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June 2013

Chemical complexity

High-tech manufacturer involves employees to manage exposures

By Melanie Mesaros

Oregon may be known for its high-tech manufacturing, but what may not be as obvious are the different chemicals used to fabricate the intricate circuit boards and wiring that keep electronics humming. David Beede oversees safety and health exposures at TE Connectivity in Wilsonville, where many employees work daily with epoxy compounds, adhesives, and soldering metals.

"We don't wait for something to happen," said Beede of managing exposures in the plant. "We follow a behavior-based safety program and conduct random audits. Our safety committee members also recognize someone every month for safe behavior."

Placed throughout the 260,000-square-foot plant are safety kiosks where staff can access a safety data sheet (SDS) library of any of the 1,000 chemicals used on site. It gives details on where a chemical is stored, the process it's used for, and PPE requirements.

Beede's desk is positioned in the middle of the plant floor. Surrounded by various work units, he is easily accessible to the company's 500 employees, who don't hesitate to ask for guidance. With a diverse workforce (at least eight different languages are spoken by employees), training is another key aspect of managing exposures.

"We physically show employees how to work with certain chemicals and make them demonstrate that they understand," said Beede.

Brian Hauck, an Oregon OSHA health compliance officer, was impressed by the company's efforts to involve employees.

"TE Connectivity has worked to find less hazardous substitutes for many of the chemicals they need to use," said Hauck. "It was obvious that each employee felt empowered to keep everyone working safely."

Before a new chemical is introduced into any process, managers, engineers, and technicians must fill out a hazardous substance approval form for review. Beede said he hasn't been shy about turning down requests.

"We had an engineer recently who wanted to use methyl ethyl ketone, but we don't allow it on site. It's a volatile organic compound and we are trying to go VOC free. I helped him find a safer alternative."

In another case, Beede said a request was made to use an alcohol with a low flash point to clean a parts mold.

"We challenged them to find something else that wasn't so hazardous," he said. "And they did."

Beede said their continuous effort is paying off.

"We've worked 400 days without a loss-time or reportable injury," he said.

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