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Making NGK Spark Plugs a SHARP Workplace


NGK Spark Plugs (USA), Inc. (NGK) of Sissonville, West Virginia, is a spark plug and oxygen sensor manufacturing facility. The company designs and sells spark plugs, oxygen sensors, and other related products to various automotive manufacturers worldwide to include customers, such as Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, and Honda. In addition to the Sissonville, West Virginia, location, NGK has distribution facilities in Irvine, California, and Chicago, Illinois.

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In 1994, the company started to increase its customer base and in turn its production demand. When NGK anticipated the need to hire additional personnel, the management team recognized the importance of having a robust safety and health program.  NGK first heard about the services provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a member of its management team shared their experiences with OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program through a previous employer in Kentucky. From there, NGK contacted the West Virginia Division of Labor (WVDOL) Safety Section, to request an occupational safety hazard assessment of their campus.

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.

NGK saw OSHA’s initial assessment as the foundation for the development of its training programs and operational controls.  During the consultation visits to NGK, the consultants discovered that a majority of NGK equipment arrived from Japan without machine guards. Subsequent consultation visits combined with NGK’s growth led to the company focusing on details of various workplace safety procedures, drills, safety committee, ergonomic corrections, incident reporting/investigations, and suggestion boxes. From 1995 to 2010, WVDOL consultants continued to assist NGK with identification and correction of hazards, such as hazard communication and deficiencies in hearing conservation programs.

In addition to identifying and assisting NGK with fixing hazards, WVDOL consultants encouraged NGK to take its safety and health program to the next level and establish an effective safety management system.  The most impactful change involved machine guarding. The consultants informed NGK that guards need to be installed to prevent injuries. To their credit, NGK notified the Japanese engineering team – the team took the suggestion to heart and made the guards a standard for all machines globally. The results of this initiative were a better safety and health culture and greater employee and management involvement and commitment. 

Larry Carpenter, NGK Safety Administrator, made the following statement regarding West Virginia’s OSHA Consultation Program:

“Participation in the On-site Consultation Program has challenged our personnel to strive for perfection. Although accidents, injuries, and near misses continue to occur, we have witnessed a vast reduction in severity by raising everyone’s safety awareness, investigating to determine root causes, implementing appropriate counter-measures, and conducting training.  As a result, our facility continues to operate below industry standard for total recordable case and days away, restriction, and transfer rates, making NGK a safe establishment for their employees, contractors, and visitors. WVDOL has helped our facility tremendously by establishing the foundation for the development of a comprehensive safety and health program that dates back to the startup of operations in West Virginia. NGK appreciates the guidance that has been provided by the WVDOL over the years and recommend the services to other companies that are seeking solutions to improve their safety performance.” 

NGK first qualified for OSHA's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) in 2010. The company has continued its participation in this program. In 2016, the company earned its most recent SHARP renewal. The impact of NGK’s SHARP participation was demonstrated by the reduction in their injury and illness rates. In 2013, NGK Spark Plugs’ Total Recordable Case (TRC) rate was 0.82, and their Days Away from Work, Job Restriction or Transfer (DART) rate was 0.82.  In comparison, BLS reports the national average for their industry in 2013 was 3.20 (TRC) and 1.90 (DART). In 2014, their TRC was 1.21, and their DART was 1.01. In comparison, BLS reports the national average for their industry in 2014 was 3.50 (TRC) and 1.90 (DART). In 2015, their TRC was 1.51, and their DART was 1.32. In comparison, BLS reports the national average for their industry in 2015 was 3.50 (TRC) and 2.10 (DART).

SHARP recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA On-site Consultation Services, and operate an exemplary injury and illness prevention program. Acceptance of worksites into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that distinguishes a company amongst its business peers as a model for workplace safety and health.

Additional information about OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program and other small business resources is available at www.osha.gov or 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).

Source: Larry Carpenter, Safety Administrator, NGK Spark Plugs Inc.

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