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Positronic Industries President John Gentry, on site at a Springfield plant, says the company's spending on safety programs helps keep costs down. Positronic's Mount Vernon facility is the latest member of the Missouri Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program.
Positronic Industries President John Gentry, on site at a Springfield plant, says the company's spending on safety programs helps keep costs down. Positronic's Mount Vernon facility is the latest member of the Missouri Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program.

Business Spotlight: SHARP as a Tack

Posted online
In an economy during which many businesses are having to cut back nonessential services and support positions, Positronic Industries Inc. continues to focus on its safety programs.

Because of those efforts, the company’s Mount Vernon facility is the newest member of the Missouri Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program. Positronic, which manufactures electronic connectors and cable assemblies, was recognized for the designation during a Jan. 11 award ceremony on site.

According to the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the SHARP designation is earned by companies that achieve an excellent workplace safety record and eliminate the occurrence of injuries on the job. Businesses also must pass an inspection and adhere to certain standards and safety training requirements.

Michael West, North American facilities manager for Positronic, says the Mount Vernon facility, which employs 92, only had one workers’ compensation claim in 2010 and two claims in 2009.

Linking safety to profits, the company expects revenues to grow this year by 10 percent in the southwest Missouri region and 2 percent worldwide. Positronic recorded 2010 revenues of $70 million, which West says was flat compared to 2009.

“We’ve always strived to make our workplace as safe as possible, and we spend what’s needed to achieve that,” says President John Gentry, adding that the company doesn’t keep a line item for its safety expenses. “There are costs associated with injuries in workers’ comp. Spending money on our safety programs helps us save money.”

A history spanning 45 years
Gentry’s father, Jack, founded Positronic Industries in 1966, and the company did well until the 2000–01 dotcom bust, when ties to the telecommunication and computer industries nearly brought down the business.

For survival, the younger Gentry points to diversification of products and services spread across such industries as aerospace, military and medical. Clients include multibillion-dollar and Fortune 100 companies Honeywell International (NYSE: HON), Raytheon Co. (NYSE: RTN) and Lockheed Martin Corp (NYSE: LMT).

Positronic now has three southwest Missouri locations – two in Springfield with a combined employee count of 350 and the plant in Mount Vernon – and facilities in Puerto Rico, France, Signapore, India and China. It employs 800 worldwide.

West says the connectors make up about 90 percent of the manufacturers business, while the cable assemblies are about 10 percent. Postitronic produces about 3.4 million connectors and cable assemblies at the southwest Missouri locations and 7.8 million worldwide.

The company has weathered the current economic downturn pretty well, says West.
“We’ve created at least four new connector series, which are huge projects, in the last four years and created hundreds of modifications specific to our customers’ needs,” he says.

Positronic closed its Cabool plant and laid off 36 employees in October 2009, but since then, West says the company has only reduced staffing through attrition.

Safety essentials
West says safety has always been viewed as an essential part of the corporate equation. Positronic instituted a safety program in the 1980s, and in 2005, it expanded the program by hiring a full-time environmental and safety coordinator.

“One of Positronic’s strengths in its safety program is to have a full-time safety manager,” says Mike Downie, president of Summit Safety Group, which consultants with Positronic on its safety programs and helped the company with the evaluation for the SHARP designation.

Positronic did record an increase in workers’ compensation claims in southwest Missouri from 13 in 2009 to 15 last year. Repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, were the most common problems.

“Those are recordable claims, but we’ve seen a reduction in the larger, repetitive injury claims and our costs continue to drop,” West says. “We’ve reduced workers’ compensation costs by 50 percent during the last five years, and we hope to reduce the cost by another 20 percent this year.”

Ted Barbee, the environmental and safety coordinator for Positronic, says the company’s Mount Vernon plant has been working toward SHARP designation for more than a year. Positronic had to complete an application and a 33-page assessment.

“We wanted to be proactive, so we worked with Summit Safety before the inspectors came in,” West says. “We wanted to only go through one inspection before approval.”

Positronic found it only needed to expand on its current safety programs, implement additional training and institute a more formal notification policy when chemical process changes are needed. The company, which has a corporate safety committee with employees representing each facility, also is creating a six-member site-specific committee at Mount Vernon. The committee is charged with identifying three goals to help the company improve safety.  

Missy Bunch, a lead in the molding department at the Mount Vernon plant, is committee chairwoman. “So far, getting into SHARP has been more management-based, but now I hope the employees get more involved,” Bunch says. “It will not be a management down – but an employee up – program.”

Positronic plans on both Springfield plants to be SHARP members by 2012.[[In-content Ad]]

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