3M Triangle of Prevention Site in Alabama Wins 2017 Glenn Erwin Award

More than 14 years ago the 3M plant in Guin, Ala., nearly closed because of a poor safety record. Today, Local 9-675 and the facility received the 2017 Glenn Erwin Award for completing an investigation that resulted in significant improvement.

Local 9-675 TOP Coordinator Milton Simmons was showing a Chemical Safety Board (CSB) video during a TOP hazard awareness refresher training when a local union member pointed out that the hazard shown in the video was present in their plant.

The CSB video showed the July 17, 2007 explosions and fire at the Barton Solvents distribution facility in Valley Center, Kan.

This prompted the filing of a near miss and a TOP investigation, followed by corrective action.

The chemical tank farm had a float system, where the floats—used to determine the level of liquid inside the tank—were on swivels connected to cables that ran through the top of the tanks. The tanks were bonded and grounded to prevent static electricity from igniting the tank mixture. But the investigation after the catastrophe revealed the float mechanism was not grounded, and there was potential for static shock.

The tanks were being filled with nonconductive flammable liquid, and a static spark resulted from a loosely-linked, level-measuring float within one of the tanks. The spark ignited the air-vapor mixture inside the tank as it was being filled. The first tank exploded, resulting in a chain reaction.

The 3M facility was using the same float system, posing a serious hazard. The TOP investigation team, composed of trained workers and staff, conducted a near miss investigation. The plant followed the CSB recommendation to bond the float to the cable and emptied the tanks to make the correction to this design and engineering system of safety failure.

Systems of Safety at Work

Simmons said the TOP representative before him, Calvin Bozeman, kept excellent records of the site’s near misses, incidents, investigations and action items. Since July 2003, employees and managers have turned in 4,876 near misses.  Completed action items number 6,497.

“That number of actions is higher because through investigations you find multiple root causes, so you see multiple items that need to be redesigned, mitigated or fixed,” Simmons said.

“Looking across all those years, we average 34.88 near miss reports turned in during a month. That is more than 10 percent of our employee population. We have just a little over 300 employees now,” he added.

Simmons said there is one maintenance worker on the joint health and safety committee who talks to people on the shop floor to ask them if they have safety and health issues they want to discuss with the committee. People submit near miss reports to this worker, and it adds up. Last month there were 74 incidents and near misses, and this worker turned in over 50 of them, Simmons said.

“Our safety culture is throughout our site and goes from the shop floor to the manager’s door.  Even managers—including our plant manager—will turn in near misses because they know TOP works and that what is turned in will get fixed,” Simmons said.

He said the Local 9-675 members and management are excited about winning the 2017 Glenn Erwin Award. The award is hanging up in the union hall, but he plans to make a color copy, frame it and present it to management.

Local 9-675 and 3M have participated in the Triangle of Prevention (TOP) program since mid-2003.

Led by unions and their members, TOP focuses on incident prevention through application of the systems of safety; incident investigation, measurement and tracking of near misses and incidents; and recommendations and follow-through. The seven systems of safety are design and engineering, mitigation devices, maintenance and inspection, warning devices, training, procedures, and personal protective equipment.

The USW’s Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC) administers the program, provides TOP training and creates the training materials. Glenn Erwin helped create the program and was the TOP program coordinator until he retired in 2012.


Local Union 9-675 at the 3M plant in Guin, Ala., accepts the 2017 Glenn Erwin Award. (L-R) Mike Harris, shop union representative in 3M’s Additives and Materials Department; John Scardella, program administrator for the Tony Mazzocchi Center, and Milton Simmons, LU 9-675 TOP representative for the 3M site. Photo by Mike Hancock, LU 9-562 retiree.

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