New!  Ergonomics key to safety improvement in fiber glass 

Ergonomics key to safety improvement in fiber glass business

A sliver handler at the PPG Shelby, North Carolina, USA facility wears personal protective equipment as part of her job. Use of improved protective sleeves and gloves has reduced the number of injuries caused by burns or embedded fiber glass.

September 2006 - Strong and committed leadership, a must-do list of improvements, and a $5-million investment in new equipment has resulted in a whopping 68-percent improvement in safety for PPG’s fiber glass business.

In 2000, the business unit’s injury-and-illness (I&I) rate was 4.1 — meaning four of every 100 employees suffered an injury during the year serious enough to meet the I&I criteria. But thanks to a concerted effort and a keen focus on safety, that rate has been reduced to 1.3, according to Vicki Holt, senior vice president, glass and fiber glass.

Not only have the improvements made employees and workplaces safer, they also reduced U.S. workers’ compensation costs by about $1 million last year and are expected to do the same this year, she said.

“We’re extremely pleased with the safety progress we’ve made in fiber glass,” said Holt, who joined PPG in 2003 as vice president, fiber glass. “But we’re not yet where we want to be in eliminating risks in the workplace. Excellence in safety dovetails with PPG’s commitment to safeguard employees. It’s also essential for being a financially successful, competitive business.”
Improved ergonomics is at the core of the safety achievements at PPG’s fiber glass plants at Chester, S.C., Lexington and Shelby, N.C., Hoogezand, the Netherlands, and Wigan, England, according to Tom Kerr, director of strategic operations, fiber glass.

“Our goal is to eliminate manual lifting of large spools – called packages – containing fiber glass,” Kerr said. “When we stop manually lifting the packages, we eliminate the associated strains, sprains and other musculoskeletal injuries.”

More than $5-million worth of improvements made at the fiber glass plants include the complete automation of some packaging processes, and the use of robots and various types of “lift-assist” equipment to move packages. Each manufacturing plant has implemented three to five must-do improvements in each of the past two years.

In addition to eliminating most manual lifting of 30- to 60-pound packages, the improvements are also helping the business to save time and reduce overall handling costs. “Now that automated equipment and lift assists are doing the lifting, we have been able to increase the weight of the packages, which reduces the overall number of packages we have to move,” said Kerr, adding that some packages now weigh up to 120 pounds.

In addition to automated lifting, safety improvements include use of new personal protective equipment, enhanced safety procedures, improved housekeeping, and a continuous management-intervention program at each facility, according to Tim Cobaugh, director of environment, health and safety, glass and fiber glass.

An operator at the PPG Hoogezand, Netherlands facility
uses a lift assist to position a fiber glass package
on a hanger for storage or shipment.

“Our production employees are using improved gloves and protective sleeves when handling fiber glass,” Cobaugh said. “As we form fiber glass from molten glass, employees come in contact with glass that’s hot and brittle. This creates the potential for burns and fiber glass embedded in fingers and hands.”

Employees and supervisors have been implementing numerous smaller improvements that simply make good sense, he said, such as using portable scales that can be moved into position to weigh fiber glass packages rather than moving the heavy packages to a scale. “Employees really care, and the momentum continues to build as they do a lot of little things to help improve the ergonomics of their immediate workstations.”

In addition, both front-line management and employees are promoting safety awareness.

“Safety has always been important, but our frontline management is spending more time than ever coaching employees about safety,” Cobaugh said. “And our peer-to-peer observation process provides an avenue for employees to talk with one another about risks they notice and ways to avoid or eliminate those risks.”

A key part of the safety strategy is the full-time dedication of Shelby’s Bobby Rauf, senior engineering associate, and John Smith, senior engineering technician, to work directly with employees around the globe to individually tailor ergonomic improvements.

After combing through safety audits and various reports, Rauf develops a prioritized list of jobs and areas within each plant that would benefit from ergonomic reengineering.
A winder operator at PPG’s Wigan, England,
fiber glass plant, uses a lift assist to move a
53-pound (24-kilogram) fiber glass package
from the forming process line, or winder.

“Then we talk with the front-line worker,” Rauf said. Rather than distributing simplistic, off-the-shelf solutions, Rauf and Smith team with each employee, discuss potential improvements and negotiate an ergonomic solution to cope with a potentially unsafe task.

“Most employees want to be directly involved. They get a sense of satisfaction and ownership in coming up with the solution,” Rauf said. “They’re the experts on the processes, equipment and nuances of the job. It only makes sense that they help reengineer the process.”

Continuous employee feedback on ergonomic improvements and challenges are fed to each manufacturing plant’s ergonomic steering committee. In addition, successes, concerns and best practices are shared among all five plants through a global steering committee, Rauf said.

“Ergonomic improvements make my life a whole lot easier,” said Scott Martin, winder operator at Shelby. “I’m no longer dead tired from carrying packages all day. And using the lifts protects the quality of the product for customers. Packages can be damaged in handling, but using lifts makes sure they’re in perfect condition.

“I’m only 27, I’m married and we’re expecting a baby. So I have a lot of work years ahead of me. But if I can keep my body healthy through good work practices and ergonomics, it’s going to be better for me and my family in the long run.”