Safety has become something of a tradition for the 400-plus workers at the Williamsburg Firestone Industrial Products plant, which was recognized with the Governor’s Safety and Health Award during a ceremony Tuesday morning at the plant.
This is the third time in six years, the Williamsburg plant has been recognized for having one million consecutive hours or more without a lost-time injury or illness.
The plant has received the recognition in 2010, 2012 and 2015.
“It is a big day for all of us to recognize and celebrate our safety programs,” said Plant Manager Michael Weir. “This marks an important safety milestone achieving one million man hours without a lost time accident. Safety is one of our highest priorities not just as a company but here in Williamsburg.”
Weir said the plant’s safety program starts with comprehensive training of teammates and continues with ongoing evaluations and audits that teammates conduct.
“One million man hours doesn’t just happen by accident. It requires collaboration and effort on your part,” Weir told the employees during the ceremony Tuesday morning.
He said one of the things that the Williamsburg facility does as part of its daily routine is identifying incidents before they happen.
Weir noted that Bridgestone, Firestone’s parent company, set a goal last year for all of its facilities to improve their proactive safety activity by 25 percent.
“We improved it by over 300 percent last year, which is just outstanding,” he added. “So far this year is above and beyond what we did last year, we are on pace for almost 200 percent improvement in our proactive safety activity.”
Weir added that the plant’s accomplishment is particularly significant considering that the rubber industry involves some of the most risky manufacturing there is.
“It is to the point where there is even specifically written OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations around the equipment that you only find in the rubber industry,” Weir told the employees. “What you have achieved today is in an industry that is considered an almost special case scenario where the folks in OSHA went out of their way to write special regulations around some of the equipment we run every day.”
Scott Damon, Division President for Firestone Industrial Products, agreed this was a tremendous achievement.
“To fulfill the mission of our parent company, which is serving society with superior quality, it is a paramount goal that we ensure every Firestone employee has a safe place to work,” Damon noted. “I think we all share this responsibility of creating a safe work place. I think you guys in Williamsburg are a shining example of how we do it well.
“As proud as we are today, we also know that today’s milestone is one of many more to come that is what happens when you make safety an ingrained part of your culture. I hope that all of our facilities across the nation are inspired to raise the bar and follow your example.”
Kentucky Labor Cabinet Deputy Secretary Mike Nemes also spoke during the event noting how far safety has come in the work place during his lifetime.
Nemes said that during his days as a young delivery truck driver, the vehicles didn’t even have seatbelts and when they got seatbelts he and his fellow employees complained about them because the seatbelts bothered them.
“We weren’t concerned about safety but safety is very, very important. It comes from the bottom up,” he said. “The corporation can say all they want about safety but they can’t make you do it. Until you get it through your hard head as we had to that it means something, it means nothing.”
When each individual understands what safety means to them and their co-workers, Nemes said this is when you can accomplish something, like one million hours without an injury.
“That is amazing in itself but it means nothing compared to people going home seeing their families,” he added.
The plant received two other honors during Tuesday’s ceremony.
Rep. Regina Bunch, R-Williamsburg, presented a House of Representatives Citation of Achievement plaque to the plant that was signed by her and Speaker Greg Stumbo.
In addition, plant officials received a CEO Safety Recognition Plaque that was signed by Bridgestone Americas Inc. CEO and President Gary Garfield.
Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr. was one of the local dignitaries, who spoke during Tuesday’s event.
White noted that he has a long history with the Firestone as his former business, White Lumber Company, supplied pallets to Firestone for 17 years helping him pay his way through college and law school.
“All those years lead me to this conclusion before any award was announced that you all do a really great job here,” White said.
White noted that he has heard Congressman Hal Rogers speak on numerous occasions about how employees from this region sometimes surprise companies with their work ethic, dedication and productivity.
“Safety is a primary concern for most industrial businesses. By achieving one million man hours without injury, you have done more than just achieve company objectives,” White said. “You also joined with the other companies in our region that are proving our city, our county and our region can compete in the world economy and even excel in the world economy.”
The Williamsburg Firestone plant was one of 48 Kentucky companies that were recognized on May 17 during the 32nd Annual Governor’s Safety and Health Conference, which was held at the Galt House in Louisville.
Firestone Industrial Products specializes in air spring manufacturing and technology for products related to commercial trucks and trailers, cars, sport utility vehicles, light trucks, minivans, motor homes, buses, agricultural equipment, rail and industrial applications.