Putting Safety First: Steel Pipe Tactical Safety Team Celebrates Five Years

2018 marks five years since more than 200 employees gathered for the Steel Pipe Tactical Safety Team kickoff event. The goal – employee ownership of safety at AMERICAN – sounds simple enough, but it’s been a process requiring work and collaboration among employees, supervisors and management.

The process began in early 2013 when the company began working with Milliken Performance Solutions to identify the company’s safety strengths and opportunities for improvement. AMERICAN’s safety strengths: Employees care about one another and want a safe working environment. AMERICAN’s safety opportunities: Employees need to own safety at AMERICAN, and employees who consistently work safely should be recognized. And so the Steel Pipe Tactical Safety Team’s journey began. Safety concerns were identified and corrected, and safety subcommittees, such as Housekeeping, Emergency Response, Ergonomics, Training and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), were formed.

“People are more conscious of what they do. They look out for one another, and they take pride in what they do. Now they’re saying if we’re going to be here, let’s make it right. It’s become part of everyone’s job to do it safely.” – Doyle Bowden, Steel Pipe Maintenance General Foreman and Team Sponsor  

As a member of the original Tactical Safety Team and former chair, Training Supervisor Queen Minnifield said what she’s most proud of is how employees are more engaged, more committed to safety. “We had our ups and downs in the beginning,” she said. “But once Steel Pipe employees and leaders became more involved, it began to pick up momentum.”

One key to the team’s success has been this participation among employees and supervisors. A six-month rotation system is currently in place that allows employees to roll on and off the team and subcommittees. Almost 80 percent of Steel Pipe employees have served on a team or subcommittee at one time or another since its inception in 2013.

“We’re finding people join the team and subcommittees, and once they see their ideas are heard and valued, they feel empowered to make a difference,” said Steel Pipe Manufacturing Engineer and SPTST Co-chair Michael Haught.

Steel Pipe Maintenance General Foreman and Team Sponsor Doyle Bowden said he thinks one of the greatest accomplishments of this safety initiative is seeing people do things they didn’t think they could do. “We try to recruit people who are active and care about what’s going on. We persuade them to join us. And now, just look around the area, lots of improvements have been made. Once people see what they can do, they’re proud of their accomplishments.”

Steel Pipe Manager Al Schneider said it’s been very rewarding to see team leaders and members embrace safety and see that they can make a difference. “It’s a culture change, and we still have room for improvement, but I’m proud of the accomplishments employees have made over the last five years and excited to see what we can accomplish in the next five years,” he said. “I’m happy to be a part of it.”

The Steel Pipe Tactical Safety Team currently has six active subcommittees. These include: Audits, Emergency Response, Ergonomics, Lockout/Tag-out, Training, and Walking and Working Surfaces. These subcommittees meet bi-weekly and they, along with the SPTST, have held awareness events on topics such as hydration, PPE, hearing protection, fire safety, 5S and preventing slips, trips and falls. These awareness events ensure safety remains top of mind for all employees.

In addition to the team and subcommittee meetings, Steel Pipe holds a monthly general safety meeting on the third Monday of every month. Safety statistics and production numbers are reviewed and one of the subcommittees typically presents. This initiative started about three years ago and gives employees the opportunity to be more aware, more involved and ask questions. It also shows employees that their efforts are making a difference, as Steel Pipe has seen an overall downward trend in injuries since the team and subcommittees were formed.

“I think the Steel Pipe Tactical Safety Team’s greatest accomplishment is making employees aware of safety, and that it is the number one priority for everyone out here,” said Schneider. “We want everyone to leave here the same way they came. We continue to work on our incident rate, but we are starting to identify and address hazards before someone gets hurt. Employees know their jobs, the importance of safety and the things that can be a hazard much more than supervisors or management does, because they do the job every day. Their insight has been invaluable.”

Over the past five years, several safety improvement projects have been completed. Some of the most notable include pouring a new concrete pad and walkways around North Processing; installing new tornado alarms and flashing lights throughout the Steel Pipe Mills; and upgrading the stairs on the north side of the 24-inch Mill. The North Processing concrete drive and walkway improvement was brought forward by the Ergonomics and Walking and Working Surfaces Subcommittees as well as the Tactical Team to reduce back and knee injuries caused by driving or traveling over the potholes and the uneven gravel in the area.

Past chairs of the SPTST include Jeff Parmley, Mike Gresham, Michael Crowe and Queen Minnifield. Kris Milton took over the reins as chair in July.

“The way people view safety in Steel Pipe is completely different,” said Bowden. “It’s come a long way. You have to change the mindset, and I can see that taking place. People are more conscious of what they do, they look out for one another and they take pride in what they do. Now they’re saying if we’re going to be here, let’s make it right. It’s become part of everyone’s job to do it safely.”