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It Runs in the Family: A Paradigm Shift in the Approach to Emerging Safety Professionals

  • Publish Date: Posted almost 2 years ago

​​Paradigm Industries, located in Vernon, California – an All-American manufacturing shop specializing in wet garments. 

But what defines All-American in this sense? Is it the quality of the dye house or reference to the ability of the workforce? In this case, it is both. As we walk through the facility and its 45 employees, we keep in mind how we can engage and encourage others to join the safety profession. The walkthrough consists of a dye lab, sample room, and dye house itself.

Entering the 80k square foot facility, we notice a vacancy: a former tenant. Having just moved in, the former tenant left equally as quickly with the onset of Coronavirus. Unlike the previous tenant, Paradigm has been able to adapt creating masks to offset the virus; they have assisted in the permitting for a customer to manufacture nearly 1 million masks since the beginning of this production marking a true Paradigm shift in the industry. What sets them apart: a team of aware production managers alert to safety and environmental regulations. While many of the team leads are well-versed in safety protocol, nobody holds an official safety title. Why is that? Once again, we beg the question: with safety professionals being so necessary, why isn’t the safety career path more well-known? Adaptability is the first lesson we learn from Paradigm as they were able to navigate a global pandemic responding to COVID-19 proactively.

With a Korean owner and primarily Hispanic workforce, one could imagine safety gets lost in translation, but not at this plant. SDS’s in Spanish and English are readily available, as well as signage throughout the factory promoting an “All-American” approach to safety. They have regular inspections by third party auditors from their insurance company and even get ahead of the curve inviting OSHA in for inspections ahead of audits demonstrating a proactive safety culture rather than reactionary. In fact, certain, larger customers such as Vans and Vanity Fair who pride themselves on their progressive reputation conduct independent audits demonstrating that Paradigm, in fact, makes the cut. All too often we look at lagging indicators to highlight safety performance while more leading indicators can be utilized to establish a true culture that values safety and is more proactive in doing so. Finding the root cause of a near miss can be just as valuable (and more responsive) as analyzing an incident post-accident considering this is the ultimate end goal in safety: to return everyone home safely. Although, to touch on lagging indicators, they have only had one accident in the past four years.

As we enter the dye laboratory, we walkthrough one of the only closed environments in the facility. There are three types of colors: pigments, reactive, and direct dyes. With the correct weight per sample being measured out, all sorts of colors from solids to tie-dyes (very vogue during COVID) can be created. Obviously, this lends to chemical hazards as hydrogen peroxide, soda ash, salt, acids and enzymes are all necessary to allow fabrics to absorb pigment. To combat these hazards, proper PPE from masks to gloves are utilized when handling the dyes. AQMD reporting and material SDS’s are kept in line by Jaime XXX who also conducts the safety trainings in English and Spanish to ensure the workforce is fully educated and understands the reasons why such procedures are in place; this is the key. Some safety programs in place include: PPE, chemical trainings, EAP, forklift, machine guarding, LOTO, workers compensation, ergonomics, and employee incentive programs. This less punitive approach to safety caught my eye as we trend away from the safety police towards a more holistic approach. They hold a three-strike warning policy to verbally explain the issue at hand before implementing any punishment. Of course, repeat offenders do eventually face disciplinary action, but that is not before safety protocols are explained in detail.

The Sample Room offers its own host of EHS concerns as they conduct steam injection into cotton, polyester, and denim. Clearly a LOTO program is in place for these large, pressurized Tonello machines, but they also combat environmental issues using 5 clarifiers to enact their wastewater treatment program to ensure proper pH and solid levels are emitted. Once again, chemicals like potassium permanganate are present throughout the process truly proving the importance of the bilingual SDS logs.

The dye house is large (40k square feet) and all work is done manually aside from the loading and unloading of product which is completed with forklifts. Thus, it is critical to keep tabs on the employees throughout each department. With five team leads, the operations and management teams bridge the gap between production and safety. Letty, Julio, Serafin, Jimmy, and Jaime oversee the forty-five internal stakeholders engaging at all levels and maintaining the bottom line. They perform quarterly trainings in all relevant languages to maintain OSHA compliance and a happy, safe workforce. Breaking the safety responsibilities into departments allows them to focus on circa 10 people at a time giving them proper oversight.

With so many trained in safety, why is there no official safety figure rather than champions and liaisons? In this case, I turn to Sales Representative Evenor Giannavola whose family, Nicaraguan and Italian, has been in the garment industry since 1948. Affordability was the primary reason that Paradigm was not interested in a fulltime safety professional. With a low incident rate and qualified staff, who could blame the management team for not wanting to spend “unnecessarily”? As safety professionals, how do we change that stigma, how do we prove to be “essential”?

Prior to the creation of OSHA in 1971, safety was an afterthought, yet now it is more prominent- especially as industries such as industrial hygiene begin to flourish. Another facet of this culture change, is how encourage others go down this path? Often OSHA is seen as a regulatory agency, only called when there is a complaint – which can be deadly in this industry for all parties involved. For Evenor, it starts with how you approach people. Treat people like people who have families to return to just as yours. This sounds obvious, but a more nurturing approach can be the difference between repeat offenders and active safety champions. The more educated the employees are, the safer the scenario -which lends us to the next point. Education and awareness of the safety profession are not up to par. For many, a career in occupational health and safety never occurs to them. There are only two options presented: either go to school or work manually. Why can there not be both (porque no los dos)? To address this, the community as a whole should be able to raise awareness as it affects so many of us; we all wear these garments, but wouldn’t it feel much better if you knew they were produced safely and locally? Certification programs can be encouraged for those such as Jaime who already conduct safety duties. But, what about addressing safety as a career rather than an aside? Apprenticeships and internships are great options for moving your safety career forward or just getting your foot in the door of a new industry. Starting at the root, community colleges can post more courses in the local job boards and reach out to high school students who have not quite found their niche as another option for a degree or technical certification. OSH is an altruistic profession at heart, and I believe many would be interested if they knew it was a legitimate option.

Fortunately, there are safety groups such as the American Society of Safety Professionals furthering the cause. Furthermore, within ASSP there are special interest groups such as the Hispanic Safety Professionals that foster emerging professionals and forge mentorships for those within the industry and community; with Diversity and Inclusion on the forefront of many hiring topics, this could be an essential time to start the occupation or pivot your own career. Putting on workshops (or webinars in this day and age) are key components of building a strong safety culture, reaching out to professionals, and continually improving these professionals. Becoming more involved, is the key to establishing and maintaining safer communities and holding employers accountable at a family level. So, reach out, tell a friend, and as always, “See something, say something”. Pass safety along and develop your own All-American safety team!