USW Local 234 receives Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Safety

There’s an old saying, “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” that is, forge on until you get to some other place. For too many American workers, hell, is simply injury or even death at the workplace. Union-centered health and safety programs are meant to get us to another place, a safer place, a space where our members can freely work on real solutions to hazards at the workplace. And that’s exactly what United Steelworkers (USW) Local Union 10-234 in Trainer, Pa., has been doing for many years. And now, the local has received solid validation for their hard work.

On Oct. 25, 2021, USW Local Union 10-234 health and safety activists working for Monroe Energy were awarded the yearly Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Safety Excellence (GASE) by Governor Tom Wolf. Usually, the award is given to a company that has achieved provable advances in protecting workers. But this most recent award was given to both the company and union local, something that has happened only one other time in over three decades. How was this achieved?

Dawn Andreoli, the union Triangle of Prevention (TOP) coordinator on site (an oil refinery), explained how it all works, “We have a robust ‘safety engagement program,’ we’re very active in racking up what we call ‘good catches,’ that is, early detection of possible dangers that don’t seem quite right at our plant. Also, we work without fear of retaliation.”

Andreoli went on to further explain how the engagement program not only “catches” hazards before they turn into injury incidents or even “near-misses,” but that it works aggressively to turn those “good catches” into actual fixes. For example, at the plant, some workers had been assigned to clean out the plant’s water treatment tanks. This involved climbing into them and scrubbing them clean. The “catch” in this instance, was the ever-present algae coating the tanks. Algae, at even low concentrations can adversely affect one’s health. However, the workers kept at it, cleaning out the tanks, until the union’s health and safety committee called a special session of the engagement program to address the issue. Andreoli, along with Fran Cooney, Local 234 health and safety recording secretary, investigated the matter, and eventually came up with a fix to the problem. They learned of a special kind of coating paint that is resistant to algae. They gave it a go – and it worked! Now, workers at the plant don’t have to dance around that hazard. It simply doesn’t exist.

Andreoli added, “The Safety Engagement Program is unique in that it’s a company program, but fully managed by the union.”

It is the accumulation of these kinds of engagements that has led to a steep decline in injuries at the plant. Let’s have a look.

In 2012, the injury rate at the plant was 1.91 (OSHA Injury Rate = Total Injuries or Illness X 200,000 ÷ Number of Hours Worked by all employees). By 2021, that rate had fallen to 0.42, a 78 percent drop. In addition, as of Nov. 18, 2021, the plant achieved one year of being injury free. Equally as impressive was the worksite has gone through six whole years without a single lost-time injury. These accomplishments were achieved from the bottom up, involving both workers and managers at the plant.

A center piece of the TOP program involves implementing the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC)’s training curriculum and training methodologies. Training sessions throughout the year such as Near-Miss Prevention and Incident Investigation given to everybody on site bolsters a resilient health and safety commitment, working toward a safe workplace environment.

Andreoli exclaimed, “Our members were so pumped by getting this award! And the plaque belongs to all of us, equally.”

Photo (L-R: Fran Cooney, Dawn Andreoli) courtesy of Dawn Andreoli.