Sneak peek: Inside Unimin’s safety strategies

Therese Dunphy

August 25, 2014

Unimin's Guion plant has vending machines for all of its safety supplies. Each employee's name appears on the computer screen and allows them to access items ranging from gloves and safety glasses to ear plugs and fall-protection harnesses.
Unimin’s Guion plant has vending machines for all of its safety supplies. Each employee’s name appears on the computer screen and allows them to access items ranging from gloves and safety glasses to ear plugs and fall-protection harnesses.

Be sure to check out our plant profile of Unimin’s underground operation in Guion, Ark., in the September issue of Aggregates Manager. The company has not only created an interesting and unique underground operation, but it has done so while establishing an impressive safety record.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the interesting aspects of the plant’s safety program.

Stellar record

“In the last five to seven years, we’ve put an even greater emphasis on safety,” says Mike Maloney, plant manager. “We haven’t had a reportable lost-time incident for eight years. In 20 years, we only had one reportable lost-time incident/injury in the underground, but haven’t had any in the processing area for 20 years. We’re pretty proud of this accomplishment and expect it to continue into the future.”

The plant received a Safety Achievement award for 200,000 continuous employee work hours without a reportable injury or fatality in 2013 from the Industrial Minerals Association-North America and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

It also won an internal company award for excellence in safety and health earlier this year. Unimin divides its plants into three size categories — small, medium, and large — and gives three safety awards per year, to one operation in each category. The Guion Plant won in the large plant category.

“It’s a pretty challenging award to win, because it means no reportable or lost-time injuries, no housekeeping citations, achieving all company safety and health objectives, and making other safety and health efforts that go well above and beyond the minimum requirements established by our company leadership,” Maloney says. “It’s a hard thing to achieve because it’s an underground mine competing against all surface mines in the large plant category. We’re inspected by MSHA four times a year, so we have twice as many opportunities to get citations. But the attention to detail and the willing participation of the entire workforce is what sets Guion apart.”

Safety initiatives

Among other initiatives, the plant uses MSHA’s SLAM Risk Program to enhance safety. Employees are challenged to Stop; Look at the job that needs to be done and determine if they have the right tools and training necessary; Analyze what risks might be presented in doing the job; and figure out a way to Manage those risks.

“In order to make the most of this program, we actually have a checklist that is built on those principles,” Maloney says. “That’s a corporate initiative that’s helped people slow down and analyze the risks involved with what they’re doing. It lets the employees know that they’re well-being comes before production and that we need their help to make this program effective.”

Accessible PPE

Other initiatives at the plant include requiring high-visibility clothing including t-shirts, vests, and hardhats; metatarsal protection on all safety footwear at the plant; and mandatory gloves at all times. Employees are asked to help choose the best glove for their particular jobs.

“Now, everyone wears them even when they are not in a controlled environment,” Maloney says. “This program was somewhat controversial at its inception, as many employees nationwide were skeptical that mandatory gloves at all times would be effective and not just a waste of money. Nearly a year into this program, the reduction in hand injuries has been so dramatic that everyone is now a believer.”

In order to ensure employees are supplied with everything they need to work safely, Guion has vending machines full of safety items. “Each employee finds his or her name on the computerized screen,” Maloney says. “Then they can select what they need — gloves, safety glasses, ear plugs, lanyard, fall-protection harness, etc. Everything is readily available to the employees so they can get it themselves, without having to hunt down a supervisor. This has been especially helpful at night. It’s trackable, so we can see how many items an employee has taken. It’s very effective and has been a good program for us.”

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