Turns out, Lee Johnson’s plan to die in Springfield upon relocating in 1989 hasn’t come to pass. The recently diagnosed muscular dystrophy patient was told at the time his remaining days would be few – so he moved to Springfield near family and started a business.
That business, safety training and consulting firm Brittney Inc., is still going, and so is Johnson, with his wife and company co-founder Carol by his side.
The company hasn’t been without changes. Lee’s retired, though Carol maintains a role in decision-making. And more recently, 21-year President Marty Fulbright retired in April. Brittney officials say it’s caused some in the market to claim the company would cease operating.
That’s not so, the Johnsons say.
“We want to come back,” Carol says, referring to the glory days of $1 million annual revenues and acknowledging plans for the future.
They recruited Jerry Raines, a former son-in-law, for payroll, accounting and information technology tasks in a part-time capacity, and promoted 10-year safety trainer Joe Austin to manage consulting operations. Raines says the company doesn’t plan to fill the president role.
Austin leads the team consulting with some 280 clients, producing annual revenue above $500,000.
“If OSHA requires it, we do pretty well all of it,” he says of the nine-employee firm’s specialization in federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance.
For example, OSHA’s fact sheet on “lockout/tagout” procedures stipulates an employer’s responsibility to create and enforce an energy control program. Brittney helps companies follow OSHA’s procedures for properly shutting off machinery connected to energy potentially dangerous to employee operators. OSHA claims lockout/tagout compliance prevents over 120 deaths and 50,000 injuries a year.
“That’s our end goal,” Raines says of reducing workplace injury and illness rates, as well as workers’ compensation claims. “It saves the company money all around.”
Brittney officials say the average client monthly fee is $200, after a $750 setup fee.
“It’s kind of catered to what the company wants,” Raines says. “If a company can’t afford their own internal safety director, they can hire us to manage their safety program.”
Brittney also trains clients on meeting U.S. Department of Transportation and environmental regulations, in addition to providing hazmat training, fire and electrical safety, and even first aid and forklift operating. Staff consultants also represent clients in hearings of OSHA citations.
Seated in his wheelchair in the company’s East Kearney Street break room, Lee recalls the May 2009 fatality case at Loren Cook Co. An employee was struck in the head by a metal disc that came loose from the lathe he was operating. According to the violation report filed on OSHA.gov, initial fines of $511,000 were levied against the Springfield industrial fans manufacturer. Lee says his company defended Loren Cook Co. in hearings, which determined there was no better way to safeguard the metal-spinning machine.
At American Glass Inc., another Brittney client, safety coordinator Steve Tatum says he’s not aware of any OSHA citations against the glass products manufacturer.
“Our goal is to be 100 percent compliant – so far, so good,” he says.
Recently, a question arose on the amount of gasoline that could be stored in the building.
“We had an audit, and we had a little bit of gas cans sitting around,” Tatums says.
Now he knows: “I’m allowed 25 gallons in the building, for maintenance issues and things.”
He says Brittney stays on top of those rules.
“They save me a lot of time,” he says. “They’re up to speed – just little stuff like that.”
What’s in a name?
What started as an end-of-life whim from the Johnsons’ home with a meager $300 investment and letters sent to just 10 small businesses at one point collected 750 clients and that milestone revenue figure.
“I said it wouldn’t work,” Carol admits. “It just boomed. It was the right time, in the right place by the right person.”
Lee says he’s leaned on 20 years of safety experience with the U.S. Air Force and another 16 years in OSHA management in Indiana.
Brittney’s had a few clients from the start: Bristol Manufacturing Corp., SMC Electric Supply, Southern Materials/Supply Co. and Boyd Aluminum. Its work for Bristol takes Brittney trainers to plants in Minnesota and New York.
The bulk of the consultations are handled within a 200-mile radius of Springfield, though.
“We will go anywhere,” says Carol, recalling former client Positronic Industries sending training staff to Puerto Rico.
Looking back, the Johnsons still get a kick out of the company’s formation, including its name.
The idea was to name the business after their granddaughter, Brittany. When Lee filled out the incorporation paperwork, the name changed a bit.
“I couldn’t spell Brittany,” he says.
Brittney Inc. stuck.
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