Workers at K&K Fabrication pose with their SHARP banner.

Started by the father and son team of Kent and Kurt Smeby, K&K Fabrication, Inc., opened its doors in February 1982.

The intent was to fabricate structural steel used in the erection of new buildings as well as the refurbishing of existing structures. With limited equipment, resources, and a handful of employees, contracts were won, and the new company was underway.

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With so few employees, it was all hands on deck as job descriptions were very broad. Equipment was obtained piece by piece, as resources became available.

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Just over 36 years later, K&K has grown to a company with 40 employees, providing a variety of metal fabrication services and products to the industry.

The company fabricates structural steel – beams, columns, stairways, and railings – for the construction industry. Products include lintels, bar joists, columns, decking, trusses, brackets, railings, ladders, conveyor lines, rollers, dumpers, mezzanines, machined parts, platforms, racks, and tables. The stainless steel division fabricates parts and machinery for the food industry. They offer a complete machine shop as well where machine parts are created and repair work is done. K&K Fabrication sandblasts and paints products onsite, and the finished material is delivered to the end user on K&K’s own fleet of trucks.

Until 2008, the company operated without a routine safety program.

Meetings were occasionally held, and safety was discussed, but there was quite a bit that was unknown, and no one could really find the right answers. A safety program was there, but it was not very strong. The current owners, Kurt Smeby and Kris Wilkie, felt the employees deserved a safe place to work, and the company was unsure how best to provide that.

New Safety Director
In 2008, Jim Zenk took on the position of safety director and he also took care of the maintenance of the personal protective equipment, so this hire was a good fit. Improvements were made in the shop, and some procedural work was done. It seemed like things were improving, but the company knew there was a long way to go. They had heard of the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MNOSHA) Workplace Safety Consultation (WSC) program and wondered if inviting OSHA into their shop was really a good idea.

In 2014, Jim attended training where one of the WSC consultants presented on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The company learned OSHA provides several services to employers to help reduce injury and illness rates and to get their workplace safety programs up to the level of being compliant. 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. Consultants from state agencies, such as MNOSHA WSC, or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs.

This assistance would be a good starting point, and what the company learned from the consultation process would lead to overall safety and health improvements. It would also serve as a tool to help employees recognize hazards, ultimately leading to fewer near misses, incidents, and injuries. This approach was how K&K Fabrication would move forward.

On February 4, 2015, a MNOSHA WSC Consultant completed the first hazard survey at K&K Fabrication and several physical hazards were identified. In addition, the company had several shortcomings in their written programs.

An abatement plan was set up. Goals for continuous improvement were developed, and the Minnesota Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (MNSHARP) was also discussed. OSHA recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA On-Site Consultation Program services and operate an exemplary safety and health programs.

Low Serious Hazards
Acceptance into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles a company out among its business peers as a model for worksite safety and health. The consultant was surprised by the low number of serious hazards found on the initial assessment, and by how far the company had already come before this hazard survey.

In the Fall of 2015, K&K Fabrication decided to pursue MNSHARP. A safety committee, composed of representatives from all levels of the company, was formed. After the safety committee meetings, the members of the committee always do a walk-through of the shop. Employees can talk with the committee members on-the-spot regarding their concerns. “Point Persons” are assigned in each department. They are the safety committee’s eyes and ears on the shop floor. Some employees are more comfortable discussing safety concerns with a worker in their own area. The Point Person fills that niche. The real mission is to make the employees feel comfortable identifying and reporting hazards, filling out near miss reports, and taking ownership in forming the safety culture.

In addition to the safety committee walkthroughs, the fire department has toured the facility to enable them to more efficiently handle an emergency at the facility. The insurance company risk manager also walks through when he stops in. He has agreed to lead three all-company safety meetings each year. The safety director walks through the shop every morning and employees are encouraged to bring up safety concerns then. The company is also now doing incident investigations, job hazard analysis, root cause analysis, and change analysis. A new preventive maintenance program, which prompts people to check certain safety items on a defined schedule, is helping track and maintain goals and tasks. A new fire alarm system was installed. Now, a central alarm system covers the entire facility. In the event of a fire or emergency, the employees can now be safely evacuated from the building. Several people have been trained on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid.

The employees have begun to take ownership in the safety program. The workers on the shop floor are identifying hazards. “They understand the importance of filling out near miss and safety concern forms, so their concerns can be dealt with … and accidents and injury rates are going down,” said Zenk.

After putting the improvements and programs in place and getting employees to buy in to their new safety program, K&K Fabrication earned Minnesota Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (MNSHARP) status in February this year. MNSHARP validates the work and investment K&K Fabrication has put into workplace safety.

The process of earning the MNSHARP designation taught everyone the importance of diligence and continuous improvement.

SHARP companies must have injury and illness rates below the national average. Because of their efforts, the K&K Fabrication experience modification (ExMod) rate decreased 0.8 percent. In addition, Total Recordable Case Rate (TRC) decreased from 1 in 2015 to 0 in 2017. Days Away, Restricted, and/or Transfer Rate (DART) was 0 in 2015, 2.8 in 2016, and 2.7 in 2017. This equates to a DART rate of 1.9 using a 3-year average. For this NAICS code, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the industry average TRC rate was 5.4, and the average DART rate was 2.4 for this period.

“This has been a wonderful experience,” Zenk said. “The OSHA consultants were great to work with and shared a wealth of information, providing options to solve problems and helping us to set and reach goals working toward abatements. Our new safety culture is now alive and working. This would never have happened without the group effort between Kurt and Kris, the company’s owners, our employees, and OSHA. We look forward to working with the WSC consultants in the future as we continue to grow and improve our safety culture here at K&K Fabrication.”

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