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June 2013

Going The Distance

Meet a leading Oregon health and safety professional

Person Name


Safety and health coordinator: Steve Kosta

Workforce: 620

Common Hazards: Cuts, back strains, eye injuries, and welding fumes.

What is your background and safety philosophy?

I started with one of our sister companies many years ago as a production worker. Through the years, I have worked in almost every department. During that time, I have been involved in safety at one point or another and then started to do some training for our employees. In 2009, Huntair offered me the position of environmental health and safety manager. My philosophy is that I want all employees to think of safety before they start their day and any job they do. I want all of our employees to go home the same way they came in.

What are some of the unique health and safety challenges your employees face?

Our employees need to be sure they do not over lift. We approach the hazard by performing team lifting. Our policy is that you cannot lift 15 pounds or more above the chest. Our goal is to eliminate back injuries. We also make sure all welders know what they are exposed to when welding. I ensure training in proper use of their fresh air supplied hoods and that they wear them.

We also have a high risk of cuts due to handling sheet metal. We are always looking for ways to improve upon cut-restraint gloves and arm guards and we require all employees to wear PPE. We also provide a variety of different safety glasses to protect against eye injuries.

We are constantly working to reduce our overall recordable incident rate, which went from 12.87 in 2009 to our present rolling average of 5.9. Our ultimate goal is to have a recordable incident rate of zero.

Do you have any specific examples of how you overcame a safety and health issue in your factory?

All new employees go through an orientation class before they begin work. This training involves watching videos, hands-on activities, classroom learning, a tour of the facility, learning emergency procedures, and more. At the end of the training, they are tested on the material and are required to pass two tests or we will not put them to work. This training runs about five hours. After they complete training and testing, all employees are assigned a mentor, who will work with them for two weeks and evaluate their progress.

We have also implemented a safety program called Target Zero. Target Zero is about watching out for one another and speaking up if you see something. With this program, everyone gets involved in doing safety audits in their areas every day.

In 2010, we had some employees bring up a concern they had about the welding fumes they were being exposed to. I called Oregon OSHA consultation and asked to have air sampling and testing performed. An Oregon OSHA industrial hygienist came out and conducted air sampling. We found the employees were over their exposure limits. We immediately started to look into protective measures for our welders. We found that an N-95 particulate mask would have been sufficient. However, Huntair went above and beyond the N-95 mask (level 10), and supplied all welders with the 3M Fresh Air Supplied Speed helmets that are a level 25. We made sure that our respirator program was in place and all welders were tested. Since we have moved to a new and larger facility, we have also installed a ventilation system and weld curtains that are almost 30 feet tall.

How do you keep staff engaged in safety issues day to day?

We have daily department safety meetings and safety audits. We have continuous improvement boards in the shop, and we encourage employees to post their ideas for safety and production. We also have a safety awareness program where we reward people for looking out for other employees.

What advice do you have for other safety and health managers hoping to make a difference?

Always remember to listen to your employees and their concerns. Like my boss tells me, listen to them 100 percent and understand what they are trying to say before you answer them and keep an open mind. Never be afraid of calling Oregon OSHA and asking for help. They can be a great tool and resource in helping you achieve a safe workplace.

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