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SOCMA’s Commitment to Operational Excellence Begins with Inaugural Regional Meeting

SOCMA, in conjunction with the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council (OCTC) and the Color Pigments Manufacturers Association (CPMA), hosted its first regional meeting to assist members with workforce development and various plant operations issues, November 4, in the Cleveland area with more than 20 attendees. These meetings are exclusively designed to help our member companies improve operational excellence at their facilities, a concept initially discussed by the SOCMA Board of Governors more than a year ago.

Hosted by Royal Chemical Company, the event kicked off with presentations by representatives from the Ohio Department of Higher Education and MAGNET, a Cleveland-based economic development organization that operates as an affiliate partner under the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program. 

On the state level, attendees learned that under the latest Ohio state budget, all associate and bachelor degrees will require on-the-job internships to help students more effectively transition to the workforce upon graduation. Some state seed money has been allocated to campuses to help employers secure interns. The key message to attendees: Lobby local legislators for co-op program funding. A culture change is needed in and by the chemical industry to entice new workers, as interest among those pursuing careers falls behind others viewed as more glamorous (such as high tech). A change in perception must start at the regional/state level, and trade associations like SOCMA can play a role. The state has set up a series of committees that include representatives from the broader manufacturing sector to address issues such as product commercialization and industry image.

We learned that, at the regional level, organizations like MAGNET can assist employers with tapping into federal, state and philanthropic funds to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with on-the-job training needs. MEPs exist across the country, and company HR professionals should explore how their companies can avail themselves of their resources. One such program, thePartnership for Regional Innovation Services to Manufacturers, helps companies with process innovation, product design, and workforce and talent development. MAGNET also offers a Talent Growth Plan focused on aiding new hires with on-the-job training. SMEs must think creatively about how to retain skilled workers who may be drawn away by larger companies with bigger payroll budgets. 

Following these presentations, we held a group discussion on key performance indicators (KPIs), near-miss programs and government agency audits. Prior to the meeting, we reached out to attendees to ensure the roundtable discussion centered on topics of greatest interest. By doing so, our attendees were engaged in the discussion and shared many great ideas and best practices they can utilize in their facilities to help improve operations. Here are just a few key takeaways from the discussion:

Key Performance Indicators

  • Many are based on safety initiatives, such as “Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordables.” With respect to quality of production, “first pass yield percent” and “produced as intended” were cited.
  • A few companies provide quarterly rewards (such as gift certificates and free food truck purchases). One member talked about using a close-circuit TV in the lunchroom to recognize employees who go above and beyond in meeting KPIs, such as spotlighting an employee who takes action to correct a near-miss issue.
  • Ultimately, a safety and quality culture must start at the top. Committees with rotating representatives from various departments can help set the desired plant culture. Together, employees can be trained to develop any changes in culture and reinforce the concept that “people matter.”

Near-Miss Programs

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, near-miss issues are often viewed as a negative by employees. It is often a challenge to convert thinking to a positive mindset. Near-misses are a team responsibility; everyone should play a role in identifying and taking action to correct a circumstance that could lead to a recordable.
  • Practical challenges exist in how near-misses are reported (i.e., how much detail is warranted) and what actually constitutes one (i.e., if an employee scalds his/her hand on hot coffee, is this considered a near miss?)
  • “Cultural hypocrisy” (where supervisors may say one thing but do something else) must be addressed at the top levels of management to ensure near-miss programs are managed effectively.

Third-Party Audits

  • Our industry is subjected to frequent audits by various federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), OSHA, Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Some attendees lamented that it felt like regulators were coordinating their audit schedules across agencies (with audits by multiple agencies occurring within weeks of one another).
  • When a federal regulator visits, it is important to have key employees decide in advance who should be the spokesperson. A back-up employee should be identified in case the key employee is out. Written procedures should be developed in advance, and an employee “bill of rights” should be developed and distributed to everyone.
  • Employees should not answer any questions they have not been specifically asked, and the federal inspector should be asked to sign a document detailing issues discussed during the audit to ensure there is a clear understanding of any deficiencies.

Looking ahead to 2016, SOCMA plans to host several regional meetings in conjunction with its ChemStewards Regional Roundtables. These and/or other topics will be selected based on attendee preferences. Through these forums we are striving to strengthen our member companies’ plant protocols and procedures, so we can demonstrate the care and attention we take each and every day to safeguard human safety and environmental compliance. If you have any suggestions for future events, drop me a line at sloanl@socma.com, or call (202) 721-4151.

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