Plastics Partners With Lansing Agencies

June 5, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS – Last May The Society of Plastics Industry (SPI), the Michigan Department of Consumer & Industry Services (CIS) and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) signed a partnership agreement on workplace safety for the plastics processing industry.

It has been almost a year since the agreement was signed and according to Kalmin Smith, deputy director of CIS, things have gone pretty well.

When the parties signed the agreement, the director of CIS, Wilbur Smith,  termed it historic and said it "encourages plastic employers to make workplace safety and health their number one priority. We are confident this innovative partnership will be a major tool to help reduce workplace injuries and illnesses, as well as worker's compensation costs, in one of Michigan's most vital industries."

At the time, most plastics industry owners probably gritted their teeth at the statement, feeling that the agreement hardly could make a very high priority higher.  

But none of the signatories disputes that the plastics industry is a vital industry, indeed. In Michigan plastics shipments totaled $21.3 billion in 1999, a 35 percent increase from 1994. Michigan ranks third in plastics production in the nation, behind only California and Ohio. Employment in the sates 1,400 plastics industry facilities totaled 107,000 in 1999, a 23 percent increase over the past five years.

Nationally, employing 1.5 million workers and providing $304 billion in annual shipments.

However, in a vital industry there is always room for improvement and additions, the agreement has served as just that. Over the past year CIS, SPI and MIOSHA have accomplished three important actions. The first, CIS sent six staff members, including the vice-chairman of the general industry commission, to an annual plastic meeting. The meeting is held to showcase the latest technology in plastics.

"All of our inspectors and enforcement agents have to be trained and updated on all the technology on a regular basis, so this was a real good opportunity to do that," said Smith. "This was a first for us and something I don't think would have happened had it not been for the agreement."

The second was to hold a joint meeting between the parties to see what was happening on both ends.

Smith said this is something CIS likes to do with all of the industries it is involved with. This was also an aspect of the original agreement, which stated, "a team of representatives from the organizations will evaluate, enhance and modify the charter at least annually to reflect contemporary issues of mutual importance."

The third event CIS, SPI and MIOSHA were involved in was a meeting with Ferris State University's school of plastics and rubber. "We met with the dean to talk about establishing some specific training classes on health and safety issues related to the plastics industry," Smith said.

He added that the school is very interested and probably will institute a class in ergonomics relates to plastics. He said this is a first for SPI and CIS and is the only such program in Michigan.

"This is the first time MIOSHA has worked with the industry and an institution of higher education to establish programs that we would recognize and put together," Smith noted.

As in any agreement there must be tradeoffs.

In this one, Smith said, the true tradeoff is in education.

"What it has really done for us is help our enforcement and consultation people learn more about the industry itself and how it works as well as more about the processing of plastics so we can be better enforcement agents and consultants and in turn make the workplace safer," Smith said.

As for the future of the agreement, Smith said all parties are in it for the long haul, with SPI hoping to expand to other states and areas across the country.

"When you start anything like this you never know where it is going to go," Smith said. "I am sure when we started no one envisioned working with a University and developing safety classes, but that has culminated out of this and we look forward to what is yet to come."

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