At least 400 U.S. plastics processing factories could face Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections because their worker injury rates are much higher than normal.
The factories are among 14,000 firms that OSHA will be targeting over the next year in its annual program to crack down on injuries at facilities with high injury and illness rates.
Most of those factories probably will not receive an inspection, though, if last year is any guide. Under the same program in 2000, OSHA officials said they inspected 90 plants out of 497 companies in Standard Industrial Classification code 308, which includes plastics processors. OSHA proposed $137,000 in penalties to those companies, although that figure could drop as a result of appeals.
Companies are placed on the list if they have more than eight lost workdays per 100 workers, but only the worst one-third are inspected, said OSHA spokesman Bill Wright. The rest receive letters.
There are 413 companies in SIC 308 on the list. The program does not cover states that have OSHA offices run by the state government, such as Michigan.
The program usually starts in April, but the change in presidential administrations delayed it this year, Wright said. An OSHA news release said the agency will inspect 1,000 companies by the end of the year. Wright said the rest of the inspections will come next year.
In general, plastics processing firms continue to have a higher lost-workday rate than manufacturing as a whole, according to 1999 statistics, the most recent available. The OSHA inspection program also is based on 1999 data.
Plastics processing firms had on average 5.5 lost workdays per 100 workers, while manufacturing overall had 4.6. One key reason for that is that the plastics industry is more labor-intensive than manufacturing in general, said Susan Howe, senior technical director of worker and product safety with the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
There is one apparent bright spot in the data. The lost-day injury rate for plastics firms seems to be dropping faster than manufacturing as a whole: Since 1989, plastics declined 30 percent, from 7.9; while manufacturing fell 20 percent, from 5.8.
Companies interviewed offered a variety of reasons why their plants had high injury rates in 1999.
Beachwood, Ohio-based pipe maker Lamson & Sessions Co. Inc. said turnover in safety personnel put factories in Nazareth, Pa., and Oklahoma City on the list.
Mel Johnson, who retired recently as vice president of risk management at the firm and now acts as a consultant, said Oklahoma City lost its safety manager and went through four replacements before one stayed permanently. The facility has about 200 employees, and the safety director has many other responsibilities, which makes retention tough, he said.
``To get a person who is a good safety professional is not hard,'' Johnson said. ``It's hard to get someone who is also a good accountant and a good HR person.''
The Nazareth plant, which is much smaller, had a key safety person retire and another take pregnancy leave, he said. When company officials realized they had a problem, corporate personnel started spending a lot of time in the plant, Johnson said.
Since then, both plants have improved their injury rates considerably, he said.
The 1999 list included some plants that were on it in 1998, too, such as Moll Industries Inc.
The company's Fairport, N.Y., and San Antonio factories made the list both years. Alan Berdal, Moll's safety and loss-control manager, said new automated inspection equipment installed last year and other changes have reduced repetitive-motion injuries. Employee turnover also hurt safety efforts, he said.
San Antonio had 54 recorded injuries in 1999 among 180 workers, and 51 injuries among 250 employees in 2000, he said. Fairport had 14 injuries among 55 employees in 1999 and five among 40 workers in 2000.
Davie, Fla.-based Moll may add a full-time safety director in San Antonio, he said. It would be the first Moll plant with a full-time safety official, he said.
Erie Plastics in Corry, Pa., was on the list in 1999 because it was moving equipment into a 430,000-square-foot factory, said Bill Saborsky, vice president of corporate human resources. The move resulted in more injuries than normal, but none were major injuries, he said. The increase in the injury rate prompted an OSHA inspection last year, and the company brought in experts from an OSHA training program affiliated with a local university, Saborsky said. That 2000 OSHA inspection was unrelated to the OSHA list the company is on now, he said.
The firm has an on-site safety director, encourages workers to report any workplace injury and has a policy to correct safety problems immediately. Saborsky said OSHA officials have praised the company's documentation, which builds credibility with inspectors.
SPI's Howe said firms on the list should contact their local OSHA offices and volunteer for the agency's free consultations.