At its recent annual meeting in Hilton Head, S.C., FIA recognized nearly 20 companies for their exceptional safety records during the past year. Forging producers eligible for the award were categorized according to the number of employees on the payrolls, and first-, second- and third-place finishers were announced in each group. FORGE would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the winners (click here for winners) on setting stellar examples from which their peer companies can benchmark their own operations.

During this publication’s nearly 10 years of serving the forging industry, we have tried to solicit and publish safety-related topics specific to forging operations from forging producers, but to little avail. This invitation remains open to those who administer safety programs in their plants. In the meantime, we hope a few basic facts and observations will suffice to bring this topic to the forefront.

Agencies within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) have responsibility for the administration and enforcement of laws enacted to protect the safety and health of American workers. There are three DOL agencies to which this task falls: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Of these, OSHA is the most important to those employed in the forging industry.

OSHA, in its 45th year of existence, has often been vilified as intrusive to the manufacturing workplace. In countless conversations during my decades in metalworking, I have heard executives complain of OSHA rules and regulations – often mentioned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the same breath – that didn’t always make sense or that didn’t apply in certain situations. Some of these complaints were no doubt justified, but some were just objections about having to spend extra money on safety equipment and systems – nonproductive assets.

And yet OSHA boasts a significant and favorable impact on workplace health and safety mishaps since it came into existence. During OSHA’s tenure, for example, workplace fatality rates have fallen by 67% during a period when the U.S. workforce doubled. Similarly, worker injuries and illnesses are down from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 3.2 per 100 workers in 2014.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4,251 worker fatalities in private industry during calendar year 2014. Of these fatalities, 20.5% occurred in the construction industry, where the leading causes of fatal mishaps were falls, electrocution, being struck by an object or being “caught-in/between.”

The above statistic should be important to forgers in that 79.5% of private-industry fatalities in 2014 did not occur in the construction sector. They occurred in other plants. And, despite all of our industry’s due diligence on matters of safety, forge shops are, like it or not, an inherently high-risk environment. This makes it all the more incumbent on forge operators to play “by the book” on matters of health and safety each and every day.

Anyone who has ever taken a class in basic finance principles and learned how to analyze financial ratios, interpret profit-and-loss statements or read balance sheets eventually learns the following business premise: A company’s most valuable asset, its people, is carried on the books at zero value.

Looking at it that way, investments made in protecting the health and safety of your employees are among the best you can make.