East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind Goes OSHA SHARP
Established in 1976 to serve the needs of the blind and visually impaired, East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind (ETLB) in Tyler, Texas, is a 501c3 non-profit organization that employs 87 workers. The mission of ETLB is to empower blind Americans through rehabilitation, education, training, and employment leading to a fully independent lifestyle. To accomplish this mission, ETLB offers a wide range of programs and services through two divisions: Client Services and Horizon Industries.
Client Services offers free assistance to individuals who are visually impaired or legally blind, according to the State of Texas definition. This division provides rehabilitation, education, training, and employment services (NAICS Code: 322291, Sanitary Paper Products Manufacturing). The 8,000-square-foot facility includes an independent living training apartment, two fully equipped computer training classrooms, a flex classroom, a low vision store, and a multi-use community room.
Horizon Industries is one of the largest converters of industrial wiping towels and paracord for the United States Government. From a 92,000-square-foot facility located in downtown Tyler, Texas, Horizon shipped over 24,000 miles of parachute cord and 4.1 million pounds of industrial wiping towels to their customers in 2014. Horizon Industries is the largest employer of people with visual impairments in East Texas.
ETLB has always had safety on its mind. ETLB knew there were issues with their facilities and documentation but were not sure what they needed to improve. Fortunately, they discovered the Texas Occupational Safety and Health Consultation (OSHCON) Program and what it provided to employers – free on-site consultation services to private employers through the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Worker’s Compensation. OSHCON resources available to small business employers include, but are not limited to, training; program, policy, and procedure reviews; and on-site consultation visits.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA), On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential safety and occupational health advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country and in several territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing injury and illness prevention programs.
In 2002, during the initial on-site walkthrough of the facilities, the OSHCON consultant identified a variety of hazards and shortcomings in the workplace safety and health programs, procedures, and policies. As the years progressed, ETLB continued to use the OSHCON Program, working with numerous consultants. They learned to recognize hazards and implement cost-effective abatements. Their safety and health programs, policies, and procedures improved to meet national standards. This, in turn, has helped to reduce the number of worker injuries, and ETLB facilities have become a safer workplace.
Working with the OSHCON program for 14 years has resulted in a reduction in injuries and hazards, has improved the safety and health documentation, and improved the overall safety and health programs. Since beginning to pursue the SHARP certification in 2014, the injuries and hazards at ETLB have dramatically decreased. As a result of OSHCON’s continued guidance, the last reportable injury was sustained in 2014. With the slogan, “S.A.F.E.T.Y, Stop Accidents From Ever Taking Place, Yes we can,” ETLB continues to provide a safe and healthy workplace for all of its employees and visitors.
In 2016, ETLB was nominated and approved for the OSHA Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) certification and also awarded the Lone Star Safety Program Award from the State of Texas. SHARP recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA On-site Consultation Services and operate an exemplary injury and illness prevention program. Both of these awards recognize employers for their exemplary safety programs, their teamwork throughout the facilities, and work-related injuries and illnesses rates below national average in their industry. The awards and banners were presented to ETLB by the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.
Mitch Erwin, HR/Safety Administrator, East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind
Barbara Fox, Texas OSHCON Outreach Program Specialist
Darrell Lofton, Texas Team Manager