Celebrating 25 Years: Safety is #1 at Sheltered Workshop

February 13, 2020 • Missouri Employers Mutual

At 3:30 p.m., Valley Industries’ expansive, once-empty parking lot now bustles with activity. The first group of employees, all adults with developmental disabilities, have finished their shift. Each employee heads through the parking lot, knowing exactly where to meet their ride – some to OATS Transit buses, some to parents’ cars or vans, some to metro buses. It’s an organized scene, with each vehicle in its designated spot on a smooth parking lot free from trip hazards.

It wasn’t always like this, though. Jim Guyre, executive director at the sheltered workshop, explained: “We used to have all two hundred employees leaving the building at once, to eighteen different buses and forty different parent cars, and metro buses.” Several years ago, Guyre and his team realized that morning arrival and afternoon dismissal carried serious safety risks – including the risk of a moving vehicle hitting an employee.

Through a generous donation of property from Ameren Missouri, along with a capital funding grant from the Productive Living Board, Valley Industries completely redid their parking lot, adding a circle drive and designating a spot for every vehicle. They removed all lot bumpers; the concrete barriers had proven to be trip hazards for their employees. They began releasing employees in shifts and allocating staff resources to help manage the flow of both vehicles and people to and from the building.

The result? A drop in trip-related injuries and a much safer environment for employees navigating the lot.

Partners in safety 25 years and counting

Valley Industries is one of Missouri’s 89 sheltered workshops – supervised workplaces employing adults with developmental disabilities. When Missouri Employers Mutual began in 1995, Valley Industries was one of our first policyholders. They’ve been working with their agency, Yates Insurance Services, even longer than that.

“We’ve really gotten to grow with them, from two employees to two hundred,” commented Ed Yates Jr., vice president of the agency. According to Yates, Valley holds itself to an even higher standard than most when it comes to workplace safety. He’s seen them go to great lengths to ensure employees with special needs are set up to safely and successfully perform their jobs. For example, they might need to provide specialized safeguards or customized tools based on the individual. “It’s been great to see the inclusion and sense of purpose they’ve brought to the community through the years,” he reflected.

Through long-term partnerships built on putting safety first, Valley has found that year after year, a work comp policy with MEM provides the most value for their organization. According to Guyre, most sheltered workshops have work comp insurance through a mutual that’s specific to their type of workplace. However, Valley has stuck with MEM for all 25 years and has no plans to switch carriers. “Over the last five years, our premium has gone down every single year,” Guyre shared. Valley’s low number of work comp claims has lowered their e-mod, contributing to premium well below the industry average.

Keeping safety top of mind

At MEM, we really can’t take the credit for Valley’s downward trend in premium. That goes to the leadership team and the employees at the facility. Teri Wilson, employee service provider and safety director, explained that safety is the organization’s number one priority.

“We always have a worker of the month,” Wilson said. “We have a meeting each month to announce them and do a safety talk with all two hundred of our employees. Every month, we review the previous month’s safety topic and introduce a new one.” Valley hangs up safety posters around the shop and uses MEM’s sample safety policies to ensure every employee knows how to work safely.

And it seems that every employee does know how. If something is amiss or a hazard is spotted, supervisors are sure to hear about it from one or more employees. “They’re proud when they report a hazard to a supervisor and see it corrected,” Wilson commented.

Valley’s safety mission is to go 365 days without a lost-time injury, a goal they regularly near or exceed. Currently, they’ve gone 280 days without one, and before that it was 469 days. Cathy Younker, who manages HR and accounting, said that when they do have a claim, MEM is with them every step of the way. “They keep us in the loop on everything,” she mentioned. “We appreciate that.”

Eliminating slip and trip hazards

The most common risks that Valley employees face are slips and trips. Hazards like misplaced tools, obscured empty pallets, and even floor cracks can cause someone to trip. This can lead to limb, back or head injuries. The team has found that the best way to address these risks is to increase employee awareness. Thanks to their monthly safety trainings, employees place cones on empty pallets, alerting others of the trip hazard. “They really understand how important safety is,” explained Guyre.

In addition to the parking lot improvements, Valley made another big investment to reduce trip hazards in their facility. Over time, the expansion joints in their aging floors had broken, causing the floors to be uneven in spots. They had the joints removed and hired a contractor to diamond grind all the floors to a smooth, even finish. With these hazards removed, their trip-related injuries declined even further.

Finally, the installation of additional cameras in their facilities has improved the team’s ability to identify the root cause of slip and trip incidents. “When we were a smaller company, it wasn’t as big of an issue,” Younker explained. “Now, with two hundred employees, we need to be constantly aware of the environment.”

Proactive safety inspections prevent injuries

Many companies dread the day they get a surprise safety inspection from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Not Valley Industries. About five years ago, they reached out to the Missouri Department of Labor to arrange a voluntary safety consultation. This service is available to any organization, though most don’t take advantage of it. You just have to submit an application and agree to act on any safety recommendations that come out of it.

After following through on a recommendation to replace some outdated electrical switches, Valley decided to continue with the voluntary inspections and have had several since. “We like to be proactive about making improvements,” Guyre said. “Then if OSHA does visit, we are better prepared. We’re less likely to face penalties and fines, due to all that we’ve learned and improved from the voluntary safety consultations.”

Workplace safety pays dividends

Valley Industries is a shining example of what you can achieve with a dedication to safety and strong partnerships with your agent and work comp provider. By holding regular safety meetings, rewarding employees for safe behavior and investing in facility improvements, they have built a safety culture that protects their employees and saves money on their work comp insurance.

At MEM, we’re celebrating 25 years of helping Missouri businesses build safer workplaces! Learn more. >

February 13, 2020
Missouri Employers Mutual
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