By Bernie Silkowski, Director of Technical Services and Support, Division of Safety & Hygiene
A couple of articles about innovation crossed my computer screen recently. The first was a listing of the most innovative states based on R&D intensity, productivity, high-tech density, STEM concentration, science & engineering degree holders, and patent activity. Three days later was a story naming IBM as the most innovative company in America based solely on the number of patents it was granted last year.
In occupational safety we measure innovation differently—by the ingenuity that reduces the risk of injury and illness. Most often this is done by applying the top tier of the hierarchy of controls: engineering the hazard out of the operation. By redesigning the activity, operation, or equipment to completely eliminate the hazard—or reduce exposure or potential consequences—employees have less risk of injury. Employers win, too, not only because their employees remain safe and healthy, but because these improvements often lead to increased productivity, better employee morale, and long-term cost savings.
Our Safety Innovations Competition is designed to recognize and reward employer ingenuity that results in these types of improvements. We don’t consider patents, educational degrees, or whether the improvement is high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech. What matters is risk reduction, cost savings, and potential application to other workplaces, industries, or operations. The innovation itself could be something brand new or an off-the-shelf item or established process used in a new or creative way.
The Technical Advisor Unit of the Division of Safety and Hygiene recently made on-site visits to evaluate the semifinalist entries in this year’s competition. As a result, we selected the following five finalists:
- Ashland, Inc., of Dublin – “Ergonomics ‘Kaizen’ Events Significantly Reduce Risk” — In this innovation, Ashland applied the Kaizen process in a concentrated effort to identify ergonomic hazards and reduce the associated risks.
- AWP, Inc., of Kent – “Contractor Grade Bedslide” – AWP established a program to install and manage use of bed slides on its pickup trucks to reduce the hazards associated with loading and unloading equipment for work zone traffic control.
- City of Cuyahoga Falls – “Underground Cable Puller” – The city purchased specialized cable-pulling equipment that reduces employee hazard exposure when pulling cable through buried conduit.
- Cooper Farms Feed and Animal of Fort Recovery – “Hog Loader” – This innovation reduces the safety and ergonomic risks to employees when loading hogs into trailers.
- Midmark Corporation of Versailles – “Automated Guided Carts” – These automated carts replaced the manual movement of supplies and materials around a manufacturing facility.
These employers will be displaying information about their innovations at the Ohio Safety Congress & Expo on March 9 and 10. Stop by the Safety Innovations Competition booth to speak with these innovators and learn more about what they did and how they did it. Final judging will also take place at this time with the winners announced (and the checks handed out) on March 10.
It’s one thing to come up with an idea about how to reduce risk, but another to develop it thoroughly, implement it effectively, and make it work in the long run. These employers have done all this and are reaping the benefits.