The 2nd Annual Workers’ Memorial Day program was held today in Baton Rouge at the Labor Union Hall. The event, organized by Corey Gaines, Director of OSHA Consultation with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, focused squarely on the national holiday’s message: “Mourn for the dead, fight for the living.” The keynote address, by Michael Darrough, EHS Director at SAPA Extrusions of Delhi, Louisiana (pictured at left), brought the crowd together with a reflective message – prioritizing safety is both about the workers themselves and their loved ones.
After a round of introductions, followed by a prayer led by David Bondy, CEO of LUBA Workers’ Comp, Darrough took the stage to introduce himself and his unique perspective on safety. Explaining first that SAPA is an international company with a considerable set of challenges due to the high risk nature of aluminum manufacturing at the Delhi plant, he took the audience through his personal history and how it led to his current career.
“I’m blessed to be able to work for SAPA under the leadership we have and to call many of the employees at the Delhi plant my friends. There are many challenges – or shall I say opportunities – at the plant, but I find a joy in my heart when I go to work and get to be around the people who work with me.”
Accompanied by a slideshow of family photos, Darrough introduced himself in terms of his unique origin story. Born in Saigon during the Vietnam War, his father was an air force pilot and his mother was a South Vietnamese native. One of four children, the family left for the United States during the fall of Saigon and settled in the Chicago area (Hammond, Indiana). Darrough explained that his father worked diligently to support the family despite suffering from malaria and post traumatic stress disorder, both conditions that he developed as a result of his service. Calling the elder Darrough “his greatest hero,” Darrough went on to explain that the same dedication to work is a key tenant in his own family.
“I wanted to share my family with you guys,” Darrough explained, “because that’s what it’s all about.” His goals and safety programs at SAPA are directly related to this ethos. In addition to what Darrough calls “one hundred percent buy in” to get workers engaged in the safety plan, SAPA has implemented an open atmosphere when it comes to enforcement, giving out “stop and go” tickets. A “stop” ticket is issued when an employee is engaging in unsafe behavior, and a tutorial to correct it is conducted on the spot. A “go” ticket is a positive reinforcement device, in which employees can earn cash rewards, gift cards and other prizes (totalling up to $600 a month) for following safety rules.
While acknowledging that mistakes happen, Darrough told the crowd several times that zero accidents is what he strives for on a daily basis. “And if you don’t think zero is possible – you should probably find yourself another career,” he quipped.
Ultimately, Darrough homed in on a fact that is often overlooked by nearly everyone in an industry that must monetize injuries and their effects on business. “I don’t just have 340 employees at the Delhi plant – I have 340 families that I’m responsible for. Business is business, but in the end if we don’t protect our people, what the heck was it all for?”