Safety last 

Few local companies sign up to get SHARP

Just three companies in El Paso County are among the 28 across Colorado emphasizing safety to the point that they can claim fewer of their workers are killed, maimed or become sick on the job as compared to the national average.

The rest of the roughly 142,000 workplaces across the state cannot provide such an assurance, says Del Sandfort, who runs a federally funded program that certifies the state's safest companies.

Sandfort says because of perceived higher costs of doing business, few companies actually sign up for the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, or SHARP.

"A lot of companies just aren't interested in improving," he said. "Frankly, it's quite a bit of work."

Companies that participate must maintain injury and illness rates below the national averages for their industries. They also must subject themselves to rigorous hazard analyses, correcting any problems identified by Sandfort's team, all while maintaining a consistent safety plan.

The program is overseen by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which inspects the workplaces for safety violations.

Yet a recent Independent investigation of OSHA, as detailed in the April 28 issue, found that federal inspectors don't regularly inspect all the state's work sites. Last year, for example, OSHA's 26 Colorado inspectors visited 1,455 of the state's 142,000 sites, meaning each inspector averaged about one site visit per week.

And, according to the Independent's analysis of citations between 1999 and 2004, OSHA inspectors issued serious, willful or repeat violations to El Paso County companies in more than 62 percent of those visits.

Such violations mean that hazards with the potential to kill someone often existed.

At 13 companies in the past five years, federal inspectors identified 16 or more critical problems in a single visit.

Among them was the Harloff Company Inc., a utility cart manufacturer in Colorado Springs that was cited in 2000 for 24 serious violations in a single visit.

After being hit with fines, the company contacted Sandfort. It now represents the rare case in which an unsafe company dramatically alters its ways, Sandfort says.

"We have really worked to change our focus," said Eric Jackson, Harloff's inventory systems manager. "We now take into account the welfare of our employees. We find that is important to our continued success."

Harloff workers are not in a union -- a factor that labor advocates say can lead to less safe workplaces. But the company has created an employee safety committee, where workers can identify hazards without fear of repercussion from management, Jackson says.

Harloff also has saved money since becoming safer.

The company has seen its worker's compensation insurance decline by 40 percent in the last two years, Jackson says.

Two other El Paso County companies, Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care and Qualtek Manufacturing Inc., both in Colorado Springs, also are certified as SHARP.

-- Michael de Yoanna


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