 20-ton chunks of metal fall, they change the face of a ship and, in the process, introduce different hazards.

That’s why worksite inspections are as much a part of the day as lunch at All Star Metals. Employees from each department walk the ship with a safety professional and learn to recognize hazards. If they see a co-worker doing something unsafe, they correct the behavior.

“We want our employees to take responsibility for their own safety and each other’s safety,” said Lopa.

“Employee accountability and involvement are certainly important,” added Nick. “But there is no single thing that drives our safety program. Our comprehensive interview process, new-hire orientation and ongoing training have helped us build a culture in which accidents are unacceptable.”

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