Congratulations are in order for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for agreeing to a voluntary safety alliance.
Safety is a top priority for many of our readers, and rightfully so. There are inherently dangerous features to plastics manufacturing, and smart processors know that keeping workers safe isn't just good business, it's also an issue of humanity.
For hard numbers on just how important safety is from a financial perspective, see the story on Page 5 in this issue. Michael Crickenberger, vice president for DuPont Safety Resources, has done the math and determined that each injury that results in lost workdays costs employers an average of $20,000 annually.
He ingeniously likens critics who complain about the high cost of making plants safer with the debate about quality that raged 20 years ago in the North American automotive industry. Yes, quality costs money. But ignoring quality costs even more. In fact, it puts your business in peril of extinction.
OSHA has had its eye on the plastics industry, most prominently because of a persistent problem with amputation injuries. Plastics processing recently ranked at the top of frequent violators of OSHA's general machine guarding standards. That's why reducing amputation injuries will be a major focus of the new SPI/OSHA alliance, which was announced Sept. 19.
The alliance also is likely to look at ways to reduce ergonomic injuries — a hot issue ever since Congress overturned the Clinton administration's federal workplace ergonomics guidelines back in March 2001.
Some processors may be reluctant to work closely with OSHA. Many business owners have horror stories about safety inspections they felt were unfair, or workers who took advantage of the system to collect compensation dishonestly.
But John Henshaw, OSHA's safety czar, has a lot at stake with this voluntary program. The George W. Bush appointee has a background in the chemical industry. If his voluntary approach doesn't result in concrete results, Henshaw and Bush will face critics who will say they're in bed with business owners.
SPI doesn't face the same high stakes. But the Washington-based trade association certainly has an opportunity to gain prestige, particularly if the alliance proves successful and OSHA (and Bush) end up touting SPI's role.
The alliance also should win attention for the association from processors that are not SPI members but that are concerned about safety issues.
Most importantly, though, the alliance is an opportunity to make plastics industry workplaces safer. Frankly, that's a goal that can't get enough attention.