We Send Them Safely Home  to Their Families, Cohen Woodworking

We Send Them Safely Home to Their Families

We Send Them Safely Home  to Their Families, Cohen Woodworking

As Cohen seems to be becoming an industry leader, we take pride in our longtime, excellent safety record. Since we began in 1982, except for a few cuts, stitches, and sprained ankles, we've never had a major accident. Since 2017 we've received three safety awards:

From Crane Insurance and Amerisure, an award and a gran grant for recognition of unique safety enhancements in 2018.

The Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) 2017 Safety Improvement Recognition Award for Manufacturers, awarded to companies who reach more than 100,000 hours of maintaining a safe workplace.

The AWI 2017 Zero Lost Time Accident Achievement for Manufacturers Award for reaching more than 100,000 work hours without a safety incident.

Underpinning these honors, the foundation of Cohen’s success in workplace safety is our culture built on judgment-free communication and respect for each other’s wellbeing.

I suppose it started with me. I  attended a large high school in the Chicago suburbs. I never had built anything with my hands until 1966, when I attended Mr. Klehm’s woodworking class. In the 1960s we didn’t have OSHA or saw guards, but they did teach us how to work safely. For example, when using a table saw, push the part all the way through and never pull it back. And never hurry when working with machinery. Well, one day I watched fellow student, Bob, push a wooden frame into the table saw and then pull it back. The blade grabbed the frame, spun it around, and cut off three of his fingers. Another time, Paul was in a hurry; he jumped in front of me in line to use the jointer and jointed down his thumb. I never forgot that.

When I was nineteen, I worked a factory job at International Harvester in a Chicago suburb. Every employee’s first half-day was devoted to safety training—before we could start working in the plant. They posted SAFETY FIRST signs all over the place. In the months I worked there, I don’t recall hearing about any accidents.

In 1982, when I started woodworking professionally, I was afraid of my machines. I lay in bed at night, thinking of all the accidents that could have happened that day. It scared me even more when I thought about my children getting hurt.

Around that time, my wife’s parents bought me a subscription to Fine Woodworking Magazine. The magazine was conducting a study on shop accidents. They asked people to share details of their experiences. Some accidents were severe, like cutting off an arm or putting out an eye.

Then the writer observed:

Most accidents occur when people are under-experienced or overconfident.

Many accidents happen right after lunch, when people are typically sluggish.

Many people intuitively know they’re doing something wrong just before the accident happens.

That told me if we became intentional, we could prevent or minimize accidents and injuries.

Each of my five sons started working in the shop when they were very young. I didn’t want them getting hurt and I didn’t want to injure myself and put myself out of commission from providing for my family. Also, I loved woodworking and looked forward to coming to work each day. I didn’t want any of us missing work because of an accident we could have prevented.

As our company has grown to more than seventy-five employees, we have kept that dedication to them. We've developed several strategies that focus on safe behavior, such as new employee safety orientations, weekly safety meetings, and issuing green cards to individuals for safety excellence and red cards for violations. Leading the effort is our Safety Director, Alan Vance.

“Safety is a part of our culture and we strive to make it part of our employees’ lives,” Alan says. “We’d like to get each employee to where they put in their earplugs and safety glasses first thing without being told, and if they forget, a worker reminds them.”

Alan says judgment-free communication is key to Cohen Architectural Woodworking’s methods.

“During our weekly safety meetings, we get everyone telling stories about things that may have gone wrong. The more people who give input, the more lessons everyone learns. Together, we develop these safety-focused values,” Alan says. “Everyone understands it’s always a process of continuous improvement. The great thing about maintaining this culture is the employee who’s thinking smarter about safety is also thinking about how overall production can be done faster and more efficiently.”

I agree with Alan. People work better when they work safely. Also, applying prevention now is less expensive than the cost and potential suffering that result from accidents later.

By helping employees make safety first, such as by immediately repairing or replacing broken tools, keeping work areas clean, tidy and free from trip and slip hazards, we keep everyone’s stress levels down and they produce a better product.

Some companies make safety a low priority. Other companies implement safety as a matter of compliance. We make safety a core part of who we are because we truly care about one another.

Phillip Cohen
Founder and President