You can’t manage plant safety from a corporate office: It’s got to be done from the shop floor. That’s what Chuck Lawson told Composites Manufacturing during an interview for the magazine’s latest issue. In the article “Taking Care of Business,” Lawson – the health, safety and environmental manager at MFG Composite Systems Company (CSC) – shared a wealth of information on the manufacturer’s plant safety strategies. But there were plenty of interesting tidbits and tips that simply didn’t fit in our print publication.

Now CM Interviews presents some of the extended interview with both Lawson and Perry Bennett, corporate health, safety and environmental director for Molded Fiber Glass Companies (MFG), the parent company of CSC. Based in Ashtabula, Ohio, MFG is a manufacturer of reinforced plastics and composites with 13 operating entities, including a dedicated research and development lab. MFG has nearly 1,800 employees: More than 330 of them work at CSC.

During the interview, Bennett contributed insight from MFG’s corporate perspective, while Lawson discussed specific plant safety programs at CSC, including monthly management meetings, company-wide safety education sessions and on-the-floor training called “toolbox talks.”

Most companies tout the importance of plant safety. What constitutes a truly successful safety program?

Lawson: There are three major components to a successful safety program: upper management commitment, policies and procedures, and most importantly teammate engagement. Many companies have robust management systems that are compliant and well communicated, but their recordable incident rate struggles because they are not effective. Safety must be valued by each and every individual, not just a priority from management. The key is to integrate safety into every component of the workplace. This is easier said than done. This isn’t a sign on the wall or a monthly talk: It’s a living part of the workplace culture.

So how do you instill safety into the company culture?

Lawson: There are a few important tools or techniques that every safety manager needs to have in their toolbox to positively influence culture change. The first is education. It’s important to know the difference between training and education. In order to train someone how to do something, they need to understand the fundamentals. We do in-depth safety education sessions during all three shifts using PowerPoint presentations and lectures, followed by on-the-floor training and the use of site-specific toolbox talks.

Can you provide an example that highlights this educational approach – the importance of making sure employees understand the reasons behind the requirements?

Lawson: Sure. Let’s consider a session on ear protection. If I just hand out new earplugs that look uncomfortable, people aren’t going to want to wear them. But if I explain the decibel levels in our facility and why they have to wear earplugs, then share a story about people they may know with hearing loss, it becomes personal (then) Teammates are more likely to follow the procedures for personal protection equipment.