by Abigail L. Beggerly
Decreasing worker's compensation claims and lowering the frequency of on-the-job accidents were among the reasons behind Acro Trailer Company's decision to implement a safety program in 1991.
Seven years later, the local manufacturing company, which specializes in the production of over-the-road semi-trailers for hauling hazardous substances, is being recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Missouri Department of Labor for its safety record.
This is Acro's seventh consecutive year to be recognized for its safety record, and it has gone 4 1/2 years without a lost-time incident.
The award includes exemption from regular OSHA inspections if the company maintains the program by OSHA specifications.
"To have an OSHA exemption means we have complied to all of OSHA's regulations," said Ron Dale Miller, president of Acro Trailer.
"Our records and safety manuals are gone through each year to make sure we're following all of the regulations, and then that information is sent to OSHA," Miller added.
Acro's decision to implement a safety program in 1991 came after OSHA raised the penalties from $100 to $700 for businesses that failed to meet safety guidelines.
"Year by year the safety thing became a bigger item," Miller said. "It got to the point where we couldn't ignore it and we could not afford the higher penalties."
Fred Seaman, a former representative of labor relations with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations sought out Acro for a pilot safety program in 1991.
Three months later, after consulting with an outside firm and the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the new safety program was implemented.
The safety program included installing a director of safety and writing safety manuals for each area of the program, such as eyesight and hearing-loss prevention.
Acro's biggest change was in forming an employee-based committee. The five-person committee included both experienced employees along with new employees.
"The primary thing we did was get the employees involved," said Sterling Huff Jr., chief executive officer and chairman of Acro Trailer. "They were the ones that decided what needed to be adjusted."
In the first year after the program's inception, Acro began to see a difference.
"The employees' attitudes picked up; they started to show some pride, and they got involved more," said Miller. "Our worker's compensation costs also went down two-thirds."
Now the employees are in charge of maintaining the program's effectiveness.
"The biggest problem was with the safety meetings and when to have them," Miller said. The safety committee meets regularly to discuss changes that may need to be made and how to improve any areas of the safety program.
"The committee changes seats about every three months," Miller said. "It keeps new ideas coming in and new voices coming in." The committee currently meets on Tuesdays at noon, and Acro supplies them with lunch.
Implementing the safety program has also helped to raise the company's production efficiency. "With the safety end of it, you can come up with easier ways to do things," Miller said, "and with less people."
Implementing the program at Acro was not an easy undertaking for the employees or the management.
"It's not a simple safety program to get into," Miller said. "It's not something you can lay off of for a while and follow up on when you get behind to get caught up. It's very beneficial, but very time consuming."
After seven years of a successful safety program, maintaining the strong safety record is now up to the employees and the consultant, Fred Seaman.
Seaman left the Missouri Department of Labor Relations to start his own consulting firm, Seaman Safety, and began consulting full-time with Acro at the first of this year.
Miller said the credit for the safety program's success should go to the employees and Acro's previous owners, Sam Miller, Alden Hutchison and Dave Estes.
"They allotted us whatever we needed, and they backed the employees," he added.
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