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Method behind impressive safety record nicknamed ‘The Elkhart Way’

Morgan Thermal Ceramics posts safety record of 10 years without a lost-time injury.

Posted on May 11, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — No back strains, no smashed fingers, no deep cuts, no puncture wounds, no injuries with life-long consequences.

For 10 years, no worker at Morgan Thermal Ceramics has had to miss even one day on the job because of a work-related injury. It is an accomplishment that has dropped the company’s lost-time injury rate to zero compared to the national yearly average of nearly 2 significant injuries per 100 workers at comparable manufacturing facilities.

The combination of practices and culture behind the safety milestone has been dubbed “The Elkhart Way” within the Morgan family of companies around the globe. Tom Rebernak, general manager of the Elkhart plant, and his staff have been fielding calls from operations in other countries wanting to know how the local facility prevents injuries.

Morgan Thermal Ceramics, located on Industrial Parkway, is a part of Morgan Ceramics North America, which is a division of Morgan Crucible, headquartered in the United Kingdom. The Elkhart operation became part of Morgan in 1996 when it was acquired from Johns Manville company.

Allen Reisinger, product manager, summarized his goal for safety: He does not want his workers to suffer any serious injury that will prevent them from playing with their grandchildren in 20 years.

To commemorate the achievement, Morgan Thermal Ceramics will be having a special luncheon for first shift employees as well as celebratory meals for the second and third shifts at the plant today. May 11. The daytime ceremony will include remarks by a representative of Mayor Dick Moore’s administration and by vice presidents from the North American headquarters in Georgia.

Also, the Elkhart operation will be presented with a 10-year safety award that Morgan Ceramics had to create from scratch because, well, no family company has ever gone a decade without a lost-time injury.

“For us, it’s really gratifying that fruits of our team are being recognized,” Rebernak said.

THEY MAKE WHAT?

In Elkhart, the company primarily makes specialized high-temperature insulation and fire protection materials that are used mainly by the aerospace industry. Morgan Thermal Ceramics produces the insulation that protects the airplane engine and thrust reserve switch as well as the flight data recorder, commonly known as the black box.

A portion of the insulation the company makes is subsequently encapsulated in a variety of devices including medical waste containers and in gas regulators on the deep fryers commonly used in fast food restaurants.

“I’ve sold material to NASA and I’ve sold material to Taco Bell,” Reisinger quipped.

Machines on the factory floor include a spot welder, a water jet cutter that can slice through a 12-inch thick block of steel and a multi-needle quilting machine that chomps rhythmically on a thin sheet of microporous insulation.

The equipment is hot, sharp and fast, and has the potential to maul skin and bone. That Morgan Thermal Ceramics has been able to prevent a significant injury around these machines becomes more impressive in view of national statistics.

Within the industrial classification of “All Other Miscellaneous Nonmetallic Mineral Product Manufacturing,” which includes the ceramic insulation industry, the national DART rate (short for Days Away From Work, Restricted or Transferred rate) is 1.8 per 100 full-time employees each year, according to information provided by the Indiana Department of Labor. Comparatively, the DART rate at Morgan Thermal Ceramics for the past 10 consecutive years has been zero.

Across Indiana, the annual DART rate for all Hoosier full-time workers in both the private and public sectors is 2.0 per 100.

‘THE ELKHART WAY’

The focus on safety at Morgan Thermal Ceramics starts at the beginning, Rebernak said. When new processes and products are being developed, health and safety is immediately involved.

Barriers and guards, like the metal fencing on top of the water jet cutter, are installed around the equipment to protect the workers. Procedures to fabricate a new product are closely examined for potential dangers.

Every month, supervisors and managers walk through the plant to look for hazards, and team members meet to review safety techniques. Also, the employees are given opportunities for special training seminars like the one conducted recently by Elkhart firefighters that taught them how to use fire extinguishers.

On top of this, Rebernak said the workers have adopted a “brother’s keeper mentality.” Crew members look out for each other by calling their colleagues’ attention to harmful or unsafe activities.

These routines are all part of “The Elkhart Way,” and while the accolades that result are easy to see, Rebernak pointed out that the monetary benefit to the company’s bottom line is more difficult to discern.

“It’s hard to put a value to somebody being able to return home safely after work,” he said.




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