It’s difficult to imagine a North American forging operation that does not make a high priority of plant safety standards: keeping operations at or above optimal levels of performance is the baseline for productivity. And yet, the benefits of achieving and maintaining a good plant-safety record can be difficult to quantify: such plants are not paid more for their parts. Generally, the benefits they gain are indirect ones, like lower maintenance and repair costs, insurance cost savings, and greater worker loyalty.

One reward is the recognition that comes with a high score in the FIA’s Annual Safety Awards program. Each year the Forging Industry Assn. surveys member companies to document safety performances at individual plants, tracking OSHA reportable Incidence Rates and Frequency Rates at different plant sites to identify the leading plant-safety performers in the industry. The annual Safety Awards are presented to forging companies in four groups, according to the average annual employment at each location.

FIA gathers information on plant safety records via questionnaires delivered annually to all its producer members. Each plant provides data recorded on OSHA Form No. 300, “Summary of Occupational Injuries/ Illnesses for Calendar Year” for U.S. companies, and from Worker’s Compensation Reports for Canadian companies on the questionnaires.

Two rates are computed for each participant: DART -- Days Away from work, work Restrictions, or job Transfer cases -- Incidence Rate, and Frequency Rate. The published report provides a summary for the total industry and detailed company rankings, according to the Incidence Rate by size groups.

FIA presents first-, second-, and third-place Safety Award plaques to plants that have the lowest Recordable Cases Incidence Rate, provided that the DART Incidence Rate falls below the group average. In the event that Recordable Incidence Rates are equal, FIA assigns the award to the plant with the lower DART Incidence Rate.

Awards for improvement are presented too, to plants that demonstrated the greatest decrease in the DART Incidence Rate. This is determined by percentage of improvement by DART Incidence Rate compared with the average of the preceding three years.

A certificate of recognition is awarded to each company that does not earn a first-, second-, or third-place rank, and where the Recordable Incidence Rate falls below the group average — provided that the DART Incidence Rate also falls below the group average.

The 2014 FIA Safety Award winners are not the victors in a competition; they are honorees recognized for having overcome the obstacles to failure and liability that undermine peak efficiency. We conducted inquiries with the safety-program principals at each of the operations recognized for 2014 Awards, to determine what made their efforts successful. The following notes make clear what succeeds as a safety strategy, how, and why.

In one sense, the Safety Award winners have bested themselves: each one faces the unique challenges of establishing an estimable safety record within the specific challenges of their own plant. That’s particularly clear for the Group I honorees, where narrow range of activities and low number of employees underscore the singularity of their challenges.

One of the Group I honorees, King Forge & Machine, is a mechanical, closed-die operation forging nickel-based alloys for high-quality valves and fittings, supplied entirely to its parent company, SSP Corp. A representative there said the challenges for its safety program are standardizing adherence to established policies throughout the plant, especially in support areas. Its successful approach involves a) education though monthly safety meetings; and b) MDI (Management for Daily Improvement) efforts (weekly lead-group meetings and daily huddles) that review and reinforce safety standards and strategies. They track leading indicators (near-misses, employee engagement in safety efforts, good housekeeping) as well as trailing indicators (injury/illness rates), and various channels for communicating DART progress is a typical successful method.

Contrast this with another Group I honoree, U.S. Drop Forge, which employs both hammers and presses to producing closed die forgings. It’s a job shop, forging parts for agriculture and mining equipment, transportation systems, as well as hand tools.

Despite the difference, a spokesman for U.S. Drop Forge maintains that the safety challenges (and objectives) there “are the same as every other manufacturing facility in the United States: We want our employees to return home in the same condition they came to work in …”

Still, he noted that there are safety concerns “around every corner,” including hot steel, airborne debris, material handling, and heavy equipment. U.S. Drop Forge’s objectives are “zero injuries” and 100% safety-regulation compliance.

The successful approach to achieving this has involved an on-site safety team on the shop floor, providing daily leadership and active oversight to practices and processes. The safety team meets monthly, following an agenda, posting the minutes throughout the plant consistently, and generating action items for follow-up. On a daily basis, there are forklift inspections, machine-operation checklists and mandatory monthly audits by departmental.

Near-miss reports are given close attention, even being used in new-employee orientation program. Each one submitted is addressed immediately by the safety team, and presented to the plant manager for approval and closure. “Leading indicators are tracked and reported on a biannual schedule,” he noted.

Furthermore, job-specific safety training is done for every piece of equipment that an operator will encounter, and Job Safety Analysis is conducted for every position at U.S. Drop Forge, including office personnel. “From day one of employment with our company, safety is communicated as Priority No.1, then quality, and then quantity,” he explained.