The success of Springfield-based SRC Holdings is, to the general public, largely linked to open-book management, the business practice popularized by CEO Jack Stack that teaches employees to think like owners in an effort to make an organization more successful.
But on Friday, SRC's largest division was recognized for something else that Stack and other company officials see as "the very foundation of a vibrant company."
"That's what it really comes down to, valuing the employee and making sure they go home the same way they come in," Safety Coordinator Scott Hall said in an interview.
The SRC Heavy Duty production floor — which typically runs from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. — paused Friday morning to allow employees to attend a ceremony marking the 20 years the division has been a part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Programs. Through the initiative, companies that undergo a rigorous evaluation and show they're going above and beyond safety standards are exempt from programmed inspections by the agency, though they can still be inspected if there are employee complaints or serious incidents.
While about 2,400 companies nationwide are in the program, OSHA area director Barbara Theriot said, SRC Heavy Duty is the only facility in OSHA's four-state Region 7 that has reached the two-decade mark, and one of 87 around the country.
"I would say that they're right up in the top 1 percent nationwide," Theriot said.
Companies in the program must also keep their injury rates below the national average for their industry. Over the last three calendar years, SRC Heavy Duty had a "total case incident rate" of 2.57 per 200,000 hours worked — 39 percent below the industry average of 4.2 cases. Heavy Duty's "days away from work/restricted rate," which covers more serious injuries, was 1.89 in the last three years, compared to the 2.1 industry average.
So far this year in Springfield, OSHA has proposed tens of thousands of dollars in penalties against a storage tank manufacturer, cited another manufacturer in the death of a worker and issued a news release about an incident that sent 18 workers to the hospital. Because of its authority, the agency can naturally have a complicated relationship with industry.
"Some of those previous worlds I've been in, when OSHA shows up on your door, it's not pleasant," said SRC Heavy Duty Director of Operations and Engineering Chad Myers, who has been with the company for five years.
But Theriot, who was in town for the Friday ceremony, had high praise for SRC.
"You can feel the culture is just different," she said in a Thursday phone interview. "There's a camaraderie among employers and employees. Employees have to have an active role in the program. And you can just feel that at SRC."
Theriot said she believes it's harder for relatively small companies like SRC to get into the program than larger ones. And while there may be more than 2,000 companies included nationally, it can be a challenge for some to keep it going. Companies are reinspected every three to five years to remain in the program.
"Some of those get in, but they can't stay ... Once you get in, all the excitement leaves, and it's very hard to keep that," Theriot said.
But at SRC, which is employee-owned, the safety program isn't subject to the whims of whoever is the plant general manager, according to Environmental Health and Safety Director Kathy Choate.
"It's not a top-down program," she said. "It's a bottom-up program."
Among Heavy Duty's 250 employees, about 35 are on the safety commission, which is divided into four parts. One group focuses on safety audits, a second looks at whether ergonomics can be improved. A third group analyzes near misses that could have been injuries, and a fourth group manages activities and tries to make training enjoyable.
The SRC Heavy Duty plant used to be an International Harvester factory, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the facility seemed destined to close, Stack said Friday. In an attempt to keep their jobs, employees begin desperately trying to improve the plant's metrics — shipments on time and the like.
One metric they focused on was safety, Stack said, and one year the facility saw the largest improvement in its injury rate among International Harvester properties. That basically forced a corporate executive — who was known for being proficient at closing plants — to come in for a ceremony. In his remarks, the executive suggested that the company should get rid of people if it wanted to improve its safety record, Stack recalled Friday, because "without people you can't get hurt."
In 1983, Stack and other managers purchased the plant from their corporate bosses.
Since then, the company basically opened its balance sheet to employees. Another division of SRC Holdings — The Great Game of Business — aims to persuade other organizations to adopt the practice; local ones that have include Paul Mueller Company and Greene County. Today, SRC Holdings — the name stands for Springfield ReManufacturing Corporation — employs about 1,500 in the five-country Springfield metropolitan statistical area, making it the region's 11th-largest employer.
"SRC is a story that we love, love, love to tell at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce," Chamber President and CEO Matt Morrow said Friday.
Open-book management didn't directly prompt the decision to participate in the OSHA program, Choate said, although it has made employees aware of the cost of injuries and workers' compensation. She believes participation in the program pays for itself in cost savings.
Most of SRC's majority-owned subsidiaries either remanufacture engines, transmissions or related components for original equipment manufacturers like General Motors, or are in a business related to remanufacturing.
"We get broken stuff, and we make it new," Myers said during a tour of the plant Friday.