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With metal working and machining high on the list of hazardous jobs, mold manufacturers have to be constantly aware of safety issues in their plants. Commercial Tool & Die Inc., a mold manufacturer in Comstock Park, MI, knows first-hand that safety pays off.

Clare Goldsberry

August 9, 2012

5 Min Read
Safety first at Commercial Tool & Die

With metal working and machining high on the list of hazardous jobs, mold manufacturers have to be constantly aware of safety issues in their plants. Commercial Tool & Die Inc., a mold manufacturer in Comstock Park, MI, knows first-hand that safety pays off. The company recently received the prestigious Michigan Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) award for an exemplary safety and health management system.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) established the Michigan SHARP award to recognize employers that have achieved workplace safety and health excellence far beyond their peers. This is a big milestone for Commercial Tool & Die (CTD), as the Industrial Mold Manufacturing classification (333511) is a "high-hazard" industry.

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Commercial Tool & Die

Commercial Tool & Die celebrates its SHARP award for safety.

CTD employs 139 at its facility, which designs and builds large molds for the automotive, appliance and computer/business equipment industries. The SHARP award was presented to Don Brecken, director of Quality and Safety at Commercial Tool, as well as the entire Commercial Tool Safety Committee who accepted the award on behalf of all its employees.

"All employees are entitled to a safe and healthy workplace, said Doug Bouwman, CTD's owner and CEO. "A positive environment with open communications, employee involvement and participation, and a respect for one another has helped us achieve high levels of safety performance."

Brecken told PlasticsToday that the company has successfully sustained its reduced incident rate by 65% to under the industry average over the past several years.  "This year we're out-performing that rate we established two years ago," he said in a telephone interview.

Most mold manufacturing production environments experience injuries that are considered non-life threatening. However, it's the minor injuries that can add up to major time off of work and increased costs for a company.

The 25-lb rule
Brecken explained that one of the company's most common injuries used to be back strains from lifting steel and aluminum work pieces.  "Now we don't see so many back strains," he said, "because we implemented rules about lifting and put some teeth into them. The main rule is that there is no lifting anything more than 25 lb. A lot of people laughed at that number but I tell them 'if you hurt your back on anything, I'm going to weigh it.'"

Putting in place rules along with enforcement of the rules is important. While CTD has always had rules, enforcement was often lax.  "A guy might think that since he only needs to move a block a few feet, he can do it by himself," Brecken said. "But just those few feet can cause a back strain. We have so many hoists with chains and slings, high-lows and carts they can use, but they just get in a hurry and don't use them. Really enforcing the lifting rule eliminated the issue of back strains."

Cuts are another common injury that CTD was experiencing. Again, the rules for handling metal work-pieces were enforced.  "There's no handling of metal pieces unless the edges have been chamfered and de-burred, and they must wear the cut resistant gloves that we provide. That has reduced incidence of cuts dramatically."

The most recent safety issue that CTD is solving is foreign matter in the eye. While the employees wear safety glasses and face shields in most types of machining operations, CTD found that pencil grinding in the pocket of a cavity and/or core caused metal dust to blow up from the work piece and get behind or under the safety glasses. 

"We now provide more of a goggle-type safety shield that fits tighter against the face so there's not room for this dust to get behind the glasses," said Brecken.  "We purchased these goggles for everyone who uses the pencil grinder to use for fine grinding when they have to spot tools in the spotting press."

Another rule CTD established a few years ago is the requirement of a face shield for all grinding operations. "They sometimes have to wear an opti-visor to magnify the work they're doing, but any grinding overhead or fine grinding requires them to wear the face shield," Brecken noted.

Better hazard reporting
Being proactive in safety means that CTD has put systems and procedures in place for people to report hazards they see, which Brecken said is a very effective way of preventing injuries, not just reacting when something happens. CTD has a very active safety committee that meets monthly, and they perform monthly walk-throughs of the shop to identify hazards, and take corrective measures immediately. 

"Employee involvement is huge, and that's something that MIOSHA has stressed," Brecken stated. "The key was self-motivation, and we decided early on - about seven years ago - to partner with MIOSHA and integrate them into our safety program. From time-to-time, we invite them in to help us identify safety hazards. We also work with our insurance company, which has an industry consultant who will help us be more proactive in our safety program."

CTD plans to do ergonomic training in the coming month. "While we don't have a lot of repetitive type jobs, we do have some areas where we use pencil grinders and do benching where the employees are bent over doing this day in and day out, and experiencing the vibration in the pencil grinding, so we're going have ergonomic training to help that."

In celebration of the SHARP award, CTD had an employee cook-out for the awards ceremony.  Aside from the award, Brecken believes the real key to a successful safety program for a mold manufacturing company involves employee involvement. "We're encouraging them to always being on the lookout for and report potential hazards to prevent injuries," said Brecken. "Being proactive is always the best action."

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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