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IMA-NA Takes Five for Finger and Hand Safety

Wednesday, April 10, 2013   (0 Comments)
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A trade association representing the industrial minerals sector has taken the group’s alliance with MSHA to a new level that has led to ground-breaking safety products and a significant reduction in injuries.

It’s a safe bet to say that the Industrial Minerals Association – North America (IMA-NA) had no idea early on where its pact would lead with MSHA to evaluate the agency’s database of injuries at 350 IMA-NA member company mines.  It all started with a basic question that, surprisingly, no one could answer; namely, to what part of the body were most on-the-job injuries in the sector occurring?  

"That turned out to be fingers and hands, so we started a finger and hand initiative,” commented Executive Vice President Darrell Smith.  

The success of that effort led to more projects. Underway now are initiatives covering social media, behavior modification, health, ergonomics, contractor safety, control of hazardous energy, diesel particulate matter exposure and slips, trips and falls.  A flow chart on p. 2 outlines IMA-NA’s safety intervention process.  

The fruits of this labor are starting to pile up.  Three association-produced videos are now on YouTube.  They are "Take Five for Finger and Hand Safety,” "Crowbar” and "Wrench Right,” an 84-second offering about finding the right wrench for the job.  In addition, five toolbox talks on finger and hand safety have been developed, along with numerous posters.  A webinar was held in August, and a seminar was presented at NIOSH’s Underground Stone Seminar last month.  IMA-NA has graciously made these products available for free to the industry through its website at http://www.ima-na.org/Safety-Health.

More important than videos and posters, though, has been the impact on safety.  Gloves play an important role in protecting hands from injury.  Inexpensive general-purpose cotton gloves are widespread in mining, but members of IMA-NA’s Safety and Health Committee suspected miners might be more apt to wear a more comfortable glove better suited to the task and that, in turn, might cut down on injuries.    

"We found it to be true,” remarked Bob Carlson of Fairmount Minerals, committee vice chairman.  "The people started wearing the gloves more often because they were better quality.”

The initiative also led to a reduction in injuries.  Carmeuse Lime & Stone Co. launched the program at about a third of its sites.  The company’s focus on proper glove usage, coupled with awareness using IMA-NA’s posters and tool boxes, have cut compensable hand injuries by more than 50%.

A pilot program at eight Unimin Corp. facilities is producing similar results.  "We’re already seeing at those facilities basically elimination of hand injuries,” said Andy O’Brien, Vice President of Safety and Health at the company and committee chairman.  He predicted the program would soon go company-wide.
That outcome, of course, affects the bottom line in a positive way. But another unexpected benefit has been a reduction in the cost of gloves.  Carlson explained what was going on.

"If you give them a $5 glove, they think it’s a throw-away at the end of the day.  Give them a $30 glove, and they understand they need to take responsibility for that glove as a piece of equipment.  When they’re throwing that $5 glove out every day or every other day, that adds up to maybe 50, 60 bucks a month as opposed to giving them a $30 glove for two months.  It’s a cost saving.”

Carmeuse said it has saved $3,000 in a year in glove expenditures at one of its smaller plants.

The initiative also brought home to Carlson the importance of gloves as personal protective equipment (PPE).  He recalled giving a worker a $40 pair of gloves.  A week later, the individual returned with the gloves.  

"He said he loved ‘em,” Carlson said.  Then Carlson examined the PPE.  "When I looked at the gloves, I realized why we have so many hand and finger injuries.  They looked like they’d been through a crusher. . . . You can see the results [of hand protection] in the glove itself.”  

While a desire to cut injuries has been the driving force, MSHA enforcement action has also played a role.  The agency tagged kaolin producer KaMin, LLC with a $392 citation for a broken shovel.  Aware that other broken, modified or make-shift hand tools might be in use, management at the company’s Macon, Georgia plant came up with an idea: an employee’s name would be entered into a drawing for a prize each time he or she brought in a bad tool.

The challenge, held last October, was a resounding success.  About 90 tools were collected (see photo), with replacements provided that were more ergonomically sound and better suited to the task.  Hand injuries declined, and the plant was spared from a potential compliance bill of about $35,000 if inspectors had written up each tool as a separate violation.

"Two great success stories there,” Carlson said about the Carmeuse and KaMin experiences.

Other Benefits

There have also been other, less tangible, but nonetheless important benefits. O’Brien and Carlson reported that engagement in projects designed to produce a specific product outcome has spread beyond safety professionals because the initiatives often involve specialized skills.

O’Brien said, "They [safety pros] can bring their team in and a lot of the team members are specialized in these topics and can step forward and participate and bring that added value.”

A problem that came to light in committee meetings was duplication of effort.  "I think the thing that struck most of us after about 15 minutes was there is so much duplication of effort,” O’Brien said.  "So I think the real value is a reduction in the duplication of the substantial effort that’s going on.”

IMA-NA’s initiatives have also improved employee morale because the work force became engaged in decisions about the type of gloves they wanted and the tools needed.  O’Brien said management told employees the company would buy any gloves workers thought would provide the best protection and be best suited for the jobs they had to do.  

"The feedback we’ve gotten from the work force is that this is the way we need to do everything,” he said.  "This is how you get full and complete buy-in into what you are trying to accomplish.”

There has also been a positive interaction between IMA-NA and MSHA.  An MSHA official actively participated in the hand and finger initiative. The agency has also been helpful in providing monthly data summaries. IMA-NA has given the agency the green light to disseminate a modified version of the hand and finger poster, and MSHA has agreed to distribute a "Take 5 for Hand Safety” hard hat sticker.  

"So they’re very involved in all this,” Smith said, who also reported experiencing personal gratification from his role in the initiatives.  

All in all, a win-win across the board.

Reprinted with the permission of Sharpe's Pointe on Mine Safety.

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