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Brewing Up Interest in Safety & Health
A partnership with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is bringing
important training to small businesses in Vermont.
by Robert McLeod


A unique training program in Vermont has brewed up a lot of interest among the state’s small businesses about the benefits of workplace safety and health.

For years, the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (VOSHA) five consultants struggled to deliver safety and health consultation services and training to the small business community, which represents 80 percent of Vermont’s employers. Three years ago, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters approached VOSHA and the Vermont Small Business Development Center with an innovative plan to reach more employers.

Members of Vermont's small business community gather to learn how they can reduce injuries and illnesses among their workers.Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a high-profile Vermont company with a proven track record of promoting workplace safety and health. The company has used VOSHA consultation services and introduced successful engineering controls to reduce back injuries in its coffee warehousing operation.

The company proposed a new program, Partnership in Safety, to deliver quarterly safety and health training sessions to small employers. Each partner brings unique resources and talents to the program. The VOSHA consultative staff brings expertise in safety and health. The Vermont Small Business Development Center uses its close connections with the business community to plan and market programs that reach small businesses. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters provides free space for the training at its Waterbury worksite and financial backing for promotional materials and mailings. The company also adds credibility to the program, setting a good example for other small businesses with its strong safety and health effort.

What makes the partnership innovative is that a private-sector company is playing an active role in promoting government safety and health programs to other businesses. As a result, the quarterly training sessions have helped VOSHA’s consultative staff educate a broader spectrum of employers.

The partnership has proven to be a resounding success with a steady increase in workshop participation since 18 people attended the first session in February 2000. By the end of the year, that number had increased to 141, and last year, 224 people—mostly small business owners, managers, and safety personnel—participated. Participants help select many of the training topics. Presented in a cooperative environment, each workshop provides the opportunity for positive interaction among safety and health professionals from state and private organizations and small employers. The workshops have resulted in the candid exchange of information in a setting that encourages finding workable solutions to safety and health issues identified by small employers. This cooperative atmosphere has helped many small employers overcome their initial reluctance to become involved with a division of state government. The partnership also provides an excellent forum for small businesses to share information on safety and health programs among themselves. At one of the first sessions, for example, staff from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters explained to participants the benefit of the engineering controls they introduced to reduce back injuries. They praised VOSHA’s consultation services and encouraged other participants to take advantage of them. A worker at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters uses a lifting device to reduce the risk of back injuries while unloading coffee.

Regardless of the specific topic, VOSHA uses the workshops as an opportunity to market its consultation services to employers, as well as the benefits of establishing and maintaining a safe and healthful work environment. The interaction of regulatory staff, consultation program staff, managers, and safety and health practitioners provides a balanced and proactive approach toward safety and health education.

As the program continues to grow, participants say they like what they’re hearing and are applying what they learn at their worksites. Ninety-nine percent of participants rated the workshops as "very helpful" on evaluation sheets handed out at each session. A recent survey of attendees revealed that 95 percent have made safety improvements in their workplace, 89 percent say they have a better understanding of the regulations that affect them, and 79 percent say they are now in compliance with more regulations than before they attended the sessions.

The Partnership in Safety program could easily be replicated by other states. Each state consultation program is managed and run by a public entity such as a department of labor or state university. Every state also has a nonprofit Small Business Development Center with an established business network that is critical to promoting and marketing the program.

Those involved in the program agree that it is important that a reputable company with a good safety and health record serve as the private-sector partner. The staff at VOSHA feels very fortunate to have such a partner in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. This partnership has redefined the traditional relationship between the government and the private sector. JSHQ

And during the past 9 years as Laser Tech has focused on improving workplace safety and health, the company has continued to grow. It more than quadrupled its staff and moved to a larger facility in Batavia, IL.

McLeod is director of the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Partnerships

A partnership is an extended, voluntary, cooperative relationship between OSHA and individual employers or groups of employers, employees, and employee representatives. The goal is to work together to encourage, assist, and recognize efforts to eliminate serious hazards and achieve a high level of workplace safety and health. Partnerships can transform the relationship between OSHA or its state-run counterparts and an employer or even an entire industry. Former adversaries recognize that working together to solve workplace safety and health problems helps employees and employers alike. Workers benefit through reduced rates of injury, illness, and death on the job. Employers benefit through lower workers’ compensation costs and other costs associated with worker injuries and illnesses, and often increased productivity.

For more information about partnerships, visit the agency's website at www.osha.gov. Click on Strategic Partnerships under Cooperative Programs.