MI Metals FL
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One SHARP Business

Oldsmar now boasts a truly SHARP business as recognized by Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) standards.  Most anytime a business hears that an OSHA representative is coming to their business the beads of sweat start building and the fear of deficiencies and potential fines begins to produce gray hairs quickly.  But this is not the case for MI Metals, a division of J.T. Walker Industries, a producer of extruded aluminum products.

In fact Brook Massey, President, Wayne Bracy, Plant Manager, and Mel Mitchell the Safety Manager decided about seven years ago to invite an OSHA Consultant into their business and check them out.  Enter Jim Ulseth, University of South Florida Safety and Health Consultant.  On his first pass through the facility in 2004-05 Bracy said that Ulseth literally produced a couple inch thick book of recommendations.   This started a seven year journey to safer operations and the presentation of the coveted Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program Award to MI Metals in an August 19 ceremony.  The presenter will be Jim Ulseth who has worked continuously with MI Metals to reduce that volume of safety recommendations down literally to nothing.

How rare is this recognition?  There are only two other Pinellas businesses that have been recognized for this level of commitment to safety and less than sixty businesses in all of Florida have made the grade.  The real measure is that the company must achieve a lower than average reportable incident rate for their industry.  Bracy is quick to point out that, although this has been a long journey, the credit for the achievement must go the MI Metals workforce.  Bracy says, “It all starts on the floor, every action, every day.  Management can put up signs and buy safety equipment but if the workforce is not committed to safe operations it just doesn’t happen.  We are very proud of the achievement and recognition but the credit goes to the guys and girls on the floor.  And we also know the award is not the end goal, it’s just the start.  There is plenty of fruit to still pick off the tree”.

One SHARP Business

To get a better feel for this achievement Bracy explained a few things about the business and the dangers of working with molten metals.  “We’re different than most producers of aluminum products in that we develop our own materials from start to finish.  We buy scrap aluminum as well as recycle our own scrap to produce our own billets.  These are then cut into various sizes needed for our projects.  Essentially we melt about 80,000 pounds daily to produce billets over 16 feet long and 7” in diameter.  This requires temperatures over 1300 degrees Fahrenheit and over 500 gallons of water a minute is introduced to keep the heat under control and turn molten aluminum into a solid aluminum billet. The water must be tightly controlled since as little as three ounces applied at the wrong point in the process can produce an explosion equal to a stick of dynamite.  So everything has to go right every time, every second.”

He continued, “In addition to safety we are also concerned with environmental impact.  Despite the furnaces used to melt the aluminum we do not emit any smoke into the environment.  We have a Bag House that meets all requirements the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS) that captures and cools the smoke and convert it back to solid waste which we recycle.  After the initial melting process intense heat is introduced into the process two additional times.  Once to increase the tensile strength of the aluminum and the second brings the cut billets just below melting point where it is forced under great pressure through dies and cut to size to make the final product.  Each step has its own hazards and our floor staff has to maintain their focus throughout.  That’s why I’m so insistent that this journey to becoming SHARP certified is a tribute to them.”

It would seem that the focus on safety and clearing volumes of OSHA observations over the years must be both costly and time consuming.  So why would MI Metals voluntarily put themselves through this?  Bracy explained, “I’ve been in this industry since 1978 and with MI Metals since 2001.   Early in my career I was involved in an accident that injured twenty people and killed six.  It was an explosion.  I simply never want to experience that again and never want to have to tell a spouse or child of someone who was seriously hurt or killed that we could have done something to prevent the accident.  We can always buy more aluminum if we mess something up.  We cannot replace our people.  I’m very proud to be with MI Metals as they have a corporate commitment to safety despite the time and cost involved.  Some companies talk about safety.  We walk it from the floor up.”

Massey added, “JT Walker Industries has a corporate ethic of safety first.  The MI Metal plant in Pennsylvania has been the SHARP model and the Tennessee plant is also SHARP qualified so that has motivated us to make safety a real commitment.  Wayne is right our people are our most important resource and they deserve the credit for this award.  But this commitment also increases our bottom line in numerous ways.  For example, we have fewer Workers Compensation claims, less time lost to accidents; our workers compensation rates have been reduced and this has also resulted in a low turnover rate of staff.  Plus many of the changes cost nothing.  They were changes to the way we had the floor organized and moved materials so not only are we safer we are more efficient. Turns out compliance has been cost effective for us.”

Safety, an important part of your bottom line?  Now that’s some SHARP thinking!