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December 2013

Going The Distance

Meet a leading Oregon health and safety professional

Person Name

Company: Key Knife

Safety and health manager: Shawna Bergeron

Workforce: 87 overall, 63 at the Tualatin plant

Common Hazards:Strains and sprains, machine guarding, lockout/tagout, and cuts

What is your background and safety philosophy?

I started at Key Knife in November 2002 as an operations administrative assistant and, in March 2003, I was asked to take on safety. With very little knowledge of workplace safety, I started taking free OSHA courses and building my safety network. Over the past 11 years, we have gone from finding a place for safety to fit in, to putting safety first. It is important to Key Knife that our employees go home to their families the same as when they left.

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

Key Knife manufactures a variety of blades used in sawmills, pulp mills, and particleboard plants around the world. One of our biggest issues is muscle pain and strains due to the differences in the height of our employees and the height of the machines.

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

One safety issue we overcame was lower back pain in one of our manufacturing areas. We have operators who range in height from 5-foot-6 to 6-foot-1. The machines are at a set height, forcing the shorter employees to work above shoulder height, out of their safety zone. To ensure the operators could work safely, we engineered a platform for all Blohm machine workstations. This forced the taller employees to bend over their worktables, so we engineered the worktables to be hydraulic. Now employees can adjust the table to their own personal safety zone.

Another safety issue we overcame was elbow and shoulder pain in our Hard Surface work unit. In this area, a torch is used to put a hard coating on parts. While shooting parts, employees would sit on an adjustable chair and rest the butt of the torch on their shoulder, supporting the weight of the tip with their hand and guiding the torch with their opposite hand. The parts they were shooting sat on a two-foot-tall engineered table. One operator came up with the idea to attach a cord to the torch tip that would be hung on a horizontal rod hanging from the ceiling. This eliminated the weight on the shoulder and allows ease of movement with the tip of the torch. We then realized that while the employees were sitting to perform the work, they were resting their opposite elbow, the arm guiding the tip, on their knee. This forced them to stoop over. We removed the chairs and put down ergo mats. With them standing, the work tables were too short, so we engineered genie lifts to lift the work tables, allowing employees to adjust their work to a height within their safety zone.

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

We keep our employees engaged through communication, verbal and visual. Each manufacturing shift starts the day with stretching exercises. I perform a daily walk through, monthly ergonomic assessments, and toolbox talks. We also have a lot of visual signage. To keep all employees engaged in safety concerns and solutions, we post all of our good catches, near misses, and workers' compensation claims through flyers and have a rotating list on a TV in the manufacturing area. This allows the employees to be involved in finding solutions and raises awareness that this could easily have been one of them.

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

I truly believe that by building communication and relationships with the employees, they will come to understand that you care about them. With this relationship comes the trust needed to work as a team to identify problems and generate solutions.

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