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In a true and consistent commitment to safety, family-owned tea manufacturer R.C. Bigelow’s Boise, ID, facility recertified in the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).

The company first achieved SHARP status in 2005 after contacting Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) On-site Consultation Program for help reducing workplace injuries. Bigelow not only corrected hazards related to respirators, electrical cords and flammable materials, it also used a team approach to instill ownership of safety practices and principles at all levels of the organization.

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R.C. Bigelow is a family-owned company headquartered in Fairfield, CT, that produces and markets blended teas. The company came into being in 1945 when Ruth Campbell Bigelow started the company based on the “Constant Comment” blended tea, which remains popular today. Ruth’s son David and wife Eunice are now co-chief executives. Cindi Bigelow, Ruth’s granddaughter, has been the company president since 2005. The R.C. Bigelow facility in Boise, Idaho is one of 2 bagging, packaging and distribution facilities, and employs 63 workers.

Before 2002, the company had to deal with three or four recordable injuries each year at the Boise facility. The company knew that was unacceptable and they had to reduce these rates, so management identified worker safety and health as a focus for continuous improvement efforts.

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While researching workplace safety, Don Scantling, Bigelow’s former Human Resources and Safety Manager, learned about the OSHA On-site Consultation Safety and Health Program services available to local employers. The program offers free and confidential safety and health advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all U.S. states and some territories. Under the program, consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs.

During the initial visit on March 22, 2002, on-site consultation safety professionals identified hazards involving inadequate documentation on personal protective equipment respirator fit tests, management of electrical cords, labeling of secondary containers, and storage of flammable materials. In addition to correcting deficiencies the consultant identified, Bigelow used its team approach to instill ownership of safety practices and principles at all levels of the organization.

With assistance from the consultants, Bigelow was able to reduce injury and illness rates below the national average as compared to companies operating in the coffee and tea manufacturing industry.

Bigelow reported a Total Recordable Case Rate (TRC) of 2.20 in 2002. By 2005, this rate dropped to 1.25, and the Days Away, Restricted, and Transfer Rate (DART) dropped from 2.20 (reported in 2002) to zero. For comparison, the industry average TRC rate was 5.3, and average DART was 3.2. Bigelow’s dedication to protecting workers resulted in the company earning acceptance into SHARP in 2005.

Since 2005, Bigelow’s Boise facility has kept the number of injuries and illnesses below the national average and continued to earned SHARP recognition. In fact, for two years — 2006 and 2008 — Bigelow had no recordable injuries. This summer, Bigelow’s efforts to maintain a safe and healthful workplace gained recognition once again as OSHA renewed the tea maker’s SHARP status.

Bigelow is always finding new ways to maintain a focus on safety. For the past several years, the “Safety, It’s All About Me!” program, has proved successful in promoting a culture of safety.

With this program, laminated cards are at each work center throughout the facility and employees end up encouraged to fill them out and submit them. The cards instruct employees to scan the area for the potential for hazards, identify what could cause a slip, trip, or fall in that area, respond to a series of questions regarding machine guarding and other worksite-related safety concerns, and identify possible improvements.

Mark Bolander, Bigelow human resources and safety manager said “Safety, It’s All About Me!” and similar programs are an incentive that rewards safety participation; none of their programs are on incident reporting or injury rates. The forms filled out by employees count toward the safety participation goals, which ultimately ends up reflected in quarterly bonuses.

“Addressing workplace safety and health challenges requires ongoing commitment and focus,” Bolander said. “As an extension of SHARP efforts over the years, several engineering controls not only reduced the risk of injuries but also proved cost effective and increased productivity. For example, recycling used, broken, and damaged pallets eliminated debris, reduced hand injuries from slivers and loose nails, and improved general housekeeping in the plant. Having consistent pallet weight also had the unexpected benefit of reducing the potential for back and muscle strains. Sanitation teams make regularly scheduled mid-shift cleaning passes to eliminate slip, trip, and fall hazards. Pallet positioners were installed to reduce the potential for back and muscle strains associated with lifting bulk tea bags to be dumped into feed hoppers. Installing two robot palletizers reduced potential repetitive motion injuries and allowed Bigelow to redistribute employees and support the production process in other areas.”

“Engaging the workers is fundamental to the success of any workplace safety and health improvement effort,” Bolander said. “People who perform a job function many years can easily get bored, lose focus, or become complacent. Changes to past practices may be resisted. Long service brings valuable experience, but it can also engender the belief that expertise enables taking chances because ‘I know what I’m doing’.”

SHARP recognizes small business employers who operate an exemplary injury and illness prevention program.

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