The New Guard: PalletOne Completes Machine Guard Initiative

A massive change has swept across all 15 PalletOne plants in the last year as part of a campaign shepherded by a team that reaches every branch of the PalletOne family.

5,024 hand-machined guards, 6,029 feet of safety fencing, and more than 50 safety mechanisms like light curtains are the lasting markers of a sweeping movement with one end goal: better protecting PalletOne employees.

Chief Operations Officer Matt Sheffield and PalletOne’s regional managers across the country decided to set an audacious goal of upgrading the safety at every plant to an A+ level in one year.

They used the UFP Industries Machine Guarding Manual as a guide: over a hundred pages of specific guidelines for protecting employees while they work with the machinery that keeps PalletOne humming.

Before and after of a guarded machine

“Our new favorite color is safety yellow.” – David Pierson

To accomplish this feat, PalletOne developed a vein of collaboration that crossed from plant to plant, region to region, and beyond. 

“What we’ve done across our company is an amazing thing,” said Mike Miller, PalletOne’s Safety Director. “We would always talk about our people going to other facilities and working with them, and we’ve accomplished that. We’ve had crews from across the United States going to help other plants.”

Sharing insights and employees allowed new talents to shine. One Bartow team member had such a knack for machining guards that he was sent to 8 different plants to assist them in their efforts.

President Howe Wallace loved the teamwork project brought out at PalletOne, “We are at our very best when we share resources and talents across our plants. It is so easy to feel like you have to go it alone. This effort reminded us all that we are stronger and more able to accomplish great things when we think outside the walls of the plant where we work.”

​​​​​​​“We always said ‘safety first, and I think we all thought that we believed it and that we were doing all we could, but after the last year, we’re not saying it, we’re living it. Our first focus every day is keeping people safe. It will make a big difference in the quality of work life.”
– Mike Miller

The first hurdle was immediately apparent: there was no one-size-fits-all solution that would suit every machine at every plant. The guidebook explained the what, but it was up to the team to figure out and accomplish the how. 

“Not every guard was a success on the first attempt,” said David Pierson, manager at the Bartow plant, “We worked with the operators of each machine to make sure we kept them safe and let them do their work.”

Clayton Tate, who helped execute the plan at the Bartow plant, offered this example, “every guard needs to be on a hinge so that we can get to the machine for repairs. The operators helped us decide which way those doors needed to swing to give them the best access.”

Safety gate before and after

“I’ve never seen our company come together on something like this: management to maintenance, safety committees to department leads, in every location. It is an incredible effort.”
– Matt Sheffield

“Everybody deserves a lot of credit. But, I’ll tell you, our maintenance team has gone above and beyond, and they deserve the recognition.” said Miller, “If you have a strong maintenance culture, you’ll have a strong safety culture. They go hand-in-hand.”

The effort was monumental and is already paying off in the form of a safer workplace, but Sheffield was equally impressed with the planning and execution.

“We didn’t miss a single load of pallets during this process. It’s a big deal to go to a plant and say, ‘We’ve got 32 guards to install, and we’ve got to stop this machine for two days to do it.’ but our guys would pre-plan to make sure that the downtime was covered.”

Every plant joined together this week to toast their accomplishment and honor the hard work put into seeing this initiative through to the end.

But the celebration isn’t the last step, “The momentum from this is so big, I’m never going to let this stop. The guarding project may be done, but I’m already looking ahead to the next projects that will keep our team working together,” said Sheffield, “It will mean even more to me if you write a follow-up in three years and we’re still on the same path. It will mean more to me than what we accomplished in the last year. It will mean we did something.”

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