Kimberly Clark celebrates safety record

June 29, 2012
| By Pete Daly |
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Some of the brass from Kimberly-Clark corporate were in town recently to help celebrate a safety milestone at its manufacturing plant at 5801 Safety Drive in Plainfield Township: one full year with no injuries, earning the plant the Crystal Eagle Award.

The 214 employees at the plant located off West River Drive in Belmont make about $40 million worth of safety equipment annually, so maybe that safety record shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The 128,000-square-foot injection molding/blow molding facility produces the Jackson Safety brand of plastic welding helmets and goggles, hard hats and hearing protection, and signage, traffic cones and similar equipment for highway construction zones.

The plant was a Jackson Safety production site until 2009, when Kimberly-Clark Corp. (NYSE: KMB) bought the Missouri-based corporation (actually named Jackson Products).

Kimberly-Clark is a 140-year-old global corporation with headquarters in Dallas that was once widely known for its paper towels, but now owns such well-known brands as Kleenex, Scott, Huggies, Pull-Ups, Kotex and Depend. The corporation’s acquisition of safety products allows it to promote itself as active in markets encompassing health, hygiene and well-being.

Health care is another one of the corporation’s major markets. Kimberly-Clark provides many types of paper or paper-like products to hospitals, including surgical towels, gowns, hoods, drapes and gloves. Due to recent acquisitions, it also offers electronic medical equipment such as minimally invasive radiofrequency pain management devices.

Kimberly-Clark reported first quarter net sales this year of $5.2 billion, an increase of 4 percent over last year. At the end of 2011, the company had approximately 57,000 full-time employees and manufacturing facilities in 36 countries.

The facility in Belmont was built by Jackson Safety in 1978. When the Kimberly-Clark Professional division (based in Roswell, Ga.) took over the plant in 2009, it had experienced 12 reportable injuries the previous year, according to K-C spokesperson Andrew Law, which equated to $650,000 in direct and indirect annual cost.

In addition, the plant’s TRI ratio was 5.69 that year, compared to the industry average of 4.3. TRI stands for Total Recordable Injuries, defined by the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics as the incidence rate per 100 employees working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year.

Because K-C views safety as a business driver, said Law, “They have spent significant capital to support the plant’s injury prevention efforts. They also invested in an employee physical conditioning program that reduced participants’ back injuries from 40 (percent) to 3 percent.”

Plant Manager Carl Tokarek said Kimberly-Clark is “actually in the people business,” in view of its product emphasis on health and individual wellness. He said the Belmont plant is the only K-C manufacturing site in Michigan.

Most of the safety products made in Belmont are sold through distributors, and the industrial welding helmets are the largest part of the plant’s production. About 165,000 welding helmets were produced in the first five months of 2012. There were also about 100,000 face protection shields for industrial use and 45,000 hard hats produced.

Tokarek said the safety record “represents about 500,000 safe hours” of work.

“We have a great work culture here,” he said. “Not only are we safe, but we’re going to be leaders in safety. If you’re safe (on the job), you’re going to do all the other things right,” he said, including attainment of goals for quality, cost and productivity.

Todd Hoogewind, safety leader at the Belmont plant, said the new push for safety improvements when K-C took over the plant started with plant management buy-in, but then extended to every person who works there. “Who’s Counting on You?” was the slogan that appeared on banners at the plant. Then employees were urged to bring in photos of family members, which were scanned and printed on a large banner where employees on lunch or on break can see them.

“We went to the personal level,” said Hoogewind, adding that the message was loud and clear: “You need to come home safe every day. Your family expects you to come home from work exactly the same as when you left.”

The K-C employees are reminded that everyone also has a family, of sorts, at work. “The person working next to you — you don’t want them to get hurt, either,” said Hoogewind.

At shift meetings, “the first thing that’s talked about is safety,” according to Hoogewind. “So when you see that kind of thing in the news, we bring that up and talk about how are the families feeling … and how devastating something like that would be.” Hoogewind was referring to the death of a worker at Mill Steel in Cascade Township June 18. Samir Beslic, 35, a 13-year-employee, was fatally injured when he was struck by a steel coil.

Tokarek said the type of business the K-C Belmont plant is in is very competitive, and right now the industry is feeling the effects of high petroleum prices. High oil prices always impact the plastics industry because the resin is produced from petroleum, thus putting pressure on higher prices for plastic products. But when the market is slow, Tokarek said there is opportunity in that.

“What we are trying to do right now is just making sure we continue to be creative and innovative, so that we have the longevity,” he said.

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