Safety In and Around the Powder Coating Line

While safety in the powder coating job shop has improved dramatically in recent years, accidents, injuries and work stoppages still occur today. For a better understanding of safety in and around the powder coating line, we asked a Certified Safety Professional to share with us his approach to safety...


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The manufacturers of powder coating equipment have done a great job of improving function and safety over recent years. The same can be said of the people who make the powder coating materials and also the chemicals used in pretreatment processes.

However, too many lost-time injuries and work stoppages still occur because of accidents or equipment malfunctions around powder coating lines today. These include burn injuries due to line fires or contact with hot ovens or production parts. There are also back injuries, the result of lifting heavy parts for loading or repositioning or just handling too much weight during a work shift. There are lift truck accidents, perhaps a consequence of fatigue or poor traffic flow conditions. The list can go on and on.

Frequent safety incidents not only cause injuries and lost time but they also have a negative effect on morale, quality and production. However, these incidents can be viewed as indications that there are opportunities for improvement hiding in the wings waiting to be discovered. While a full-blown safety awareness program complete with a director, safety contests and posters plastered around the powder coating area might be overkill, there are a number of ways in which managers and line supervisors can improve safety in and around their powder coating lines.

In that vein, Products Finishing spoke with Ross Skaggs, corporate safety manager at MetoKote Corporation to learn about his approach to the issue of safety around powder coating lines. Skaggs is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) with 18 years of safety management experience in the refining industry—where safety is extremely critical—and seven years in the coating services industry. The scope of his safety management includes 31 MetoKote facilities with a total of 42 powder coating lines. In addition to the powder coating operations, Skaggs also oversees safety for 50 electrocoating lines and 14 wet paint lines operated by MetoKote. The factors used to measure the overall safety program at MetoKote have steadily improved throughout the last decade. He agreed to share his thoughts about what makes a safe powder coating operation with us.

The Safety Excellence Continuum
STAGE I: THE S.W.A.M.P. (Safety Without Any Management Process)
Hansen lists several characteristics of a company operating in this mode of safety awareness or we might say safety unawareness. It is basically the old-fashioned autocratic management style where safety is a burden and is not considered as part of the management process. This approach often leads to many problems in today's modern business environment. When those problems reach a crisis level the senior management often declares: "We need a safety program!" If this is the stage you think your program is in, then beware. This situation often moves into Stage II the "N.O.R.M."
STAGE II: THE N.O.R.M. (Naturally Occurring Reactive Management)

Hansen points out that because the decision to act was driven by cost and ignorance rather than an understanding of real causes, the NORM is typically christened with the "kiss of death"—the hiring of a Safety Director. This move is saying that management believes people are the problem, hence the natural answer is to hire someone to "fix them."

The tendency is to implement safety programs based on what others have done. This might include setting up committees, rules, training and enforcing progressive disciplinary policies. Activities often focus on inspecting out hazards and observing and disciplining out unsafe work practices. These actions make it look like something is being done to address losses and problems related to safety. However, this process fails to identify core problems, and only addresses surface symptoms.

The NORM is the stage where you are very likely to be a company operating with respect to Safety. Hansen's studies show that many companies are operating in this stage and this is where most will remain. For an organization to advance onward to Stage III —EXCELLENCE, they must undergo a "Radical Organizational Change," discarding traditional beliefs and approaches, and adopting a more progressive mindset toward systemic cause and correction.

STAGE III: EXCELLENCE (Safety Excels to the Top Quartile of like companies statistically compared)
Stage III is a very worthy goal! However, no "safety program" will get the company to this level. Senior management must lead the company to this level. In this stage, Safety is less scheduled and more systemic. If your company management is well schooled in TQM concepts, progressive management principles and modern leadership practices, then the safety functions will not represent cost elements but profit elements. Many positive operational and productivity benefits will be realized from the effort to operate in this manner of excellence in Stage III.
STAGE IV: WORLD CLASS (Safety at the Top)
This sounds good but it is very difficult. Don't expect to reach this level right away. According to Hansen this final "step-change" involves what he calls a Critical Thinking Shift (CTS) wherein safety is no longer perceived as a technical and/or managerial issue, but as a core value critical to business success. Safety in world-class organizations is cultural, an issue of leadership and values. "Safe is the way business is done."

Adapted, with permission from: "Stepping Up To Operational Safety Excellence," Larry L. Hansen, CSP, L2H Speaking of Safety, Inc., (315) 383-3801, www.L2HSOS.com

PF: What is your vision of a good safety program?

Skaggs: Safety should be "seamless" with the management process. Safety should not be a separate issue but an integral part of the operating philosophy and culture. It starts with those managing the company and goes through those managing the coating operation as well as those conducting the coating operations. The goal of the organization is to survive and prosper. [Author and Business Management Theorist] Peter Drucker has said, "The first duty of business is to survive and the guiding principle of business economics is not the maximization of profit but the avoidance of loss."

Safety should not be considered a cost center that drains a lot of money and effort. It should be a program that lives within the system, conserves resources and prevents injuries and lost production incidents without any fanfare.

PF: Then what do you see as the role of the powder coating line supervisor regarding safety?

Skaggs: I like to see "Team Leaders" not "Supervisors." Team leadership should focus on leading from the heart and being involved in the lives of the other team members both on and off the job. When this happens, it promotes dialogue among all of the team members. People open up and make suggestions about how to do things better if they know they will be heard and their thoughts will be respected.

When people are being supervised, they naturally want to please their supervisor. A worker might pick up a very heavy part and carry it several yards to hang it on the line instead of asking to have the parts moved closer. 'Supervised' people often do things that are not only safety hazards but also the wrong way to do it because they do not want to make waves. With an open atmosphere and dialogue, these things are talked out and mutually understood. Then the team members feel empowered to help make improvements in procedures and by working together they figure out the right way to do things. So, if you think about it, safety is nothing more than doing things right.

PF: How do the regulations from agencies like OSHA relate to safety around a powder coating operation?

Skaggs: Some companies tend to run safety programs almost entirely around regulations. Those who do this are destined to have a mediocre program at best. The existing regulations have value as guidelines and checklists. However, they are often inadequate. For example, OSHA allows 10 milligrams per cubic meter of nuisance dust (particulates; insoluble), which could be powder in the air. So, with OSHA's allowable level of particulates in the air you could hardly see your hand a couple of feet away from your face.

We obviously expect our application and dust collection systems to greatly exceed those requirements. If a company has a safety program that is regulation-based, people tend to say things like "show me in the law where I have to do this." That kind of thinking grates against my philosophy.

PF: What are some of the most significant safety issues around a powder coating line?

Skaggs: Well, we could talk about the obvious things that are associated with powder lines like maintaining fire suppression systems for powder booths and grounding. However, among the 42 powder coating lines being operated by MetoKote, we find a set of line-specific material handling issues around the lines that are designed to coat bumpers or large components of construction equipment. Then we find another set of issues around those lines that are designed to coat very small parts for such products as fasteners or writing pens.

The guidelines I would suggest using to address the safety issues around a powder coating line would be those of the 5S Program. That is a Japanese program that has found wide application. The 5S components are: Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain the program. The words themselves relate the message.

PF: What suggestions would you have for a person who has been recently assigned the duties of overseeing a safety program for a powder coating operation?

Skaggs: Well, you first need to analyze the management attitude about safety. This is where the organizational safety culture is framed. I like to refer to a paper that was presented at the 2004 ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers) Symposium on "Achieving World-Class Safety." The author was Larry L. Hansen, CSP, with L2H Speaking of Safety Inc., Baldwinsville, NY.

In his paper, Hansen states that a growing body of practical experience and empirical research suggests that a company's ability to improve safety performance is directly related to its ability to change its organizational culture (values and leadership practices). This is a process which is both patterned and predictable along a "Safety Excellence Continuum" (See sidebar on page 58 for more details).