Tom West may still consider himself a “newbie” in the corrugated industry, but when it comes to safety his credentials are definitely those of a veteran.
West spent 15 years in the construction industry where he worked in high-voltage electricity before coming to work at SUN Automation in 2016. It was, predictably, very high stress. He called the approach to safety back when he started in construction akin to the Wild West—anything but standard. “Back then, we had our gear, we were wearing what we were supposed to, and that’s what protected us,” he says. However, after witnessing several accidents and noticing what he considered “skimping on safety,” West began thinking it was time to “get out of Dodge” and find a new field.
During that time of reflection, he met a future colleague from SUN who also had previously worked in construction. He extolled not only the company, but the corrugated field in general. West made the leap of faith and, despite his apprehension at transforming his career so radically, he began working in SUN’s electric shop.
“It was pretty scary at the time,” West notes. “Everything changed, and I mean everything.” But not all change is bad, and one of the first positives West noted was SUN’s approach to safety: “Any issues that arose, we worked on the answers as a team. We figured it out together and we all had buy-in because we were part of the solution.” It was then that West realized his growing interest in safety overall. “It became a passion for me, but without formal training, without credentials, it was like bringing a stick to a sword fight.”
Having established a baseline during his years as a construction foreman, West was already grounded in safety’s importance and had an innate desire to help others. SUN management soon asked if he would like to go to safety school and once again refocus his career. “Most of the safety stuff I knew came from messing up and realizing what could go seriously wrong,” West says. “This was the opportunity to expand my personal knowledge with formal training and also help my colleagues.”
SETTING A STANDARD
According to West, safety has a vocabulary all its own, which is why SUN’s desire to standardize its safety training was such an attraction for him. “SUN is a leading supplier to the corrugated industry and because of that they are serious about quality in everything,” he says. Shortly after moving into his role as SUN’s Environmental, Health and Safety Coordinator, he learned about TAPPISAFE and its standardized approach to training from SUN’s Executive Vice President Greg Jones. Jones was serving on an Advisory Committee created by TAPPI to look into standardizing safety training in the corrugated industry.
“My first thought after I saw how they standardized training across the pulp and paper industry was: We need this and we need it now,” West says. During his previous experience in construction, he felt safety messaging was often muddied because of a lack of standard protocols. “I really believe there is a tidal wave of change coming in the corrugated industry as far as safety is concerned, and at SUN we are putting our foot on the gas pedal in this race.”
West points to TAPPISAFE’s 10-plus years as the leading provider of safety training in the pulp and paper industry, noting that they have already blazed the standardization trail. “While there are differences, there are also many similarities in what they can bring to both corrugated manufacturers and to companies like SUN—contractors that are coming onsite at different plants to install, maintain, or service the equipment that makes their product.”
West also notes that, while equipment is becoming more automated, that does not mean the industry can focus less on safety: “There is always human input, an operator or a person in control.” And while automation can help save time and money, he says, the ultimate goal still needs to be ensuring people go home safely every day.
“Standardizing safety in the corrugated industry has to start somewhere,” West concludes. “No matter how automated we become, there is still danger and there is still human input. Having a shared vision on standardizing corrugated safety training can help us achieve significant cultural change that leads to a better quality of life—both on the job and off.”
To learn more about the quest for safety standardization training in the corrugated industry, please contact West at [email protected].