At the Corporate Innovation Center of North America's leading producer and distributor of gypsum wallboard, USG Corporation researchers routinely erect stud walls and set them on fire.
Testing is part of the science and technology-based formula USG uses to find building solutions in a global construction marketplace. None of the testing takes place without careful consideration of safety.
"Safety is one of our core values and is part of everything that we do at USG," said Dr. Srinivas Veeramasuneni, vice president at USG's CIC location in Libertyville, IL. "When our employees come to work, we want to make sure they go home in the same way that they came in that day. We believe safety is the responsibility of every employee. That's our culture."
In the early 1900s, United States Gypsum was born out of a melding of mining plants. Soon after, a sales representative suggested "SHEETROCK" as the brand name for its gypsum wall covering and the company's core values began to take shape, including a commitment to safety.
Today, USG engages employees in safety activities and measures its safety record by tracking incident reports and sharing data on in-house networks. Numbers tell part of USG's success story:
- 12 of USG's 34 U.S. manufacturing locations have qualified for "Star" status through OHSA Voluntary Protection Programs
- USG's lost-time injury rate is 17 times better than industry average
- As of September 2016, USG facilities have accumulated 197,911 days without recording a single lost work day incident, a span covering more than 105 million employee work hours
People tell the rest of the story. Consensus is that the "S" in the middle of USG easily could stand for safety.
In October 2016, the National Safety Council recognized USG with the Robert W. Campbell Award. NSC presents the award annually to organizations that have integrated environmental health and safety into their business operation.
"It's a great honor," said Veeramasuneni. "This is recognition of what the people and this company have done, not just today or in the last year, but for what USG has been doing all along."
In a state-of-the-art workplace stocked with chemicals and machine tools, it is worth noting the last time USG experienced a lost workday injury at its research facility was June 28, 2006.
"I'm one of the newer talents here," said Nick McCartney, an engineer and member of USG's safety committee at CIC. "I've been here for about three years now. I think our longest team member is at 46 years at this point, going on 47.
"And the reason something like that comes together is not so much that the people are friendly, but the culture here is safe. The mantra we have here at CIC is that no job is too important not to be done safely."
In 2013, USG implemented a safety incentive program at its research facility giving employees the opportunity to earn credits for participating in safety activities and receive cash or prizes for reaching milestones.
CIC Director of Innovation Services Joe Chambers says the trick is getting everyone involved, from top down, in monthly safety meetings, reporting potential hazards and quarterly facility inspections.
During the first nine months of 2016, USG's CIC human resources staff members tracked 444 safety action items involving employees. The list ranged from first aid to the development of new visual work instruction manuals. Facility inspections have led to better housekeeping practices.
"The before-and-after pictures are very telling," Chambers said.
At his first orientation in 1985, he learned USG's old core values.
"It was safety, quality and cost," Chambers said. "Three core values."
Now, he said USG strives to develop products that improve the spaces where people live, work and play, adhering to the company's seven core values: safety, innovation, integrity, service, diversity, efficiency and quality.
"Safety was No. 1," Chambers said. "That has not changed."