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Metalcaster of the Year safety is a culture: NIBCO cultivates a safety-oriented mindset among all of its associates. The result is significantly improved performance and a safety program to admire.

Safety is a vital concern among metalcasters. In an industry with unique safety challenges, companies that respect the potential dangers and their employees' well being lead the way.

NIBCO INC., a global supplier of valves, fittings and flow control products based in Elkhart, Ind., makes business goals including safety an organizational culture taken to a personal level with each associate. Safety is the number-one core value the company adheres to, according to Chairman and CEO Rex Martin, followed by integrity, teamwork and continuous improvement. This organizational approach to safety is why Modern Casting selected NIBCO as the 2013 Metalcaster of the Year.

Since the late 1990s, the company has implemented a new approach to safety, including a program called Target Zero. All five NIBCO metal plants won the American Foundry Society's Safe Year awards for 2012. Its casting facilities in Stuarts Draft, Va., and Nacogdoches, Texas, won the 2012 AFS Millionaires Safety Award for two million and one million hours worked, respectively, without a lost time injury or illness.

"The biggest safety improvement is awareness and ownership," said Martin. "Management has changed the culture, helping associates understand that nothing they do at work, here at NIBCO, is worth getting hurt for, ever. And we're continuously improving."

NIBCO's safety vision promotes a work environment free of injury, illness and accidents. This is achieved by encouraging all associates to care about each other's safety, health and well being; eliminating or controlling recognizable hazards; and making each worker a safety champion on and off the job. The company's efforts serve as a model of excellence for the metalcasting industry.

Every Day Is a Safety Milestone

Target Zero is an internal auditing system NIBCO launched in early 2000 based on OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and the company's in-house standards. NIBCO tracks several safety metrics in all facilities, including the total recordable case incident rate (TCIR); days away, restricted or transferred (DART); days away from work (DAFW); days restricted or transferred (DRWA); and workers compensation cost. Since 1998, the company's five-year average TCIR has dropped from five to less than two. Since 2001, its three-year average DART rate has gone from 1.75 to 0.5.

Some of the company's facilities are already VPP certified, including its metalcasting facility in Reynosa, Mexico, and the Swans Draft and Nacogdoches metalcasting plants will be the next to apply.

The Nacogdoches plant is a three-shift green sand casting operation that manufactures bronze pressure-rated valves, cast fittings and ball valves using automatic electric induction furnaces. NIBCO adheres to the PPE program the AFS Safety & Health 10-Q committee compiled, for its melting departments.

"We pour over 2,000 degree metal and we've got a cooling area where any associate may go to cool down, at any time of the day," said Nacogdoches plant manager Rudy Smith. "We keep a refrigerator full of bottled water and make mixes available for electrolytes, but you can do too much of that, so we try to monitor the intake." Cleaning and finishing are done in an air conditioned environment.

Stuarts Draft is a unique operation that has transitioned to permanent mold, continuous casting of copper components over the past three years. While it has the greatest number of NIBCO associates, most of the handling occurs in machining.

"After [melting], probably your biggest concern is making sure people have proper lifting techniques," said David Goodling, vice president, supply chain. "It's so easy in a foundry or metals operation, if you don't use proper lifting techniques, to injure your back." NIBCO has reduced those injuries significantly since the late 1990s. "We also look at cuts, and we are always aggressively looking at hand protection," he said. "When you're handling parts manually, you have to figure out the safest way to do it, and we're always striving for that."

According to Martin, Nacogdoches is NIBCO's longest running facility. More than 25 percent of its 260 associates are inductees into the 25 Year Club, and three were honored recently for 54 years of service. Seven have won Associate Recognition of Excellence Awards for cost savings and productivity solutions they've suggested over the past two years.

Communication is a vital part of safety at NIBCO.

"It's an open forum," said Goodling. "Whenever somebody has an idea, and it can be as informal as telling your manager, we keep a list and we action those ideas. It might not be feasible to implement or it might fall at number 20 instead of a top priority, but we look for the lowest hanging fruit and then circle back to the associates who came up with ideas and let them know it's still being considered."

One safety initiative that arose from employee input is the companywide glove program. "An associate said, 'I know I need to wear the gloves, but my dexterity is limited if I use this type of glove. What else can we do?' And we brought the glove vendors in," Goodling explained. "The glove program has been a great benefit. We want to make sure people have the tools they need to keep them from having any type of accident in the workplace, and we've made huge improvements."

Behavioral Observations and Followup

The Nacogdoches plant implemented a customized behavioral safety program six years ago, which involves staff observing departments other than their own.

The program includes a five to 10-minute housekeeping and observation period, with a written paragraph about what was observed. The observer receives a copy of the job description, the proper PPE and what to look for. Approximately 70 inspections take place each week followed up with a weekly discussion meeting.

"You don't just observe, but you help find a fix for it, which gives everyone accountability and a feeling that they helped make improvements," Goodling said. It also helps workers across departments learn the proper way to do things. "It's helped them drastically reduce their recordables," he said.

One of the first things this program uncovered was a need to do a lighting study, to help workers see better and do their jobs more safely. NIBCO has rolled that out to other facilities and changed the lighting.

Within the first three years of the observation program at Nacogdoches, recordables were reduced by half. On a weekly basis, they also evaluate first aid incidents and near misses.

"Our goal is zero accidents, so we've taken it down to, for example, if you scrape yourself, no matter how insignificant you may feel that it is, we want it reported," said Goodling. "Maintenance men might have a scrape on their hands now and then as part of their job, but if there's anything we can uncover through that investigation of how that occurred, we can try to stop that from happening, going forward."

"If you see something every day, you get accustomed to, 'That's the way it is'--right, wrong or indifferent," said Martin. "An outside set of eyes can point out some things, and we encourage our associates to talk to each other, because we've got smart people here and we need their ideas and for them to tell us. If you do a job every day, you know a lot more about that job than even the manager."

Shortcuts are not acceptable, and violating a safety policy is a terminable offense.

NIBCO recently expanded its health and wellness initiatives. Alice Martin, vice chairman and chief people officer, spearheads these programs, which are a natural extension to the company's safety focus.

"We are working on putting our own onsite workout facilities with state-of-the-art equipment at every site, which will be complete by the end of 2013," she said. "Additionally, every NIBCO location is tobacco free, but we are most proud of the smoking cessation contests we have completed in which 66 associates and their family members quit using tobacco. We want them to go home in better condition than when they came to work."

Safety is discussed at the beginning and end of every meeting, and new associates are indoctrinated with it before they start. "We're not going to assume you know anything. We're going to give you the training you need to do the job, and if you don't know how to do something, we don't want you to do it--we want you to ask," Goodling said. "Without the people in the plant changing the ways they action things on the floor, we'd never have been able to make the great strides we have in safety."


The VPP has a more than 20-year history, and the average VPP worksite has a Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) case rate that is 52% below the average for its industry. This is calculated annually by the Office of Partnership and Recognition, based on injury and illness data submitted by VPP participants. The program recognizes employers and workers who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. Management, labor and OSHA work cooperatively and proactively to prevent fatalities, injuries and illnesses through a system focused on:

* Hazard prevention and control

* Worksite analysis

* Training

* Management commitment and worker involvement.

To participate, employers must submit an application to OSHA and undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team cf safety and health professionals. Union support is required for applicants represented by a bargaining unit. OSHA approves qualified sites to one of three programs: Star recognition for exemplary achievement, Merit for good systems that must take additional steps to reach Star quality, and Demonstration, recognizing effective programs that differ from current VPP requirements.

VPP participants are exempt from OSHA programmed inspections while they maintain their VPP status. They are reevaluated every three to five years to determine whether they qualify to remain in the programs.


Ross Martin, former NIBCO president and grandfather of current Chairman and CEO Rex Martin, first introduced the concept of employee ownership in 1924. A revolutionary idea at the time, it continues to be an important part of the company's culture. He is known for stating, "The best product of NIBCO is a good person."

Today, NIBCO is an ESOP (employee stock ownership program) company with more than 3,000 employees serving commercial, industrial and institutional construction as well as residential and irrigation markets from 10 manufacturing plants in the U.S., Mexico and Poland. Its products are manufactured under a Quality Management System conforming to current ISO-9001 standards. During Rex Martin's tenure, since 1986, he has streamlined processes with lean manufacturing, expanded production and the global footprint, and brought the company into the Digital Age with enterprise resource planning using electronic data interchange and vendor-managed inventory.

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Author:Kapel, Denise, Sr.
Publication:Modern Casting
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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