A local company is about to receive one of the highest honors a business can earn for exemplary safety and health performance.

The 39 employees who work at the Columbus Cintas facility will receive a Voluntary Protections Programs Star certification during a presentation today.

Established 34 years ago by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the certification encourages employers to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses through hazard prevention, worksite analysis, training and labor-management cooperation.

Companies that participate strive for ratings below national averages in injury and illness rates for their respective industries.

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Several local and state leaders, including Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, will attend an 11 a.m. ceremony today at Cintas, located south of Clifty Creek at U.S. 31 and County Road 50N.

Although few Indiana companies ever earn the Voluntary Protections Programs Star certification, that’s not what makes the award so special, said Katy Cradick, general manager of the Cintas No. 529 operation.

“OSHA doesn’t interview our leaders when considering certification,” Cradick said. “They interview the (employees). That way, they know if we are really doing what we say.”

While the Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp. is primarily known for its uniform programs and cleaning services, it also provides products for first aid, safety and fire protection.

Since the company sends its representatives to a variety of workplaces, the corporate leaders learned each occupation has its own particular safety hazards, Cradick said.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as chemicals getting in your eyes while changing toner on a copier, or tripping over an loose cord,” Cradick said.

In 2007, Cintas CEO Scott Farmer decided to set an example by putting together an executive safety council that meets every six months to address safety concerns and strategies. One of the three major goals established by the council is to make Cintas a world leader in safety and health performance, according to the company website.

As a result, Cintas became the first industrial launderer to achieve Voluntary Protections Programs certification, with more than 25 locations having achieved certification — including nine in Indiana, the website stated.

Safety in the workplace

Workplace safety is a high-interest topic, not just at Cintas but across the Columbus business community, said Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.Due to concerns regarding productivity and rising health care costs, each recent OSHA training seminar promoted by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce has sold out, Frey said.

“Having a safe and comfortable work environment where people feel valued is a competitive advantage in recruiting and keeping employees,” she said.

While talking to clients, Cradick said worker turnover seems to be the biggest concern among employers in the Columbus area.

Since August’s unemployment rate of 3.6 percent was fourth lowest among all 92 Indiana counties, Bartholomew County employers want to keep workers safe and happy, Frey said.

“But even when the jobless rate was at 6 percent, they were still telling us how difficult it was to recruit talent,” the chamber president said. “Going above and beyond (in safety) is important in maintaining a strong workforce — at all times.”

However, Cradick said every employee has to be invested in developing hazard prevention practices, safety ideas and -– most of all — looking out for one another.

While managers often cite cold data and financial concerns, workers have a far more personal approach about looking after each other, Cradick said.

“Whenever someone is hurt or ill, we all know about it — and we all care deeply,” Cradick said. “It may be your workplace family, but it’s still family.”

About Cintas

Founded in 1929, the Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp. is best known for designing and manufacturing corporate identity uniforms. However, the company also provides entrance mats, restroom cleaning and supplies, tile and carpet cleaning, promotional products, first aid, safety and fire protection products for businesses.

The company operates more than 400 facilities in North America, including six manufacturing plants and eight distribution centers. Considered the largest in the industry with about 30,000 employees, including 39 in Columbus, Cintas has been named among Fortune Magazine’s Most Admired Companies for eight consecutive years.

Information: Cintas.com

About the Voluntary Protection Programs

Employers and workers who have implemented effective safety and health management systems, as well as maintain injury and illness rates below national averages, are recognized through the Voluntary Protection Programs, an initiative of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

There are two levels of certification:

  • Star, the highest level, recognizes employers and employees who have reached the objectives of the programs.
  • Merit recognizes those who have implemented good safety and health programs, but require additional improvements.

All organizations are re-evaluated every three to five years to remain in the programs.

Besides the Columbus Cintas operation, two other Bartholomew County workplaces participate in Voluntary Protection Programs, according to the Indiana Department of Labor:

  • SABIC Innovative Plastics on South Marr Road, since 2005.
  • AK Tube LLC on County Road 450S, since 2006.
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.