Brewer Knows Safety Means Growth

Friday, May 24, 2013 @ 01:05 PM gHale

Long Trail Brewing Company was on a strong growth path, but one of the things they saw as a potential show stopper was its safety program.

As the Bridgewater Corners, VT-based business expanded, the senior management realized that the lack of an injury and illness prevention program would hinder its future growth and place employees at risk.

In short, Long Trail’s management team gets it.

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“Unless there was buy-in from everyone in the company, it would not have been successful,” said Paul Murphy, safety manager for Long Trail and Otter Creek Breweries. “Although there was a fair amount of reluctance at first, the company’s entire culture and attitude toward workplace safety dramatically changed.”

They know safety is a key component to any kind of growth plan. That is why Long Trail Brewing Company decided in 2010 to go after recognition in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). Just two years later, its subsidiary brewery, Otter Creek Brewing Company, followed suit and earned SHARP recognition.

Long Trail and Otter Creek were able to achieve SHARP recognition by working with OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program through Project WorkSAFE. The OSHA On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential services to small and medium-sized businesses and is available to employers in all U.S. states and several territories. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, advise on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs. Project WorkSAFE is a division of the Vermont Department of Labor, Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA).

Prior to working with Project WorkSAFE, Long Trail and Otter Creek did not have an injury and illness prevention program in place to protect their 117 full-time workers.

In 2012, Long Trail, founded in 1989, produced approximately 130,000 barrels of four different brands of beer at its two locations, Bridgewater Corners and Middlebury, which distribute out to 15 states in the northeastern United States.

Let’s face it, breweries are a highly hazardous workplace as multitudes of hazards exist in the daily work environment. With the use of extremely hot liquids, pressurized tanks, caustic chemicals, fast moving machinery, frequently wet floors and fork-lifts weaving in and out of the production floor, making beer can have safety risks which can be very dangerous if there is not a plan.

When a new management team took over Long Trail in 2005, they found that workplace safety programs in place were insufficient. Prior to the new management’s arrival, as it is with most small businesses, expansion and growth were top priorities, while safety was less of a focus. As a result, employees were not able to identify what was right or wrong in workplace safety. Decisions often occurred on the fly and as a result, product quality, employee safety and plant efficiencies remained at risk.

After an enforcement inspection visit from VOSHA, the company knew it needed a comprehensive injury and illness prevention program. Management viewed the visit as an opportunity to reverse the direction for safety and follow a new path. That is where Project WorkSAFE came in.

Project WorkSAFE’s initial visit discovered over one hundred items that needed fixing. Ultimately, Project WorkSAFE would review both plants in detail, working from the outside of the buildings to the inside. They looked at flow patterns of trucks, workers, and guests visiting each facility. They uncovered several areas and patterns that were unsafe and needed immediate correction. Once they moved into the buildings, they looked at all utilities that served the needs of each plant. On the surface, they appeared to be in decent shape; however, closer inspection revealed a lack of preventative maintenance. The same applied for the equipment. Much of the machinery had one or more safety issues that needed fixing right away.

The company decided if it was going to correct all of the safety issues within the plants, they would have to make an effort to develop a world-class injury and illness prevention program that would be the model for the industry. All of the safety procedures needed to run a safe facility directly linked every department in one or more areas, and they developed Standard Operating Procedures for each department. On top of that, the company created a safety manager position, and he, along with two other full-time employees cover safety at both breweries. In addition, the company created a safety team where employees from every department meet weekly.

As a result of this effort, new policies were implemented which required multiple mechanical redundancies and fail-safes. Maintenance tracking software ensured their equipment would remain intact and safe. Safety issues would end up tracked from shift to shift, by computer. Also, a new storage facility helped alleviate congestion on the production floor. In all, Long Trail spent millions of dollars in improvements and upgrades to their two breweries.

“Implementing the injury and illness prevention program was like starting a separate company within the company,” Murphy said. “Its implementation had to be seamless and woven into the company’s fabric.”

“Safety awareness now permeates every department in the company, right down to the sales force, who are required to sign a contract that prohibits talking on the phone while driving,” Murphy said. “As a result, most employees are reporting a much keener awareness of their safety outside the workplace as well.”

In the end, it all comes down to keeping people safe and increasing productivity and profitability.

“The impact can be felt on the bottom line,” Murphy said, “as the capital investment in safety resulted in a more productive, more efficient, and healthier workforce.”

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