Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Working Hand-in-Hand for Safety at Bethlehem Steel

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Working Hand-in-Hand for Safety at Bethlehem Steel

Article excerpt

Bethlehem Steel has changed for the better. Nowhere is this change more Visible than in the way its union and management address safety issues. One-sided decision-making, especially where worker safety is concerned, has been replaced by union and management working hand-in-hand to resolve safety issues, ultimately protecting lives and reducing costs.

One of Bethlehem Steel's cooperative safety programs is at its Sparrows Point operation, where a union-management Joint Plant Safety and Health Steering Committee (JPS & HSC) has drastically improved safety, increased productivity, and reduced the total cost of injury.

"The JPS & HSC committee has been authorized by the union and plant leadership to implement safety policy in the plant," said Art Williamson, senior supervisor, environmental health, control and safety. "Before the JPS & HSC was established in 1992, policy was set by management and then responded to by union leadership. Now, it's done jointly."

The level of union/management cooperation and the resulting improvements in safety at Sparrows Point are a drastic change for a mill that at one time was considered a safety trouble spot by industry insiders. Improvements include a reduction in plantwide injuries by two-thirds, over the last five years, cutting lost work time by 32 percent from 1994 to 1995, and dropping OSHA recordables 29 percent from 1994 to 1995.

Many of these improvements are the result of efforts made by the 21 teams charged with implementing policy set by the governing JPS & HSC, which consists of eight union and eight management representatives.

"In the past, we spent a lot of energy fighting each other after a safety policy was issued," said Williamson. "We'd (management) put out a policy and a revision would come three to six months later because the union had a problem with something in it. Now, differences in opinion are brought forth and discussed among committee members before the policy is published. Our energy goes into implementing the policy, rather than squabbling over one part of it or another. Today, I think both parties have a sense of ownership of it."

In addition, the safety program works because union and management set policies which, according to Union Safety Representative Ron Allowatt, "exceed OSHA standards." "Safety is a value at Bethlehem," he continued. "We surpass state and federal standards in most areas."

Once a policy is set, the 21 safety teams work to implement it within each area of the mill. This top-down implementation method is effective because the governing committee receives feedback and suggested corrective recommendations from worker-comprised safety teams at mill level. …

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