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Making Safety Second Nature

Sept. 17, 2012

Bremen Casting Inc. is a family-owned foundry and machine shop. It was founded in 1939 in Bremen, Indiana. For the last 70 years, Bremen Castings, Inc has become known worldwide for its quality gray and ductile iron machined castings. Keeping up with technology is high on our priority list and our company continually reinvests in new equipment for production, environmental, and automation improvements. Our commitment to the environment is clear, too: we use 92% recycled ferrous material to produce world-class gray and ductile iron castings for our customers worldwide.

However, neither of these accomplishments is first among our priorities. All of these concerns take second-place when it comes to our utmost concern, which is to make certain that our employees are as safe as possible when they are on the job. In this industry, that involves making considerable efforts.

For the last two years, Bremen Casting has been emphasizing the importance of safety in the workplace to all of our employees. As president of Bremen Casting, I want my employees to think about safety the same way that professional athletes think about golf or football, that is, to think about it automatically and without question.

We are succeeding. In a job where workers deal with heavy volumes of hot molten iron, there are undoubtedly added dangers, but Bremen Casting is seeing a dramatic decrease in injuries thanks to the added safety measures put into place.

Safety is the first thing discussed in our daily production meetings. All safety accidents and incidents require a report that is emailed to the entire management team. We believe that all employees are members of the safety team and we all have a role in providing corrective action when needed.

Also, each of our departments has a weekly safety audit in which they are scored by someone trained outside that department. We even go so far as to rate the housekeeping staff on their safety performance. During the hot summer months, Bremen workers cool off  around the clock because we provide an ample supply of free freezer pops.

Since the increased safety initiative in 2010, BCI has had an 81% percent reduction in Recordable Accidents (anything requiring outside treatment) and a more than 100% percent reduction in Lost Time Accidents (an injury that requires at least one day off from work.) During 2012, Bremen Casting completed an entire year without any Lost Time Accidents — a first in the history of the company. I am proud to announce that we are currently past 452 days and over 675,000 million man-hours without a Lost Time injury.

Safety Recommendations

Other metalcasters and manufacturers can make the same progress. Here are my recommendations for improving workplace safety throughout the industry:

•    First things first. Safety is the first thing discussed in daily production meetings. It has to come before concerns about production or turnover, or the bottom line. By making it the first thing we talk about, we show our employees that it is our number one concern as well as our number one responsibility. Nothing comes before safety—not in our meetings and not in our foundry and machine shop.

•    A must-report policy that involves the entire team. All injury-causing or loss-related accidents and incidents and near misses require a report that is emailed to the entire management team. These reports include incidents include any incident that occurs on site, even non-work-related incidents, such as a seizure. In this way, injuries can never go unnoticed and the whole team will work in an environment of openness and honesty. If injuries are widely known and discussed, we can avoid them in the future and ensure that everyone is being protected.

•    Getting employees involved. We believe that all employees are members of the safety team providing a better root cause and corrective action. Employees are asked about their safety concerns, and those concerns are addressed by supervisors and management.

•    Everyone is audited by outside members. All departments, even housekeeping, have a weekly safety audit where they are scored from someone trained outside that department. This keeps everyone honest and involved, and it helps to ensure that we don’t cut corners or miss something of importance.

•    Monthly discussions to cover new topics and refresh old topics. We have a ‘toolbox talk’ each month that covers OSHA-mandated training topics. It helps to keep the team educated about new techniques and concerns while making sure that new staff members are up-to-date on everything they need to know.

•    Start the week with a pep talk. Every Monday, all employees have a 15-minute safety pep talk, and pep talks are the first thing on the agenda when employees return from holidays and three-day weekends. It’s always important to remind people of the steps they need to protect themselves, especially after they have been away on a weekend or a long holiday. It’s easy to get caught up in vacation mode and forget the little things, but in a foundry like ours, that can be dangerous. This is why safety pep talks are a big part of who we are as a company.

•    Use robotic cells for dangerous tasks. The managers at Bremen Casting Inc. are committed to putting safety first. We know it is our highest concern, and that separates us from other employers. This is why our management team is proud to put safety above all other considerations, up to and including the integration of robotic cells to assist in the most grueling aspects of labor. Even if it is not the most efficient or cost-effective way to do business, it is the best way to preserve the safety, health, and energy of our employees. At Bremen Casting, that always comes before the bottom line.

•    Don’t overwork the team. Injuries often happen when employees are tired or overworked, so it is crucial to ensure that everyone takes breaks when necessary. Working more than an 8-10 hour shift is dangerous, and we don’t want our employees to be completely run down, with no energy. When all is said and done, our best asset is our hardworking and talented employees. Their energy and health is our greatest concern.

Aside from being the wrong way to manage people, overwork is neither sustainable nor safe, and the business ultimately is hurt because of that neglect.  That’s why Bremen Castings puts safety front and center, with a safety manager on staff and heavy communication to prevent accidents.

We work in a very demanding industry. Working with molten iron and heavy machinery requires caution and skill. If one person screws up, a lot of people can be injured or killed. That reality is why Bremen Castings always puts safety first and why our safety team has the freedom and resources to ensure that our employees are always safe and well-protected. Our employees make our company what it is, and protecting them is our highest priority.

JB Brown is the president of Bremen Castings Inc., a foundry and machining operation in Brement, IN, that his family has owned and operated through four generations.  He’s recognized for promoting innovative approaches to the business, and has structured the organization to be a “complete manufacturing facility … able to compete worldwide” by investing in state-of-the-art equipment and people. JB believes in the necessity of challenging the status quo to achieve continuous improvement, both professionally and personally. Contact him at[email protected], or