Reducing risk through sanitation safety and operational efficiency

Man is food manufacturing plant

With the growing demand for increased production, the time for sanitation activities has been reduced, leaving third shift maintenance workers pressed for time to get machines cleaned and the production lines ready for the morning shift. This, coupled with less supervision, harsh environmental conditions, and numerous hazards like chemical exposure, burns, slips/trips/falls, and debilitating fatigue can lead to greater risk for these individuals.

In their article, Into the Wee Hours, Sanitation and Safety Keep Working Side by Side, Georgia Tech safety and health experts Hilarie Warren and Jenny Houlroyd teamed up with Wendy White, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) food and beverage industry manager, to explain why sanitation is a critical component to keep food manufacturing companies functional and profitable. Yet, without adequate training and improved controls, there is a higher risk for both food and worker safety.

That begs the question, why is employee safety exclusively designed for operational workers and is not inclusive of sanitation crews? According to the article, “Food safety managers and quality assurance leaders can significantly contribute to the physical safety of sanitation workers by more fully exploring the inherent hazards and risks of appropriately cleaning the processing equipment.”

Read the entire article Into the Wee Hours, Sanitation and Safety Keep Working Side by Side for more in depth information on how proper pre-planning, noting the obstacles, and committing to ongoing feedback and improvement between crews and departments can help alleviate these risks. And listen to the podcast The Intersection of Food Safety and Worker Safety where our food safety gurus discuss the difficulties third-shift workers face with regard to safety and workplace culture, and the importance of internal communication between food safety and personnel safety departments.

 

Hilarie Warren, M.P.H., C.I.H., currently manages the OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Center at Georgia Tech. She enjoys helping companies translate regulatory requirements and move into implementation by providing opportunities for training attendees to share best practices and stories.

Jenny Houlroyd, M.S.P.H., C.I.H., has worked as an industrial hygienist with the OSHA Consultation Program for 16 years, providing onsite OSHA compliance assistance for businesses throughout the state of Georgia. She currently serves as the Manager of the Occupational Health Group for that program. This free program is designed for small- and medium-sized companies to assist employers with achieving regulatory compliance and ensuring that they provide safe and healthful working environments for employees.

Wendy White, M.Sc., is the Industry Manager for Food and Beverage at Georgia Tech’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), and helps food companies achieve compliance with regulations and customer expectations. She is also a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Food Safety Magazine.

 

Keeping Workplaces Healthy and Safe

This is a guest post from our partner Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).

Cara Eck certificate

How Cara Eck utilized safety and health training to transition from research safety into industrial hygiene

Cara Eck is a picture of lifelong learning. Having discovered her passion for safety and health, her career and learning journeys are evidence of the value that professional education provides for those who want to grow in — and beyond — their expertise.

Beginnings in Safety and Health

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in forestry, Eck decided to pursue a different career direction and began working in research safety at the University of Georgia (UGA). With over 2,000 research labs that use chemicals as well as biological and radioactive materials, UGA relies on its Office of Research Safety to ensure the safety of its research employees, even though it is not mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As the Assistant Safety and Compliance Officer, she supervised the labs’ safety standards and protocols — specifically related to chemical storage and safety equipment — to ensure that they were adhering to federal, state, and university guidelines.

Eck was drawn to the occupational safety and health (OSH) industry because of its direct, positive impact on the people it serves. “There are very few jobs out there right now that allow you to do something that makes such a huge impact on people,” she said. “Not just one or two people, but a lot of people.” Every day, Eck’s safety inspections and recommendations helped save lives by creating safer work environments for the many employees who worked there.

Pursuing a Master’s in Occupational Safety and Health

When Eck’s boss, an alumnus of Georgia Tech, received an email about Georgia Tech’s Professional Master’s in Occupational Safety and Health (PMOSH) program, he encouraged her to enroll.

Throughout the two-year learning experience, Eck continued to work full-time, and she found that everything she learned through PMOSH directly applied to her work in research safety, and she enjoyed adding new knowledge to her repertoire by learning the foundations of OSHA, which provided new perspectives and practices that she could apply in her workplace. “I found it very valuable to be able to take things I was not familiar with and apply to my department,” she said.

Although she was working full-time, Eck was not overwhelmed by balancing work, learning, and life. The courses were rigorous and demanding, but their slow pacing made them manageable. She took only one online class at a time, each of which focused on one topic over seven weeks, and they provided several opportunities and resources for her to seek out assistance and information when needed.

Beyond the content, Eck also greatly benefitted from the community of the PMOSH program. From orientation to her final capstone project, she learned from and grew with her fellow cohort members. “My cohort members were amazing,” she recalled. “They were professionals who knew their craft forwards and backward, so when it came to working with them, I gained so much knowledge from them that was over and above the program itself.” She became good friends with her classmates, and she continues to stay in contact with them. “I still have a relationship with these people. We keep in touch because we actually lean on one another for information and advice.”

The Transition to Industrial Hygiene

Through the PMOSH program, Eck learned about Georgia Tech’s Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Safety Program. One of her favorite instructors, Jenny Houlroyd, taught an introduction to industrial hygiene course, and she both loved the content and excelled in learning. When she learned that a job opportunity opened in the Industrial Hygiene program at Georgia Tech, she was interested in gaining new skills from a different perspective within the safety industry. “I could not pass up the opportunity to see if Tech could be another place for me to grow in my skills.” She applied for the position and got the job. After graduating from the PMOSH program in August 2021, she began working as an industrial hygienist for Georgia Tech in November.

In her new role, Eck has been able to apply everything she learned in PMOSH in her day-to-day responsibilities as she provides consultations on safety and health standards at construction sites around Atlanta. By reviewing various aspects of the sites that may affect workers’ safety and health, like air quality and noise levels, she provides recommendations to minimize the risk of injury or accidents, which include measures such as personal protective wear equipment, administrative controls, and engineering controls.

Though she has pivoted to a new field within the industry, Eck still enjoys the knowledge that she has helped safeguard her clients’ workplaces and improved their work experiences. The safety recommendations that she provides every day “could mean that somebody who might have had some serious accident at work gets to go home safe that night instead,” she explained, “and their family doesn’t have to worry about losing them because we have made their workplace safer. That, to me, is the most rewarding thing. I know I’m making a difference.”

By extension, her work in safety assurance provides a trickle-down effect on workplace satisfaction. “Another thing that happens when you make a place safer is that the employees become happier,” she said, “and they get a feeling that their place of employment cares about them. I like seeing that.”

A Safety Career Built on Lifelong Learning

Looking toward the future, Eck is certain about her place in the safety industry. After completing the PMOSH program, she plans to continue bolstering her knowledge about industry practices with additional safety and health courses, knowing that every piece of information is useful in the field. “Every program that I take is just a little bit more knowledge that I can take and apply to my job.” She has already almost completed the Safety and Health Management Certificate, and after doing so, she plans to begin working on the Industrial Safety and Health Certificate.

Having seen the benefits of classroom learning in the workplace, she wants to help pass along the knowledge that she has gained, perhaps even by teaching at Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE). “I want to share this wealth of information,” she said. “A lot of these classes at GTPE are given to other safety professionals that work for other smaller companies or OSHA, and they can take this information and share it in the same way that I am.”

Written By Rachel Meyer, GTPE

Learner, Leader, and Inspirer in Workplace Safety

This is a guest post from our partner Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).

Carlos Alvarado shares his path in workplace safety and how he inspires the next generation

When Carlos Alvarado started his safety career, he never could have imagined how integral a commitment to professional education could be in expanding his ability to keep people safe and inspire the next generation of other professionals in his field.

Beginnings in Health and Safety

Before becoming the safety director at Hemma Concrete, Alvarado’s journey to advance in the safety and health profession was not a simple process. He understood that to establish credibility and expand his knowledge, he would need to invest in additional credentials and education. “I know many people who have tons of experience on a resume but no industry certifications,” he said. “You really have to explain what sets you apart from the competition.”

Early in his career, Alvarado recalled how difficult it was to take classes and work full-time. “I remember that I would have to take classes during the day and work at night. However, I’m a hard worker, and it was a balancing act.” He knew that a supportive team that embraced professional development would be key to his career growth. Now, as a manager, he aims to do the same for his staff.

Applying Skills in the Workplace

Continuing education has been instrumental in him achieving his professional goals. “I chose Georgia Tech because many people in my industry told me how great it was. Also, there is no secret that it is a reputable university that many employers will recognize on a resume,” he stated.

Alvarado was motivated to complete safety and health courses and certificates with Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE) because he felt that it would better his career and keep pace with emerging trends within the industry. He also liked that the instructors were accomplished practitioners who understood the current climate of the profession. For example, Pam Fisher, an instructor in Advanced Safety Management was influential in helping him “sell” safety as a concept — not only as policies and regulations — to various stakeholders. “People often associate occupational safety with rules and regulations. It is so much more than that.”

Alvarado enjoys seeing the bigger picture of how the curriculum in the classroom connects and informs his industry. He explained how his time in the program helped him properly prevent and manage incidents and how to properly document them. While he strives to avoid any injury or accident, he believes that these incidents serve as a lesson and a reminder to continually assess and review their organizational safety practices and regularly educate all employees on how to keep themselves safe. “The excavation, scaffolding, OSHA 500 Trainer Course, and management classes have helped me as a director to ensure safety in a variety of contexts,” he explained.

Hemma Concrete and Kids’ Chance

Alvarado recalled how his father worked in construction and has seen firsthand the traumatic impact of work-related losses on families. He saw the Georgia Safety, Health and Environmental Conference and annual silent auction to benefit Kids’ Chance of Georgia as an opportunity to help affected families while developing the next generation of safety and health professionals. For years, Georgia Tech’s OSHA Training Institute Education Center (OTIEC) within GTPE, has contributed a full certificate in either construction or general industry safety and health to benefit Kids’ Chance, a nonprofit that provides financial scholarships to children of seriously or fatally injured workers.

“It’s incredibly meaningful to know that through a Kids’ Chance scholarship, a child — who has had so much stolen from them due to the devastating emotional and financial impact a workplace injury or fatality had on their family – can be supported and hopeful about their future…and that the student recipient of our Safety & Health Certificate Program will go on to pursue prevention strategies for workplace hazards and save lives. I’m proud for us to be a part of someone’s story.” said Hilarie Warren, director of OTIEC.

After placing the winning bid for the certificate program, Alvarado gifted it to one of his employees, a current learner in the OSHA program. “Winning was bigger than me,” he recalled. “I got to contribute to a family that has sustained a loss and professionally develop one of my team members.”

During the silent auction, he was determined to place the winning bid for the certificate. “I remember calling the owner of my company and explaining the value of this certificate to affected families and Hemma. He fully supported my decision and told me to bid what I needed to win.”

Looking Ahead

Over the course of his career, Alvarado has amassed over 40 safety and health certifications. Hemma Concrete, under his leadership over occupational health and safety, has received five safety awards from the American Society of Concrete Contractors (ASCC); Zero Lost Time, Improvement, and Recognition Awards; and the prestigious W. Burr Bennett Award for Safety Excellence, for which only 10% of all contractors in the ASCC are invited to apply. These awards are a testament to Hemma’s commitment to occupational health and safety and staying abreast of emerging trends. And he looks forward to taking additional professional education courses and certificates.

Women in Construction: The Value of Mentorship

This is a guest post from our partner Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).

Picture of woman in construction safety attire

How two female health and safety professionals used mentorship to hone their skills and abilities in a male-dominated profession

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) field, like many STEM-based fields, is an energy-intensive industry that requires quick decision-making, continuous problem-solving, and tireless people-pleasing. Without regular intellectual and emotional support from colleagues and coworkers, it’s easy to lose focus and purpose.

For women, who comprise a minority of those in the industry, mutual support for one another is all the more important — and challenging — to find. When Julie Brown, safety manager for Choate Construction in Atlanta, met Pam Fisher, course director for the OSHA Training Institute Education Center and adjunct faculty member for Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), on a construction project nearly six years ago, she immediately noticed and admired Pam’s confidence and assertiveness — qualities she knew were essential for women to thrive in such a competitive industry.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘This lady is a firecracker,’” recalled Julie. “She doesn’t give these guys any slack. I want to be like that.”

Julie, having worked in medicine for 25 years prior, had transitioned into the safety and health field. While she was equipped with a unique set of skills and knowledge about safety practices, this new project was dense and difficult, with many barriers and moving parts. It was also one of the first project sites where there was a female safety professional.

“At the time, Pam was one of the only ones on site regularly who was female, and she had such a presence,” said Julie. “She took command, and she didn’t give them any slack. And that’s sometimes what you have to do.”

Pam also had experience as a registered nurse, but she had spent much more time in the safety field. Over time, she had learned how to navigate the industry, but she explained that the “confidence” needed for success often is more about appearance than what you are feeling.

“People tell me, you always come across so strong and confident,” she described. “But I never think that I am.”

Both Pam and Julie have learned that your outward appearance is directly related to your survival in the industry — fear, timidness, and deference won’t get you very far. That’s why it’s important to find a support system of friends, especially females, to rely on for advice and encouragement.

Ever since their first meeting, Pam and Julie have become good friends, and their mentorship has supported both of them in different ways. Julie has relied on Pam for advice about the industry and how to navigate it as a female, while Pam has been inspired by Julie’s enthusiasm and the way that she and other women like her have continued to push beyond their limits. “So many times,” Pam explained, “These young women have surprised me because they will say, ‘I’m going to do this.’ And I would think to myself, ‘That will never work.’ But then they make it happen.”

Julie credits these achievements in a large part to Pam, saying that she and other women like her would not have the ability to keep pushing forward were it not for the way that Pam and other female mentors have pioneered before them. “If we didn’t have the base knowledge coming from mentors like Pam, we wouldn’t be able to go as far as we have gone,” Julie said.

Even though they don’t work on the same project site anymore, Pam and Julie still find time to connect with each other to offer support and guidance. Due to their busy work schedules, they don’t have a regular meeting time; however, they both feel that they can call each other at any time. “I have never doubted that I could call Pam at any point with a question, and she can do the same with me,” Julie said.

Additionally, Pam emphasized the value of participating in formal or informal professional support groups. Committing to a group with a regularly scheduled meeting time keeps you accountable to balance working with learning. Pam referenced Georgia Tech Professional Education as an excellent resource for such learning accountability. Through its professional education programs, Georgia Tech provides a valuable community with opportunities for networking and mentoring. “One important reason for folks to come to Georgia Tech is not just to get training,” Pam explained, “but also for the networking and the mentoring relationship.”

Picture of instructor

Julie experienced this community firsthand when she participated in and completed the Construction Safety and Health certificate program at GTPE in 2021. She was motivated to enroll in the program because she had discovered her passion for occupational safety and health and wanted to continue developing her knowledge and skills. “I found that this is what I love to do,” she said. “When you get a passion for something, you pursue it.”

Julie loved her learning experience at GTPE and appreciated its affordability and practicality. The short-term courses were manageable and consistent, and the instructors helped her understand new perspectives and aspects of the industry that she had never considered before. Now, Julie is even more enthusiastic about continuing her professional learning journey. “I want to be a lifetime learner,” she said.

When Pam began her career in the safety and health industry, there were no other women there with her. Now, even though more women have entered the field, it’s still easy to feel alone and unsupported. There are still barriers for women in occupational safety, and they need to stick together to build each other up and push each other forward. “We need each other, and we need support,” Pam said.

Mentorships like Julie’s and Pam’s are vital for women to help each other thrive in the workplace. “A mentor to me is someone who has not only the knowledge but the wisdom to guide you,” Julie said. “They give you strong reassurance and confidence in the decisions you’ve made.”

Click here to read more career highlights, advice, and stories from the GTPE women shaking up the STEM industry.

Accountability for employee safety and food quality go hand in hand

For those working in occupational safety and health, “producing safe food” and “producing food safely” are ongoing challenges in almost every food and beverage manufacturing plant. Controlling exposures and hazard risks during production that can affect the end product and consumer safety are just as important as the safety processes and concerns that pose a threat to employees.

In their article Food Safety and Employee Safety: Two Sides of the Same Coin, Georgia Tech safety and health experts Hilarie Warren and Jenny Houlroyd teamed up with Wendy White, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) food and beverage industry manager, to explain why it’s so critically important to identify the root cause of both an employee safety concern and a contamination or exposure issue.

Food safety managers and OEHS managers can collaborate on work practice controls like “The Prevention Pyramid” to improve quality outcomes and employee safety simultaneously. Having engaged management, consistent accountability, adequate resources, timely training, and constant clear communication help to ensure that employees understand the important role they play in maintaining a quality product while keeping each other safe.

Read the entire article Food Safety and Employee Safety: Two Sides of the Same Coin for more in depth information on the hierarchy of safety controls and how to share these capabilities between teams, so that everyone in the company can play a part in keeping the brand’s reputation and company as a whole safe.

 

Hilarie Warren, M.P.H., C.I.H., currently manages the OSHA Training Institute (OTI) Education Center at Georgia Tech. She enjoys helping companies translate regulatory requirements and move into implementation by providing opportunities for training attendees to share best practices and stories.

Jenny Houlroyd, M.S.P.H., C.I.H., has worked as an industrial hygienist with the OSHA Consultation Program for 16 years, providing onsite OSHA compliance assistance for businesses throughout the state of Georgia. She currently serves as the Manager of the Occupational Health Group for that program. This free program is designed for small- and medium-sized companies to assist employers with achieving regulatory compliance and ensuring that they provide safe and healthful working environments for employees.

Wendy White, M.Sc., is the Industry Manager for Food and Beverage at Georgia Tech’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP), and helps food companies achieve compliance with regulations and customer expectations. She is also a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Food Safety Magazine.

Faith Allem – A Professional’s Journey through Manufacturing and Safety Training

Creating a Culture of Success – Committing to Quality and Safety Education

Faith Allem, quality and safety compliance leader at Hitachi T&D Solutions, Inc. in Suwanee, Georgia, has been taking training classes at Georgia Tech for 20 years. She started her journey in quality and ISO auditing, working at Georgia Power in quality management. She then went to Hitachi where she expanded into safety and health management as her 14-year career evolved.

“Georgia Tech has been my go-to in professional education. The courses have helped me gain the knowledge to advance the quality and safety programs for the companies I have worked for and proven that when safety is invested in and not treated as an afterthought, it directly and positively affects business performance.”

Faith has been successful driving improvement through her commitment to quality and safety. She credits her training and enthusiastic instructors, like Craig Cochran, project manager for the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GAMEP) (who she has known for 20 years), with keeping the classes engaging and relevant.

According to Faith, “You can learn regulations and requirements anywhere, but at Georgia Tech the classes are really interactive. Not only are you learning the requirements, but you are also working on how to apply them to real life business situations. This class structure builds confidence and relationships because you can ask the expert instructors for advice right in the moment.”

In this interview, Faith reflects on her training experience and how it has helped shape her career.

Investing in Career Growth with Georgia Tech Training

After taking 10 quality and ISO focused courses at Georgia Tech, what did you expect to gain by enrolling in the safety & health certificate program and did it meet your expectations?

I knew that Georgia Tech offered a Manufacturing Leadership Certificate program, but I wanted to build on my quality training, and taking safety classes was a natural fit. Earning my Safety and Health Management Certificate allowed me to expand my compliance knowledge, apply what I learned to improve current processes, and show upper management that there is value in building more robust safety programs and investing in training like this.

What did you find most valuable about your quality and safety training journey?

The instructors have an enthusiasm that keeps you engaged and excited about the subject matter that’s being taught. They are supportive and continue to be my go-to resource even outside of the classroom. I was very impressed that during COVID the Georgia Tech team did not stop. They were creative and inventive when pivoting to remote offerings and utilizing web based learning platforms to keep the classes interactive and interesting. This allowed me to keep going and finish my certificate on time.

How have you applied what you have learned in your current position?

The first thing I did was institute proactive planning with my teams. I used the tools from my different classes to create safety kits, incident/accident forms, and a dedicated company website to reinforce good safety behavior among employees. To get everyone on board and invested in the outcome of our new program, I created incentive programs with different types of rewards to reinforce practicing good safety behavior. As a result, we have improved the quality and safety of our current systems and it has changed the company culture. Over the past six years, we have seen a dramatic reduction in customer complaints, safety related accidents, and loss cost. Just one year under my leadership, our safety risk assessment investigation findings are down over 80 percent. I think this shows that a continued commitment to self-development leads to positive outcomes personally and professionally. This program has not only contributed to my own self-growth, but to my team and company as well. It all comes full circle.

In your opinion, what does it take to be successful in the manufacturing and safety field?

Management support is critical. The more I learn, the more knowledge I can bring back, share with the team, and help them to develop and improve on our current systems. This shows value to our upper management and creates an inclusive environment where continuous improvement and safety is everyone’s responsibility. We really care about every person’s safety. It’s not just checking off the requirement box and moving on. It’s about taking that requirement and making it work for your company.

Georgia Tech’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) and Safety, Health, and Environmental teams have been instrumental in helping Faith on her training journey to sustain a highly effective culture of continuous improvement with outstanding safety results. Looking forward she is excited to embark on behavioral safety training, and continuing to refresh her quality skills.

If you have any safety needs or questions, please reach out to one of our experts for a consultation. Sign up for our Safety Connect newsletter to receive the latest updates and tips on how to keep your company safe.

To learn more about the GaMEP program, please contact your Region Manager for more information.

Hear Me Out: Creating and Maintaining a Safe Place to Work

Two men wearing PPE in a manufacturing plant.

Every year approximately 30 million workers experience hazardous noise exposure on the job. Over 9 million are at risk for severe hearing loss from occupational exposure to noise, which remains a persistent cause of employee illness in the workplace, and can even put you at risk for heart disease.

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common occupational diseases and is the second most self-reported occupational illness or injury.*

Many manufacturing processes, machinery, and equipment produce high noise levels, which can lead to hearing problems. For reference, a normal conversation is typically about 60 dB, cars and trucks range around 70 to 90 dB, and sirens and airplanes can reach 120 dB or more. Anything over 70-80 dB is considered unhealthy.

Estimates suggest that roughly a third of people in Europe and the US are regularly exposed to unhealthy levels of noise, and numerous studies link chronic exposure to environmental noise like traffic and airplanes to a greater risk of high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and increased stress.+

Providing proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and worksite health and wellness programs that target noise-exposed workers are several ways you can help employees feel safer. However, manufacturers also need to make sure their company complies with the OSHA regulation for noise hazards to maintain a safe working environment and avoid paying heavy penalties for serious violations.

Here are three ways that we can help identify and manage potential hazards within your facility:

  1. Get Educated – Register for our Introduction to Noise Evaluation and Control Course offered several times a year in-person or online as a self-guided class with live office hours.
  2. Be Proactive – Schedule a Free Safety Consultation with our experts. We will conduct noise monitoring at your facility to determine what actions are needed to protect your employees and keep you in compliance with the OSHA regulation.
  3. Think Long Term – Whether you are creating a safety plan, scaling up production or reassessing the plant floor layout, utilizing the 5s and 6s principles of Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain (and Safety), you can strategically turn work areas into clean, organized, and safe spaces.

For more information on Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, please visit gamep.org. To learn more about our safety training and services for manufacturers visit oshainfo.gatech.edu and sign up for our Safety Connect Newlsetter.

*Us, Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA Regional Instruction, Regional Emphasis Program (REP) for Noise Hazards, 2019

+Hansen, C., 2021, Why noise pollution is bad for your heart, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210315-why-noise-pollution-is-bad-for-your-heart