ESCO Manufacturing Inc. Works with the South Dakota State University, On-Site Consultation Program, and Earns Recognition as an OSHA SHARP Participant

Company: Esco Manufacturing, Inc.

Location: Watertown, South Dakota

Employees: 110

NAICS Code: 339950, Sign Manufacturing
Mark Stein (Owner) and Laurie Gates (Administrative Manager/Safety Director)
Mark Stein (Owner) and Laurie Gates (Administrative Manager/Safety Director)

ESCO Manufacturing, Inc., is an industry leader in illuminated signage, constructing quality signs for retail and custom sign companies nationwide. Their diverse product offering serves three markets: commercial, schools and churches, and outdoor advertising. Products range from one-of-a-kind specialties to an entire production run of signs. ESCO Manufacturing uses channel letters with light-emitting diode (LED) or neon illumination; aluminum and steel custom shaped cabinets; flex, poly, aluminum or routed faces, any of which can be decorated with digital prints, vinyl, or spray.

ESCO Manufacturing heard about the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program through another employer in Watertown that had a positive experience with their consultants' services. The company reached out to OSHA On-Site Consultation Program in an effort to improve their workplace safety and health program. Since 2004, ESCO Manufacturing has been a client of the South Dakota State University, On-Site Consultation Program. They first contacted the consultation program for an initial site visit and safety assessment, and the company has been a repeat customer.

The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small- and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. 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, such as South Dakota State University, work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs.

During the full-service, comprehensive safety and health visits in 2016 and 2017, minor hazards were identified and immediately corrected in the presence of the consultant. Immediate correction of hazards included disposal of worn electrical cords and removal of debris from electrical panel rooms.

A tracking method was used to monitor long-term corrections of more complex hazards until the abatements were completed. For example, a potential hazard was identified around the opening of the vacuum former. After discussing this concern with the consultants, guards were added, and signage, restricting employees' access to the hazard, was prominently displayed. Another potential hazard was identified in the neon room. With the consultant's guidance, a light curtain was added to ESCO Manufacturing's neon bending room. This curtain shuts off power to the testing table if employees enter that area while testing is being performed.

After working with the consultants, a number of business practices were changed. "In addition to our monthly company-wide safety meetings," said Laurie Gates, ESCO Administrative Manager and Safety Director, "we have increased the focus of our monthly safety committee meetings. We implemented an accident investigation process to be used on all first reports and near misses. We also conduct monthly safety training and safety inspections."

"By working with the OSHA On-Site Consultation Program, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of injuries," Gates continued. We have also seen a significant decrease in our Workers Compensation costs. Our days without a lost time accident is close to 1000 days, which is a drastic improvement from a few years ago." ESCO Manufacturing's experience modifier rate dropped from 0.80 in 2015 to 0.67 in 2018; value of worker's compensation claims went from $9,088 in 2015 to zero in 2018; and worker's compensation premiums were lowered from $48,516 in 2015 to $28,658 in 2018. "We have grown," said Gates, "and our payroll increased over this period. The savings is actually understated because worker compensation is a calculation that includes payroll figures. If payroll stayed the same, the saving would have been even more dramatic."

The company is over 50 years old. Several employees simply were comfortable with well-honed work processes. Initially, getting everyone on the same page with changes to the safety program proved challenging, but over time – through monthly training, ongoing communication, audits, and employee involvement – a safety culture emerged.

After the full-service, comprehensive safety and health visits in 2016 and 2017, ESCO Manufacturing decided to apply to participate in the OSHA Safety and Health Recognition Program (SHARP). This program recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA On-Site Consultation Program services and operate exemplary safety and health programs. Acceptance of a worksite into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles ESCO Manufacturing out among its business peers as a model for worksite safety and health.

"Earning the OSHA SHARP award and flag has helped raise awareness within the company of the need to work safely and to follow safety procedures," said Mark Stein, owner. "This program has highlighted areas where we need to improve, and it reinforced some of the workplace safety and health policies and procedures we already had in place. Working for SHARP was a goal that everyone in the company stood behind, helped make happen, and will work to sustain."

"The On-Site Consultation Program has had a huge impact on our company," Stein continued. "The program helped us implement programs and procedures in place to make our facilities safer. We have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of injuries that we have on-site. Working safely and wearing personal protective equipment are now a part of our culture. We also include information about our safety record and SHARP certification in our interviewing and new hire on-boarding processes. We have found that most applicants look favorably upon a prospective employer that has a strong safety record."

To locate the OSHA On-Site Consultation program nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit