It's no stretch to believe this: Workers warm up daily to keep safe

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LEWISBERG, Ore. — It’s 10 minutes till 7 on a Tuesday morning, and the employees of Greenberry Fabrication are getting ready for work. But before they fire up their welding torches or start cutting sheet metal, they have to do their warm-up exercises.

With no prompting required, four dozen beefy dudes in orange vests and safety glasses launch into a five-minute stretching routine that would not look out of place in a ballet studio. They hold each pose for about 30 seconds before moving on to the next, systematically working the kinks out of shoulders, legs and backs.

“We call it our stretch and flex,” explains Larry Hyland, the company’s site safety manager, as the workers go through their morning ritual at Greenberry’s Lewisburg shops. “We’ve got a series of stretches we got from various occupational medicine groups, just to help limber ’em up.”

Does it really help prevent injuries? Hyland is convinced.

“I firmly believe it reduces the number of small strains and sprains people incur during their work,” he said. “I just don’t get reports of a lot of minor aches or ‘I tweaked my back.’ I just don’t hear about those.”

Greenberry Fabrication is a division of Greenberry Industrial, a full-line industrial general contracting firm that was founded in Corvallis in 1974 and is now based in Vancouver, Wash. The daily stretching sessions are a key part of a companywide safety program that recently earned Greenberry Industrial a national award from the Associated General Contractors of America.

The morning flex and stretch is followed by a “tailgate meeting” to go over potential safety issues associated with the day’s tasks. Comments and questions are encouraged from everyone on the crew.

Workers also get a trifold job-safety analysis checklist that’s supposed to be filled out each day. It’s known as a RADAR card, with the acronym spelled out on the front:

Recognize the risk.

Assess the situation.

Develop a plan.

Act safely.

Report on progress.

There’s a three-step procedure for identifying each task associated with the job, any potential hazards and safe work practices for addressing those issues.

Every Friday, Greenberry managers hold a companywide conference call to discuss safety issues. All top brass sit in, including CEO Jason Pond. He also takes part in the safety trainings his employees get.

“It’s top-down,” said Greg Goracke, president of Greenberry’s construction division. “It’s a proactive culture, not a reactive culture.”

The comprehensive focus on safety is a big selling point in the industrial construction and fabrication business, where a contractor’s track record can affect worker’s compensation insurance rates on large-scale projects, Goracke said.

It also helps build employee loyalty in a trade where on-the-job accidents can have devastating consequences. Goracke said Pond and other top managers are constantly reminding their employees to look out for themselves and their co-workers.

“Everybody’s got someone to go home to at night,” he noted.

The preoccupation with safety permeates every aspect of Greenberry’s operations. Want proof? Check out the parking lot at the Lewisburg shops, where employee vehicles — every single one of them — are backed into their slots because that reduces the chances of a fender-bender when pulling out.

And the payoff is more than just awards. The company has logged more than 4 million work hours without a lost-time accident.

At the Lewisburg location, that translates into more than 3,250 injury-free days, a fact that is flashed in red LED bulbs on a reader board mounted on the side of building.

“I wouldn’t call it a competition, but it is a point of pride,” Goracke said of the company’s safety record. “It’s become a culture now. I think that’s the whole thing.”

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