The average NFL player weighs about 250 pounds. That’s also the ballpark weight of most countertops manufactured by Hallmark Stone, a wholesaler of natural stone countertops, though the largest can weigh over 1,000 pounds. Hallmark’s 158 employees pride themselves on providing customized countertops and delivering them directly to customers’ homes. It’s no surprise, then, that about 70 percent of employees’ on-the-job injuries were from manually lifting the very heavy stone. How did they improve their safe lifting practices?
These injuries occurred both during deliveries and in Hallmark’s Fenton facility. To address this concern during deliveries, they designed and built specialized carts that could bear the weight of the stone. The carts, which are on wheels and have a clamp to hold the countertop in place, mean employees do not have to manually carry the stone into homes for installation.
In 2016, Hallmark had very high injury frequency and severity, and projected that the trend would continue. The new carts made deliveries safer, but Hallmark still needed improvements in stone handling processes inside the facility.
Safe lifting game plan
Hallmark President Fred Christen recognized this need and took action. The company had an internal safety team, but they needed help coming up with a game plan to address these safety concerns. Joe Coultrip, senior safety and risk consultant at Missouri Employers Mutual, worked with the team to refresh their approach and focus their efforts on one improvement area at a time. They started with ergonomics and heavy lifting trainings, and employees began consistently using the techniques they learned. They now hold general safety meetings every six weeks, as well as weekly shop and installation meetings.
Safety meetings and trainings are crucial to any business, but Christen saw an opportunity to take Hallmark’s safety to the next level by investing in special equipment. Earlier this year, he applied for a grant through MEM’s Safety Grant program, and received a dollar-for-dollar toward the purchase of a Gorbel Crane System and three vacuum lifts. This system uses vacuum technology to suction lift countertops, significantly reducing the risks of employee injury and damaged product. With time, Hallmark and MEM expect that these changes will help reduce injuries.
Fred remarked, “Our rising employee injuries were what spurred us to action, but the biggest success we’ve had is our safety team working with employees to use the new equipment and safe lifting techniques to create a safer workplace.”