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3M-Fairmont puts focus on health, safety

TAKING AIM — Mark Behrends of Fairmont practices using an extinguisher to put out a fire during 3M Safety Day on Tuesday.

FAIRMONT — Safety is important in any business, but the 3M plant in Fairmont took the well-being of its employees to a new level on Tuesday when it closed down production to hold a Safety Day.

The event split the plant’s 150 employees into small groups that could then cycle through stations dealing with health and safety issues at the worksite and when they are not at work.

“This is the first time in anybody’s memory that our plant has done this, spent an entire day on health and safety,” said Wendy Voss, human resources manager at 3M-Fairmont. She estimated at least six months was spent planning the event.

Employees were encouraged to bike to work or park their vehicles at Five Lakes Centre and walk to the plant.

Throughout the plant, employees started with each department, targeting ways to make everyone’s individual work space secure, and they spent time at the plant’s “safety dojo,” a mandatory stop for new hires to learn ergonomics and other safety tips. For example, just looking down at your phone puts an additional 40-55 pounds of pressure on your neck muscles.

“This simulates a lot of what we do,” Voss said of the dojo. “All our new employees come through here and get three hours of just safety training.”

In another area, Sheila Denton of South Central Emergency Medical Services expounded about the proper use of car safety seats for children and grandchildren.

The Minnesota Safety Council provided numerous informational posters, and there was an “accident wheel.” By picking up to three different criteria, employees could turn the wheel to learn how that trio of factors could increase their chances of having an motor vehicle accident. If you’re operating your cell phone while driving with three people in your vehicle and you reach for an object, your odds of having an accident increase by an astounding 1,582 percent.

Moving outside to the plant’s parking lot, employees rotated through different areas where they could learn about fire extinguishers and practice the proper way to put out a fire, or watch a simulation of how an unrestrained child could fly out of a vehicle during a rollover.

A popular spot in the parking lot involved impaired driving simulation. Employees could hop on a go-kart and try to maneuver it around traffic cones while wearing goggles simulating alcohol impairment. The goggles also were worn by employees while they tried to play a game of bean bags.

The Fairmont Police Department and Martin County Sheriff’s Department had squad cars open so employees had a chance to sit in the driver’s seat or in the back seat, which resulted in several surprised comments about how tight the space was in the back seat.

While it is unusual to spend an entire day spotlighting health and safety inside and outside 3M-Fairmont, the issues always are paramount at the plant. There is an environmental health and safety engineer on site, and the plant contracts with Mayo Clinic Health Systems to have a nurse on site 20 hours per week to work with employees on health issues such as blood pressure or stress, both job-related and not job-related.

Voss said the Fairmont plant strives to be a 100 percent accident-free site where even a trivial injury is still considered an injury.

“For us, anything is significant. At the beginning of every meeting, even our daily tier meetings, we talk about safety. Safety is No. 1,” she said, pointing to the plant’s slogan “Safety. Quality. Service.”

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