EI2 Programs Help Keep Georgia Businesses Lean and Healthy

by Jerry Grillo

Trey Sawyers, Katie Hines, and Sean Castillo are helping keep Georgia businesses lean and safe. (Photo: Jerry Grillo)

Sean Castillo is in the win-win business. As an industrial hygienist in the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), his job is to ensure that employees are safe in their workspaces, and when he does that, he simultaneously improves a company’s performance.

That’s been a theme for Castillo and his colleagues in the Safety, Health, Environmental Services (SHES) program and their partners in the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), part of EI2’s suite of programs aimed at helping Georgia businesses thrive.

“A healthier workforce is healthy for business,” said Castillo, part of the SHES team of consultants who often work closely with their GaMEP counterparts to improve safety while also maximizing productivity.

This team of experts from EI2 assist companies trying to reach that critical intersection of both, combining smart ergonomics and safety enhancements with lean manufacturing practices. This can solve human performance gaps due to fatigue, heat, or some other environmental stressor, while helping businesses continue to improve their production processes and, ultimately, their bottom line.

These stressors cost U.S. industry billions of dollars each year — fatigue, for example, is responsible for about $136 billion in lost productivity.

“Protecting your employee — investing in safety now — saves a lot of money later,” Castillo said. “It equates to less money spent on workers compensation and less employee turnover, which means less time training new employees, and that ideally leads to a more efficient process in the workplace.”

It takes careful and intentional collaboration to bring those moving pieces together, and inextricably linked programs like SHES and GaMEP can help orchestrate all of that.

Ensuring Safe Workspaces

SHES is staffed by safety consultants, like Castillo, who provide a free and essential service to Georgia businesses. They help companies ensure that they meet or exceed the standards set by the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), mainly through SHES’ flagship OSHA 21(d) Consultation Program.

“Our job is to ensure that workspaces and processes are designed so that anybody can perform the work safely,” said Trey Sawyers, a safety, health, and ergonomics consultant on the SHES team, aiding small and mid-sized businesses in Georgia. When a company reaches out to SHES to apply for the free, confidential OSHA consultation program, a consultant like Sawyers gets assigned to the task, “based on our area of expertise,” said Sawyers, an expert in ergonomics, which is the science of designing and adapting a workspace to efficiently suit the physical and mental needs and limitations of workers.

“If a company is having ergonomic issues — maybe they’re experiencing a lot of strains and sprains — then I might get the call because of my knowledge and understanding of anthropometry, and then I’ll go take a close look at the facility,” Sawyers said. Anthropometry is the scientific study of a human’s size, form, and functional capacity.

SHES consultants can identify potential workplace hazards, provide guidance on how to comply with OSHA standards, and establish or improve safety and health programs in the company.

“The caveat is the company has to correct any serious hazards that we find,” said Castillo, who visits a wide range of workspaces in his role. For instance, his job will take him to construction and manufacturing sites, gun ranges, even office settings. “We do noise and air monitoring at all different types of workplaces. I was at a primary care clinic the other day. And over the past few years, we’ve had a significant emphasis on stone fabricators, looking for overexposures to respirable crystalline silica.”

Silica, which is dust residue from the process of creating marble and quartz slabs, can lead to a lung disease called silicosis. OSHA established new limits that cut the permissible exposure limits in half, and that has kept the SHES consultants busy as Georgia manufacturers try to achieve and maintain compliance.

Keeping Companies Cool

Another area of growing emphasis for Georgia Tech’s consultants is heat-related stress in the workplace.

“Currently, there are no standards to address this,” Castillo said. “For example, there are no rules that say a construction site worker should drink this much water. There are suggested guidelines and emphasis programs for inspections for targeted industries where heat stress may be prevalent — but no standards, though that is coming.”

The SHES team is trying to stay ahead of what will likely be new federal rules for heat mitigation. To help develop safe standards and better understand the effects of heat on workers, consultants like Castillo are going to construction sites, plant nurseries, and warehouses, and enlisting volunteers in field studies. Using heat stress monitor armbands, they’re monitoring data on workers’ core body temperatures and heart rates.

“These tools are great because we’re not only gathering some good data, but we can use them proactively to prevent heat events such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which can be fatal if left untreated,” Castillo said.

To further help educate Georgia companies about the risks of heat-related problems, SHES applied for and recently won a Susan Harwood Training Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The $160,000 award will support SHES consultants’ efforts to further their work in heat stress education so that “companies and workers will understand the warning signs and the potential effects of heat stress, and how they can stay safe,” Castillo said. “We’re sure this will all become part of OSHA standards eventually, and we’d like to help our clients stay ahead of the curve to protect their employees.”

OSHA standards are the law, and while larger corporations routinely hire consulting firms to keep them on the straight and narrow, SHES is providing the same level of expertise for its smaller business clients for free. Most of those clients apply for help through SHES’ online request form. And others find the help they need through the guidance of process improvement specialist Katie Hines and her colleagues in GaMEP.

Lean and Safe

Hines came to her appreciation of ergonomics naturally. After graduating from Auburn University, she entered the workforce as a manufacturing engineer for a building materials company, where “it was just part of our day-to-day work life in that manufacturing environment, on the production floor,” she said.

It took grad school and a deeper focus on lean and continuous improvement processes to formalize that appreciation.

While working toward her master’s degree in chemical engineering at Auburn, Hines earned a certificate in occupational safety and ergonomics (like Sawyers, her SHES colleague). At the same time, Hines was helping to guide her company’s lean and continuous improvement program. And when she joined Proctor and Gamble after completing her degree, “The lean concept and safety best practices were fully ingrained, part of the daily discussion there,” she said.

All those hands-on manufacturing production floor experiences managing people and systems prepared Hines well for her current role as a project manager on GaMEP’s Operational Excellence team, where her focus is entirely on lean and continuous improvement work — that is, helping companies reduce waste and improve production while also enhancing safety and ergonomics.

Hines uses her expertise in knowing how manufacturing processes and people should look when everyone is safe and also productive. She can walk into a GaMEP client’s facility and drive the process improvements and solutions that will help them achieve a leaner, more efficient form of production. And then, when she sees the need, Hines will recommend the client contact SHES, “the people who have their fingers on the data and the expertise to improve safety.”

These were concepts that, for a long time, seemed to be working against each other — the very idea of maximizing production and improving profits while also emphasizing worker safety and comfort.

“But you can have both,” Castillo said. “You should have both.”

Georgia Tech to Create Pilot Crystalline Silica Training Program

The Safety, Health, and Environmental Services program at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute is using a $75,000 federal grant to create a pilot crystalline silica exposure training and materials program for the cut stone and stone fabrication industries.

 

The grant is one of 93 the U.S. Department of Labor’s Administration Occupational Safety and Health Administration awarded totaling more $11.6 million.

 

Derived from the Susan Harwood Workplace Safety and Health Training program, the grants awarded by OSHA in fiscal year 2021 are in the Targeted Topic Training, Training and Educational Materials Development, and Capacity Building categories. The grants are a critical part of OSHA’s effort to educate workers and assist employers.

 

The funding will support the one-year effort that targets small-business employers and underserved vulnerable workers in high-hazard industries. The specific focus is low/non-literate, limited-English speaking, and other at-risk workers. The training materials will be evaluated during the pilot period which includes 50 workers and employers. Training will be offered in English and Spanish.

 

Crystalline silica — or quartz — is a common mineral found in natural materials such as stone. Cutting, drilling, or grinding of stone creates a lot of dust, which includes particles of crystalline silica.

 

Inhaling crystalline silica can lead to serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, including tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Exposure to these particles has also been linked to kidney disease and cancers, including lung cancer.

 

Crystalline silica inhalation can also lead to silicosis, an irreversible and potentially fatal disease marked by the development of growths and scarring of the lungs. If the growths or nodules become too large, breathing can become labored and eventually lead to death.

 

“The risk of silicosis is high for workers in several industries, including the construction, cut stone, and stone fabrication industries,” said Jenny Houlroyd, the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services program’s occupational health services manager. “This effort is designed to give workers the essential tools and training to protect themselves and keep them as safe as possible.”

U.S. Department of Labor Awards Worker Safety Health Training Grant to Georgia Tech

Institute is one of 37 recipients of newly available grants focused
on stopping spread of infectious disease, including Covid-19.

 

Sean Castillo is an industrial hygienist with the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. He is the project lead on an OSHA grant awarded to Georgia Tech to provide Covid-19 training sessions to employers and workers in the long-term healthcare and mortuary industries.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is awarding more than $6.7 million in grants to 37 nonprofit organizations and universities nationwide, including the Georgia Institute of Technology.

 

The grants will be used to fund education and training programs to help workers and employers recognize infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus health hazards, and identify preventive measures for a safe workplace. In addition to hazard control, the training will include understanding workers’ rights and employer responsibilities under the OSHA Act of 1970.

 

Georgia Tech’s award will provide 1-hour and 6.5-hour Covid-19 training sessions to 475 employers and workers in the long-term healthcare and mortuary industries, through its Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program. The SHES training will focus on infectious disease awareness and prevention. Existing materials will be used, and the training will be conducted in English and Spanish. Additionally, SHES will collaborate with University of Georgia professor Toni Miles to integrate stress management and bereavement skills and training materials to provide this work-group population the tools necessary to address the health implications of grief.

 

Toni Miles is an epidemiology and biostatistics and health policy and management professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health. UGA is working with Geogia Tech to implement the OSHA-funded Covid-19 training program.

“We are thankful to be included in this OSHA funding to advance awareness and understanding of disease risk and measures to take to mitigate exposure,” said SHES Director, Paul Schlumper. “A healthy and safe Georgia workplace environment is essential for employers and employees alike. This funding will be a critical part of our efforts in our continuous fight against the pandemic.”

 

An offering of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, SHES provides a broad range of occupational safety and health training, consulting services, and academic education to organizations in Georgia and the Southeast. In 2020, the SHES group helped employers remove nearly 36,000 workers from workplace hazards. SHES staff also identified nearly 1,500 workplace hazards in 2020.

 

The OSHA award includes “Workplace Safety and Health Training on Infectious Diseases, including the novel coronavirus” grants funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The grants derive from the Susan Harwood Workplace Safety and Health Training program, named in honor of the late Susan Harwood, former director of OSHA’s Office of Risk Assessment. In her 17-year OSHA career, she helped develop federal standards to protect workers from bloodborne pathogens, cotton dust, benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos, and lead in construction.

 

The program funds grants made available to nonprofit organizations, including community and faith-based groups, employer associations, labor unions, joint labor-management associations, colleges, and universities. Target trainees include small-business employers and underserved vulnerable workers in high-hazard industries. These grants are a critical element in supporting OSHA’s role in educating workers on their rights and assisting employers with providing safe workplaces.

 

Learn more about the 2021 Susan Harwood Training Grant Program recipients.

Georgia Tech helps Hogansville auto parts supplier obtain national safety recognition

Dongwon Autopart Technology celebrates its SHARP status. From left: Tony Yun, general manager; Charlie Kim, president, Dongwon Autopart Technology; Neely Bridges, SHES research engineer; Jim Howry, SHES principal research associate; Paul Schlumper, manager SHES’ Georgia Onsite Safety and Health Consultation Program; Larry Rogers, Dongwon safety and general affairs manager, and Kevin McKinsey, head of procurement, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia.

For the past three years, the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program, has been working with Dongwon Autopart Technology, a Korean maker of door frames, bumpers, and side impact beams and supplier to Kia Motors’ plant in West Point, Georgia.

 

Based in Hogansville, Georgia, Dongwon, which opened in 2009 and employs 200, sought to reinforce the plant’s health and safety practices.

 

“We reached out to Georgia Tech not only to be OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) compliant but to enhance our culture of safety,” said Larry Rogers, who is the plant’s safety and general affairs manager. “We wanted to work with Georgia Tech because of its reputation in health and safety consulting and cost. All this time and effort we were putting into our health and safety standards and practices is yielding success for our company.”

 

As a result of its work with SHES, a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, Dongwon was granted Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) status October 18.

 

The designation is awarded to those companies with fewer than 250 employees with injury and illness rates below industry average and that have an effective safety and health management system in place, said Paul Schlumper, manager of SHES’ Onsite Safety and Health Consultation Program.

 

SHES staff worked with Dongwon onsite to help the company’s management and staff  better manage safety and health conditions and help it reduce expenses by improving those standards, Schlumper said.

 

Because of the SHARP designation, Dongwon, now one of only 10 Georgia companies with that status, is exempt from certain federal OSHA inspections for up to two years, Schlumper said.

 

“It’s a recognition that Dongwon is a high performer in safety and health and a differentiator that the company can show to its customers and suppliers,” he said.

 

The SHARP status is already making an impact, Rogers said, explaining the company has been fielding calls from other Kia suppliers that want to learn more about the certification process and SHARP best practices.

 

“Our efforts show that we take occupational health and safety not only among auto parts suppliers, but the wider Hogansville community because there is this perception that plants in general are not safe” Rogers said. “We want to dispel those beliefs.”

Georgia Tech welcomes second cohort in Professional Master’s Occupational Safety and Health program

Class photo of PMOSH Class of 2020
Members of the Professional Master’s Occupational Safety and Health (PMOSH) Class of 2020.

The Georgia Institute of Technology’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services program (SHES), welcomed its second cohort to its Professional Master’s Occupational Safety and Health (PMOSH) program — the only offering of its kind in the state.

The 21 students who comprise the cohort will spend two years studying for the degree, which SHES is offering in partnership with Georgia Tech Professional Education.

The students represent a wide range of industries, including aerospace manufacturing, food production, retail, construction, and biotechnology.

Launched in 2017, the PMOSH degree is designed to give individuals ascending to leadership positions with the knowledge and skills needed to define and effectively manage safety and health programs in a wide range of organizations where they can have a positive impact in the well-being of the labor force.

Among the things they will learn to:

  • Define and describe the principles of managing safety and health.
  • Analyze the attributes of an organization with respect to safety and health and identify gaps that warrant improvement to attain better safety and health performance.
  • Design and implement an action plan to improve and sustain the highest level of safety and health performance.
  • Apply the analytical, technological and business concepts necessary to measure, improve and sustain safety and health performance.
  • Demonstrate the value proposition of effective safety and health management within an organization.

“Our research showed there is a strong need for this type of training,” said Myrtle Turner Harris, director of the SHES and OSHA Training Institute Education Center programs. “The education and training they will receive will allow them to have that professional education to advance in their fields. For companies, they’re putting people in these critical occupational safety positions who are trained to be there. They’re supporting safety in the workplace, which is an important factor in the companies’ bottom lines.”

Safety, Health, and Environmental Services hosts machine guarding training course

Machine Guarding session at Georgia Tech
Thomas Dean (standing), safety consultant with Georgia Tech’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services program, leads a discussion on machine guarding. (Photo by: Péralte C. Paul)

The Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) group hosted 30 manufacturing executives recently for a training course in machine guarding.

Manufacturing facilities have moving machine parts, which can lead to workplace injuries including the crushed hands and fingers, burns, blindness, or amputations. Machine guarding calls for safety features on or around manufacturing or engineering equipment to prevent to prevent hazardous parts, chemicals, or debris from coming into contact with body parts, said Paige Rohrig, who heads SHES’ Safety Engineering Branch.

Safety protocols and guidelines are critical to help manufacturing plant employees stay safe and reduce the risk of injury.

The Feb. 8 session on abrasive wheel machinery in machine guarding is part of a $153,591 Susan Harwood Training Grant that SHES received. These grants help support programs and initiatives that give instruction and education to workers and employers regarding workplace safety and health hazards, responsibilities and rights.