Grenzebach is a privately owned, family-run company based in Germany, with 1,600 employees worldwide and 100 employees at its Newnan, Georgia, facility. Primarily a material handling manufacturer, Grenzebach produces large conveying systems for the glass industry and for James Hardie, makers of exterior siding products. The company also produces solar glass and manufactures electric automated guided vehicles for use in moving materials from place to place inside distribution facilities.
Prior to 2012, Grenzebach’s Newnan plant was experiencing too many recordable injuries, said Ken Pinkerton, head of facilities, quality, safety, and environmental at the Newnan location. From 2009 through 2013, the company averaged five recordable injuries per year, and one year the company had 10. Despite a long-time commitment to creating a safe and healthy workplace, leaders realized they needed to do something to bring those numbers down.
The place to start was with Georgia Tech’s Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) program, a part of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, and the state’s on-site consultant for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The on-site consultation program provides small business owners with no-cost advisory services to address hazards and improve workplace safety and health without fear of citations or penalties. Pinkerton has a long relationship with Georgia Tech, including receiving his Industrial, Health, and Safety Certification through Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).
In 2012, Grenzebach began working with SHES to pursue OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) certification. SHARP recognizes small businesses that operate exemplary safety and health programs. To qualify for SHARP, Grenzebach — and all businesses — must:
- Request comprehensive consultation visits in safety and health that include a hazard identification survey;
- Involve employees in the consultation process;
- Correct all hazards identified by the consultant;
- Implement and maintain health and safety programs as specified by OSHA;
- Maintain days away, restricted, or transferred (DART) rates and total recordable case (TRC) rates below the national industry average;
- Agree to notify the state consultant prior to making changes to working conditions in a facility.
Achieving SHARP status confers a number of benefits on a business. SHARP certified companies provide protection to workers through the development and implementation of best safety and health practices; create a culture that values health and safety; build a reputation for safety within their industry; save money; and are granted an exemption from OSHA programmed inspections for up to two years and subsequent renewal for up to three years.
“The real benefits to SHARP,” said Paul Schlumper, director of the SHES program, “are the improvements that a company makes in its safety and health management system to help provide a better work environment for employees. Another really big benefit is the prestige. A company can advertise the fact that they’re serious about safety and health. I think that means something to their customers and their employees.”
SHARP has been so successful for the company that Grenzebach has renewed its certification each year since 2012.
“What the SHARP certification allowed us to do is open our eyes to some of the different hazards that we took for granted every day,” Pinkerton said. And noticing those hazards has led to drastic decreases in recordable incidents for the facility.
“Since 2014, the number of recordable incidents has dropped 85%, and we are now significantly below the industry average,” Pinkerton said. “We’ve had a few milestones where we have gone a year without a recordable injury, 365 days. In fact, we recently met that goal again. But we had never gone a complete calendar year without one, until 2020.”
To achieve those stellar results, Grenzebach listened to the suggestions of the SHES team, including a safety committee that meets monthly, and implemented processes that include a focus on cleanliness. “If you don’t have a clean environment, you’re not going to have a safe environment,” Pinkerton said.
SHES helped Grenzebach empower workers to correct any hazards that they see. “If you see that broken pallet on the floor, instead of walking over it, our employees now pick it up and put it in the designated place. It removes that hazard from existence,” Pinkerton said.
Achieving SHARP certification does not mean that SHES is no longer involved. In fact, that is often just the beginning of a collaboration with a company.
“The relationship we’ve built with Georgia Tech and SHES over this process has been very beneficial,” Pinkerton said. “If I have any type of question that has to do with OSHA, or has to do with safety in general, they are able to help me. They will go above and beyond. If I have an employee concerned about the air quality or noise level in the plant, they’ll do an air quality check or a noise level check anytime I call and ask them to do it. And they provide those free of charge.”
That relationship delivers a level of security that dealing with OSHA may not bring.
“If I see changes coming in OSHA, I can contact the SHES group to get information,” Pinkerton said. “They’re my liaison to OSHA. I don’t have to contact OSHA to get an answer to a question. I can contact Georgia Tech and get that same answer, and not feel the anxiety that a person may feel contacting OSHA.”
The commitment to safety has worked its way through the entire organization, Pinkerton said.
“The people on the floor see that we legitimately care about their safety,” he said. “It’s not how fast can you make a product and get it out the door. The main thing is safety. How safely can you make that product? The atmosphere has completely changed when it comes to safety. That’s what you want. You’re trying to build a safety culture in your facility, and not have employees do something because I tell them to do it. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
“The SHES group is as loyal to me as I am to them. When it comes to the safety of people in the workforce, they take their jobs very seriously. I tell people all the time about SHARP and that they should become SHARP certified. The main thing that I would say about Georgia Tech and their consultation program is that they care. They don’t come in just trying to find something wrong. They come in and try to find ways for us to improve.” – Ken Pinkerton, head of facilities, quality, safety, and environmental at Grenzebach in Newnan, Georgia