Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Safety and Quality: Success at Georgia Gulf

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Safety and Quality: Success at Georgia Gulf

Article excerpt

Georgia Gulf's Delaware City, Del., plant has turned around its employee morale and safety problems by using the quality process and employee involvement to produce lasting change.

In 1988, Georgia Gulf's Delaware City, Del., plant was experiencing injuries at an unacceptable rate. The facility had tried the usual safety programs -- gifts, awards, etc. -- but those traditional approaches had produced only short-term acceptance levels.

In addition, morale at the plant was low, and the workforce feared that the facility was on the verge of closing.

Faced with daunting challenges, this facility turned its safety performance around. It took a quality-based accident prevention approach to safety.

The story of the safety initiative at Georgia Gulf's Delaware City facility reads like a primer in quality and safety:

* David DiPiero, the plant manager, consistently held out for long-term goals and planning, and removed inappropriate disciplinary pressures from the safety system, thereby driving out fear.

* The safety steering committee learned to distinguish between the common and the special causes of accidents, and to track and respond to them accordingly, and

* "There was genuine employee involvement at every step of our new accident prevention effort -- it was the difference between night and day," said Gary Davis, chemical operator and safety steering committee facilitator.

Plant Profile

Atlanta-based Georgia Gulf is one of the largest producers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in the nation.

Located south of Philadelphia on the Delaware River, the Delaware City, Del., plant employs approximately 150 people, including the office group. The plant runs 24 hr a day, in 12-hr shifts (from 7 to 7), seven days a week.

The Delaware City plant produces emulsion, suspension, and specialty resins. The compound plant produces PVC in pellet and powdered form. The emulsions and suspensions are used in producing plastic, pipe, flooring, and anything that uses vinyl, including tubing, computer hardware casings, and kidney dialysis machines. The plant also ships product in 50-lb bags, in bulk containers, or by rail.

According to Davis, "The facility was not breaking any records for safety -- or for anything else. Our safety performance was disappointing, the worst in the company, in fact. And both quality and production were also disappointing."

Davis said contributing to this low level of performance was that the facility had changed ownership three times between 1982 and 1984, with the last transaction by Georgia Gulf.

Davis said it was pretty clear to the workforce that something had to improve -- or else. The question on most people's minds was, "How long can a corporation carry a facility that has so many challenges?"

A Visit to Monsanto

In view of this bleak picture, in 1988, Charlie Greenberg, production supervisor, and Ron Pearce, employee relations supervisor, went to observe the behavior-based Monsanto Accident Prevention Process (MAPP) at the Monsanto facility in Pensacola, Florida.

While Greenberg and Pearce were on a guided tour of the Monsanto facility, one of the trained MAPP personnel noticed that the two visitors were not consistently using handrails on the stairways. He pointed this out to the two men from Georgia Gulf, remarking that Monsanto's accident prevention initiative called for Three-Point Contact on stairways.

Greenberg was surprised that one of Monsanto's operators felt comfortable reminding them of this at-risk behavior. The Georgia Gulf visitors also noticed that Monsanto personnel were genuinely excited about safety in their plant.

Greenberg and Pearce returned enthusiastic about the possibilities at Georgia Gulf--Delaware City. Dave DiPiero had just been appointed plant manager. After talking with Pearce and Greenberg, DiPiero asked for and received permission from the corporate office to try a similar accident prevention approach. …

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