Cartersville mill reaches five years without a lost time accident

​In the days leading up to Monday, Feb. 27, Ecky Hall nearly jumped out of his chair whenever his phone rang. Hall is the safety manager at Gerdau’s Cartersville mill, and the mill was about to reach five years without a lost time accident.

Five years without a lost time accident, which means an injury has not caused an employee to miss work, is a highly regarded achievement in the steel industry. According to the Steel Manufacturers Association, there were 816 injury incidents in 2016 for major domestic steel producers.

Feb. 27 came and went – and just like that, the mill became the first United States Gerdau facility to reach the milestone.

In reality, it doesn’t happen “just like that.” Reaching five years with no lost time accidents takes more than time. It takes safety program after safety program, high voltage breaker robots, cameras and cranes, and the mindfulness of all 350 Cartersville employees.

“This didn’t come to being without a lot of work by everyone – visitors, truck drivers, contractors,” Hall said while in his office with part of his Safety Committee Friday, March 3. “They’ve done a tremendous job, not just the safety committee, but the employees.” 

Cartersville mill’s Safety Committee meets every Friday to do walkthrough audits of the mill. The weekly audits began two years ago and take three hours to complete. The mill is divided into four sections and a different section is reviewed each week under co-chairs Rodney Martin, representing the melting process, and Tommy McGill, representing the rolling mill. The team, with some members who have worked at the mill for more than 40 years, take photos of procedures that need improvement – and also what’s being done right and safely.

In addition to the audits, contractors fill out hazard work assessments. Near-miss reports are reviewed, and employees get corrective training.

According to the International Labour Organization, one of the most common causes of injury in the iron and steel industry are falls on the same level and from height. One measure to prevent this at Cartersville is a tarping system, or retractable platform, that keeps truck drivers safe from falls. The tarping system keeps drivers from having to climb on top of their trucks when covering a load.

Hall has worked for U.S. Steel and North Star Steel, but he said Gerdau sets itself apart.

“Out of all the mills I’ve worked … I’ve never had the people. The people out here are why this (safety achievement) was made possible,” Hall said. “These people will bend over backwards to get stuff done.”

Many of the employees at Cartersville come from a family of steel workers. Bull Pharr, part of the Safety Committee, has worked at the mill for 43 years. His grandfather, brother and son all have steel industry experience. Martin has two sons in the industry and McGill’s dad, son and brother have also worked in steel. For Hall, steel is a family tradition as well.

“I was born to work in a steel mill,” Hall, whose father worked in one for 40 years, said. “That’s all I knew. You grow up and go to work in a steel mill. It’s a family thing.”​​

Because of the proud tradition of steel among many Gerdau employees, there is a camaraderie they find at the mill. They help each other. They look out for each other. They keep each other safe.

“Mr. Ecky Hall, he puts boots on the ground when he comes out here,” Martin said. “He doesn’t sit in the office.”​

Cartersville is the third Gerdau North American mill to earn the milestone. Two mills in Canada recently received the award.
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