Suterra LLC knows you don’t settle for “good enough” in order to make advances in the safety and health for employees.
The Bend, Oregon-based company – a provider of bio-rational products for crop protection and pest control – wanted to make sure their health and safety programs were covering all the bases.
So, Suterra teamed up with Oregon OSHA Consultation Services by entering the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) in August 2012.
Five years later, Suterra flies the flag of a SHARP graduate. It is an accomplishment that not only translates to a safer and healthier workplace but also positions Suterra to attract new talent as it grows.
The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small- and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations.
Cory Stengel, a health consultant for Oregon OSHA, and Randy Nice, a safety consultant for Oregon OSHA, helped Suterra make improvements on several fronts, including fall protection, chemical exposure monitoring, safe pesticide application practices, and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) safety.
Days Away Reduction
When Suterra began seeking a SHARP designation, their Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) rate was 1.5. Their current DART rate is 0.87. For context, the average DART rate for Suterra’s industry in Oregon is 2.1.
Suterra’s effort to continuously improve came with increased involvement of the company’s safety committee and continued commitment to the safety and health process by top managers.
“Quality control and safety are hand in hand there,” Stengel said. “Having one excel means the other one is going to excel. They hire people who understand that from day one.”
With 70 employees at the Bend facility, Suterra sells their environmentally friendly pest control products internationally, helping growers reduce their use of traditional insecticides.
“Oregon OSHA SHARP helped Suterra take a fresh look at their policies and processes, and reinforced the company’s ongoing efforts to improve safety,” said Aman Khapoya, vice president of global operations for Suterra.
The recognition that comes with being a SHARP company also serves as a valuable tool to recruit new employees.
“As our business grows, and we compete for new talent, we hope candidates see our achievements under the SHARP and realize that we are truly committed to the health and safety of our team,” Khapoya said. “The candidates for whom that safety commitment is important are precisely the ones we want – and the ones we will need to make Suterra even better.”
Suterra’s facility includes multiple buildings for manufacturing, laboratories, administration, and material storage. The company’s operation produces pheromone products that cause mating disruption in adult pests.
While Suterra was already exceeding minimum safety rules in many cases when they began the SHARP process, Oregon OSHA helped identify and correct hazards and bolster their health and safety programs.
In one case, Oregon OSHA found exposures to fall hazards on certain areas of roofs that workers needed to access in order to perform maintenance duties. Suterra abated the hazards by installing additional guardrails.
Then, there was Suterra’s work repairing stainless steel equipment.
This repair work involves welding, which gives off toxic fumes. Suterra already had protective measures in place, including local exhaust ventilation, but the company needed data to know whether those measures were sufficient. Likewise, Suterra wanted to test whether exposure controls were working in their laboratory process, which uses different types of solvents.
“We helped identify the potential hazards and monitored the levels of exposure,” Stengel said. The hazard sampling results showed Suterra’s controls were working – there was no cause for concern.
Oregon OSHA also helped Suterra fortify their safety program for the use of ATVs. When visiting farms and orchards, Suterra field representatives drive ATVs to different locations to help growers set up and use Suterra’s products.
While Suterra maintains programs on the safe handling of ATVs, Oregon OSHA noted the company also needed to require drivers to wear helmets.
“We pointed out that the manufacturer requires a helmet, and that OSHA enforces that requirement,” Stengel said.
Quick to Safety
Suterra wasted no time in adding safeguards and incorporating Oregon OSHA guidance.
“Even with the items they were missing,” Stengel said, “it did not take them long to not only comply but to go above and beyond what we were asking.”
Suterra took other steps to improve their safety and health systems, including implementing a comprehensive ergonomics program, revamping a training system for new employees, and installing additional fire safety measures in their facilities.
“The safety committee,” Stengel said, “was involved the whole way.”
For Khapoya, the SHARP process highlighted the benefits of an effective partnership between a public agency and a private company.
“Some companies try to minimize interaction with regulatory agencies because they fear exposing gaps in compliance,” he said. “Unfortunately, that compliance-oriented view also denies them the knowledge and support these agencies can offer.”
The best approach is to develop relationships with regulatory agency professionals, Khapoya said, which enables companies to fully understand rules and to achieve their intent. “Based on our work together,” he said, “we know our partners at Oregon OSHA are eager to offer advice and support if we have questions while tackling a new situation.”