Safety, every day—for 18 years

Baldor's Belton, South Carolina, manufacturing plant hasn’t had a lost-time incident since 1998.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, Plant Engineering October 11, 2016

Today is another safe day at Baldor’s Belton, S.C., manufacturing plant. Like the day before it or the day that will follow, the first focus for all 130 employees throughout the plant is safety. It is safety that has driven the plant’s growth over the past decade, and it is safety that permeates the culture in Belton.

It has been safe at Belton, day after day, year after year, for the past 18 years. The plant is approaching 5 million hours without a lost lost-time accident, and this milestone, like the others that have preceded it over nearly two decades, is celebrated with a banner hanging in the plant. These banners carry the signatures of the plant employees responsible for continuing this remarkable streak.

The banners remind the Belton employees of what has been achieved. It is Paul Beaumont’s job to remind them of the challenges each day to remain safe. "You have to keep a sense of urgency," said Beaumont, the safety manager at Baldor’s Belton plant. "You have to keep everybody focused. The minute you back off, you’re going to have a problem. Complacency is the battle."

Beaumont said he has two goals. One is to keep Belton’s streak intact. The other? "I’d like to work myself out of a job in five years," he said.

People before statistics

OSHA’s 1904.7(a) standard is clear: "You must consider an injury or illness to meet the general recording criteria, and therefore to be recordable, if it results in any of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness."

In 2014, the last year for which OSHA statistics are available, there were roughly 3 million lost-time accidents reported from private-industry businesses. The rate of 3.2 lost-time accidents per 100 workers actually is down 0.1 from the figures in 2015. OSHA will report the 2015 data later this month.

The rate for manufacturing is slightly higher, with 4.0 lost-time accidents per 100 employees reported in 2014. Only state and local government (5.0 per 100) and education and health care (4.2 per 100) were higher. And in manufacturing plants the size of Baldor’s Belton facility, with between 50 and 249 employees, the lost-time rate is 4.8 per 100 employees, the highest in any of the manufacturing categories.

The numbers tell one story about safety in manufacturing, but at Belton, the story is more personal. "Everything is about the team. It’s the team above the individual," Beaumont said. "It’s safety first-always. In this organization, it’s safety, then quality, then the customer, and then the financials. There’s a sense of urgency to improve everything."

"Any safety program we’ve got out there, we’re continually trying to improve on," Beaumont added. "If they see something, they’re going to say something. We try to make sure nobody gets offended, but they are going to say something to you."

The focus isn’t just about what might be unsafe at any given moment but also a continuing look at how safety is executed, every day. "One thing that helps in our safety culture is that we over-communicate," said Beaumont. "We do a safety message in every meeting, and we do general safety awareness in every shift. There is real employee ownership."

Belton also takes time to celebrate its safety milestones, large and small. While there are more than a dozen banners hanging in the plant, there are other ways that Belton’s management shows its appreciation to the employees. There are safety breakfasts, ice cream days and donut days that help feed the enthusiasm for safety. The safety team also extends that safety message to the community in Belton, a town of about 7,000 residents near the Greenville, S.C., metroplex.

Safe manufacturing pays off

Baldor built a 125,000 sq. ft. facility in Belton in 1995, then expanded the facility in 2014 to more than 157,000 sq. ft. The plant manufactures right angle worm gearboxes under the Tigear brand as well as in-line helical, right-angle helical bevel and motorized shaft mount gearboxes under the Quantis brand. The plant also added a customized reducer gearbox process, called Build On Demand. The plant ships about 1,110,000 gearboxes annually, an impressive total given there are 10,000 active parts for the Tigear product line and 4 million active parts for the Quantis line.

"We haven’t seen the ups and downs. We’ve just been steady," said Belton plant manager Michael Ross. "We’ve brought in a lot of machining capabilities, and we’ve brought some manufacturing back into the U.S. from Mexico." The plant operates four 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday and three 12-hour shifts on the weekend to meet demand.

The plant’s 2014 expansion allowed more in-house machining, and Belton added a number of machining cells to improve quality and better manage its internal supply. Its housings and hollow shafts, for example, are now machined onsite and have reduced costs while bringing quality control into the plant.

Ross also looks for continuous improvement in both safety and operations. He attends meetings of the South Carolina Upstate Lean Alliance, a gathering of noncompeting companies who benchmark best practices against one another.

The plant already operates with a Lean FlexFlow philosophy integrated with Six Sigma to reduce downtime and improve quality production. The plant was certified to the ISO 9001 quality standard in 1992.

The safety culture predates the arrival of Ross and Beaumont at the Belton plant. "The people who have gone before us did a great job," said Ross. The emphasis on overall safety at Baldor dates back to an event one October 7 in which there was a serious safety accident in another plant. After that, "10-7" became a recognizable safety marker at Baldor.

"The idea of 10-7 was driven very hard from above," said Ross. "Every plant was shut down for a while on one day to have everyone talk about safety. It’s part of the culture now."

But far from being a reactive process, Belton’s safety plan is aggressive, including programs such as a hazard recognition process. Facility managers also perform safety observation tours twice monthly. This allows employees to voice issues directly with managers, including those they might not interact with on an ongoing basis.

"When we are asked how we maintain our safety culture, I’m quick to point out that our team has a strong sense of pride in the work we do, and each person has accepted personal responsibility for safety," he added. Part of that responsibility includes one unique plant safety requirement: cell phones are not permitted on the plant floor.

Enthusiasm for safety

You won’t find a more enthusiastic advocate for plant safety than Beaumont. He said his primary challenge is to communicate and maintain the enthusiasm throughout the rest of the employees in Belton, even if the training topics remain largely the same.

"You’ve got to change it up as much as possible to keep it fresh," Beaumont said. "You’re training on same topic, but it’s different material. Otherwise things get stale, and no one is going to listen."

Despite 18 years without a lost-time accident, it doesn’t mean there still are not safety issues. For example, there was an employee who suffered a hand laceration in June, breaking a streak of 13 months without an OSHA recordable incident. It’s the third time the plant has gone more than a year without an OSHA recordable.

The plant focuses on four different topics every year—this year, it’s machine guarding, ergonomics, contractor safety, and cranes and hoists. It’s an overall safety goal to have every employee—not just plant floor personnel, but also office staff—to complete the OSHA 10-hour safety training program.

"The more eyes you have looking at each issue, each problem, the better off you will be," said Beaumont. "There’s not a proprietary sense of ownership of safety for each department. Everyone works well as a team."

How safe is your plant? Let us know…

The safety record at Baldor’s Belton, S.C. manufacturing plant is impressive: 18 years without a lost-time accident. It’s a great example of the value of safety in manufacturing.

But it’s not the only example.

If your manufacturing plant has an impressive safety record or an experience where safety has been a driver of operational and business improvement, share those examples with plant Engineering. We’ll collect the best of these safety testimonials and publish them as part of our Top Plant issue in December.

Send an email discussing your plant safety initiatives, and a picture of your plant or safety team, to Plant Engineering content manager Bob Vavra, at We’ll publish as many of these safety examples as possible in December.

Bob Vavra is content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media,