February 2014

Going The Distance

Meet a leading Oregon health and safety professional

Person Name

Timber Products Company

Safety manager:
Michael Hill

900 nationally (300 at the Medford complex)

Common Hazards:
Strains and sprains, forklifts, machine hazards, slip/trips/falls, splinters, and noise

What is your background and safety philosophy?

I have been with Timber Products Company for 18 years, gaining a wealth of skills and experiences in roles such as laborer, dryer feeder, and hardwood veneer grader before moving on to a supervisory position at our Spectrum laminating facility.

At Spectrum, I was a part of the team that led our division to achieve entry into the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and to become injury free in 2003. An opportunity arose to take on the safety coordinator duties at Spectrum and I knew that a full-time career in safety was for me. We consequently achieved recordable injury-free years in 2006 and in 2009 and completed nine years without a lost-time injury. Because of the encouragement of safety leaders (Mark Hurliman, VPP/SHARP program manager at Oregon OSHA, and Jim McNeil, our safety director at that time), I learned that injury-free workplaces were not only possible, but I could help reduce the risks that lead to injuries. I began to work on a degree in occupational safety and health.

For the past three years, I have held my dream job as safety director, and I continue to work diligently promoting what I call "The Fundamentals of Safety" at our nine industrial facilities: good housekeeping, effective personal protective equipment, incident and hazard reporting, corrective action and follow-up, and high-quality training that leads to employee ownership and involvement. We conduct semiannual audits based on these fundamentals.

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Describe some of the unique safety challenges you face at your facilities?

Hardwood plywood, for the most part, is still manufactured the same way it has been for about 100 years, with a lot of manual assembly and finishing. While this produces a beautifully crafted, high-quality product, it does pose obvious ergonomic challenges. Forklifts, heavy equipment, and other machine hazards are always present, and we continually work to keep operators trained in safe operation, detailed hazardous energy control procedures up to date, and guarding and other safeguards in place.

One of your plant locations is a VPP participant. What are some things you have learned after going through the rigorous safety program?

In my view, VPP is the Super Bowl of safety. Not every team believes that they can get there, and they won't. Only the teams that are fully committed to doing whatever it takes to prevent worker injury or illness will achieve a world-class safety program. It is important to have a champion of safety keeping everyone on task, but one "safety guy" cannot do it all. Ultimately, it takes everyone getting involved on some level. We like to break down the workload into micro-jobs and share the responsibility. "Many hands make work light," is a motto that works in my family and safety is no different. Some people shy away from the workload of maintaining a robust safety and health management system, but by assigning key programs such as fire safety, confined space, or forklift safety to team members, they develop an ownership, pride, and a proficiency at their role of responsibility. The whole system functions at a very high level.

How do you keep your crews engaged in safety issues day to day?

Constant communication is one way of keeping people engaged. Between mill managers, site safety coordinators, supervisors, safety committee members, and myself, we have an army of eyes and ears and voices speaking the same language.

The other way we keep people engaged is by building trust. Once we give a member of the team a safety job to do, we let them do it. Nobody likes being micro-managed. We help them succeed and heap recognition upon them for the job well done, regardless of the fact that it may not be the way we would have done it - as long as it gets the job done and meets the intent of the rules.

Lastly, we utilize subcommittees to get the nuts and bolts done. Ergonomics, combustible dust, pedestrian safety, lockout/tagout, and forklift safety are all subcommittees that work hard during the month then report back to the central safety committee.

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

Safety and health managers must depend on their peers to stay abreast of current trends in safety. I could not do what I do without the knowledge, support, and guidance from my friends in safety. Whether it is the American Society of Safety Professionals, SAIF Corporation, or Oregon OSHA consultation, collaboration is a must. We have a core group of safety pros in southern Oregon that I network with for questions, rule change clarification, and best practices to improve our program.

It's also easy to run the risk of getting overwhelmed and bogged down in the details. With 3,198 pages of Oregon OSHA Division 2 Rules, there is a lot to keep track of. Take a step back and look at the systems in place. Are they functioning the way you would like them to? Is there a team member that can help manage a system for you? Sometimes it can be even small tasks. Many years ago, I had a machine operator criticize me for not keeping the safety statistics board up to date. I thanked him and asked him if he could do it for me and that board never got missed again. Don't be afraid to share the workload. The hardest part is giving it away, but once you do, your safety culture will thrive and you will be glad you did.


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