Fairbanks Community Food Bank Stays OSHA SHARP While Reducing Hunger

Company: Fairbanks Community Food Bank Services, Inc.

Location: Fairbanks, Alaska

Employees: 17

NAICS Code: 624210, Community Food Services
Philip Weaver and Anne Weaver in the food bank warehouse
Philip Weaver and Anne Weaver in the food bank warehouse

In addition to collecting food from the local community and commercial vendors and distributing it through established programs to various organizations, the Fairbanks Community Food Bank (FCFB) provides emergency food to individuals and families in critical need and offers assistance in disaster situations.

In 1982, a small group of local Fairbanks people decided that it made no sense to have surplus community food and hungry people. To address this problem, they organized a few churches and began the process of collecting food from the local commercial vendors and distributing it through various sites in the area. The first year, 12,000 pounds of food were collected. Today, the FCFB collects and distributes over two million pounds of local surplus food annually. Volunteers still primarily do the work (nearly 17,000 hours last year).

In 2003, a similar business had to resolve an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Enforcement complaint that could have resulted in large fines. This complaint prompted the FCFB Director, Samantha Kirstein, to reconsider fear of OSHA and look for solutions. To get advice on how to make their workplace safer, the FCFB contacted the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Occupational Safety and Health Section (AKOSH), Consultation and Training Section, and requested a comprehensive visit.

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, such as AKOSH, or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs.

The first FCFB On-Site Consultation visit occurred in 2005. Identified hazards were corrected, and their initial OSHA (SHARP) approval was earned the same year. The company has consistently participated in SHARP throughout the years. recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA On-Site Consultation Program services and operate an exemplary safety and health program. Acceptance into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles a company out among its business peers as a model for worksite safety and health.

An ever-strengthening culture of safety has developed in the last 15 years of involvement with AKOSH and OSHA SHARP. This collaboration has proved especially beneficial in the following areas:

  • Staff used to be afraid of an OSHA visit and did not have an effective means of learning about safety requirements. This situation changed once the FCFB staff developed a relationship with the AKOSH consultants and used the consultant's expertise to inform decisions on what to include in safety plans. The new expertise now informs people's views on how to approach safety issues.
  • Forklift operators were volunteers who brought previous forklift training to the workplace from outside sources. This created different ideas of what was "safe," and there was no consistency. Since working with AKOSH and SHARP, the forklift operators have developed more consistent safety behavior and consistent standards for safe operations.

The Fairbanks Community Food Bank is excited to be involved with SHARP. Not only do we have staff, but we also have 1800 volunteers and thousands of donors come through this building every year. By having a clear set of goals and objectives through SHARP, our staff is able to be constantly vigilant and focused on keeping our workers safe. We do not want to be moderately safe; we want everyone to go home in better shape than when we arrive. OSHA's SHARP helps us achieve our goal.

~ Anne Weaver, Fairbanks Community Food Bank CEO

Fairbanks Community Food Bank has always had a very low recordable injury and illness incident rate. With AKOSH consultant's assistance, the company has improved their incident analysis to look for root causes and prevent future incidents. SHARP companies must have injury and illness rates below the national average. In addition from 2015-2017, their Total Recordable Case Rate (TRC) averaged 0.0. Days Away, Restricted, and/or Transfer Rate (DART) also averaged 0.0. For this NAICS code, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the industry average TRC rate was 4.2, and the average DART rate was 2.8 for this period. [NOTE: 2016 is the most recent year national averages are available.]

Change is always difficult, and this one is no different. Challenges included changing old mindsets about safety. These safety improvements first required a cognitive change that was partly accomplished by changing the words used to talk about safety and by considering the reasons to be safe. Examples of this approach include "there is no time to be injured," and "it's important that all staff go home safe." These subtle differences in how safety is discussed created a mindset that made it unacceptable to be unsafe.

Re-focusing the incentive program on rewarding safe behaviors and identifying and surfacing hazards also contributed to changing the safety culture. The company now uses "Safety Bucks." This system rewards employees for recognizing and reporting safety issues, and this incentive translates to cash in pocket for the employee. As a result, staff are very open and willing to raise any safety concerns with management without any fear of repercussion.

Working with the On-Site Consultation Program has had another important impact on the FCFB. "We have a much better view of OSHA, less fear, and more confidence in safety plans that keep employees from getting hurt," said Weaver.

To locate the OSHA On-Site Consultation program nearest you, call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or visit www.osha.gov/consultation.

Source: Scott Damerow, AKOSH VPP Coordinator
Kelly Carothers, AKOSH SHARP Coordinator