The plastics processing industry's workplace safety record improved dramatically in 2001, mirroring improvements in safety across the manufacturing sector, according to recently released government data.
The plastics industry's workplace injury and illness rate dropped 15 percent overall, to a record low, with the film, sheet, plate, pipe, bottle and plumbing fixtures segments reporting improvements in their safety performance. The data from 2001, which was released in late December by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the government's most recent.
Industry officials said they could not pinpoint precisely why safety improved quite a bit. Some said the slowing economy may have meant less employee turnover and some speculated that the figures reflect more corporate awareness of the importance of safety.
``It's just good business practice to keep people safe,'' said Chris Tampio, director of employment policy with the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington. ``If you have a lot of people getting injured, you're going to have a hard time keeping workers.''
Tampio also said the slower economy means that employees stay in jobs longer, and that could help safety performance because workers are more familiar with their jobs.
Safety officials with the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. could not be reached.
Overall, the plastics processing industry saw its workplace injury and illness rate drop to 4.6 lost workday cases per 100 full-time workers, down from 5.4 in 2000. In 1991, the rate was 7.0.
The plastics sector remained more dangerous than manufacturing overall, which also saw its safety performance improve. The injury and illness rate for manufacturers fell to 4.1 in 2001, from 4.5 in 2000.
The plastics data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is for Standard Industrial Classification code 308. It does not include plastics companies in other SIC codes.
Generally, individual industry segments saw safety improve: film and sheet's injury rate dropped to 3.4 in 2001, from 4.3; bottles fell from 4.7 in 2000 to 2.6 in 2001; pipe dropped from 9.6 in 2000 to 3.9 in 2001; and plumbing fixtures fell to 5.1, from 6.9 in 2000.
Some segments, however, saw safety performance worsen: compounding saw its injury and illness rate increase to 4.6 in 2001, from 4.2 in 2000; foam rose to 5.9 in 2001, from 5.5 in 2000; and profiles rose slightly, to 4.6 in 2001, from 4.3 a year earlier.
Data for individual plastics industry segments like pipe or bottles is hard to interpret, however, because it can bounce up or down from year to year. Different companies may be measured in each year.
Still, some industry safety professionals said the general improvement reflects increased attention to safety.
Color concentrate maker Ampacet Corp. saw its injury rate drop 30 percent in 2001, and 50 percent in 2002, as the company has boosted safety programs, said Denise Holl, director of safety and environment for the Tarrytown, N.Y., firm.
Holl said that corporate America generally in the last decade has ``finally come to the conclusion that the cost of safety is the cost of doing business. They realize they have to spend money to keep the employees safe.''