MIDLAND, Mich. (AP) — When you say goodbye to your loved ones in the morning before you head to work, you shouldn't have to wonder if you will return home safely later that day.

You shouldn't have to fear for your health and safety while you're at work.

But without proper safety training, adequate background screenings and routine safety audits, the risk of injury on the job is greater. Especially for those working with heavy equipment, such as contractors or those working with hazardous chemicals, like the employees of Dow.

The members of Great Lakes Safety Training Center, a Midland-based nonprofit, recognized the need and the importance of safety training for area employees more than 30 years ago.

"Before the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) act in the early 70s, safety wasn't a huge priority on job sites," said GLSTC Executive Director Kelly Juday. "But this region has always been a leader as far as blazing the forefront to try and keep people safe."

Juday has been executive director of GLSTC for six years but has been with the organization even longer than that. She said she started there about 12 years ago as a part-time employee.

Before the organization was officially started in 1989, Juday said local contractors and business owners were gathering to share ideas about how to keep their employees safe back in the 50s and 60s.

At the time, the organization was called the Midland Area Contractors' Safety Council and was a volunteer organization that mainly served Dow Chemical Co. and Dow Corning Corp.

Now, GLSTC is staffed and celebrating 30 years of keeping employees in, and beyond, the region safe on the job.

They have evolved and grown over those 30 years as well, becoming a member-based organization, expanding services and cultivating a culture of safety in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Their motto is this: "Preparing people to live and work safely every day."

And the center's 30th anniversary comes at a time when two new large corporations have been established in the area — DuPont and Corteva AgriScience.

"We're really excited about the new partnerships that we have with DuPont and Corteva — the new spins here in the region," Juday said. "They still are utilizing us for training services for their contractors as well as their direct employees."

GLSTC's services include dozens of courses on and offline, specialized programs, background and security checks, safety audits and more. They work with large corporations, such as Nexteer and SC Johnson, all the way down to single individuals, Juday said.

For example, the center works with senior citizens to educate them on the risks of falling and how to prevent it. In addition, they have started to cover the realm of distracted driving, bringing awareness to the associated risks.

"We're expanding into defensive driving online-type training courses, which is kind of a new area for the Great Lakes to go into but it still falls in the safety realm," Juday said, "So we're looking at opportunities to help not only those that are members within our organization, but the public in general."

And while GLSTC offers online courses, Juday said the focus is still on interactive-type learning to provide the best experience possible for members.

"There's serious injury that can happen if you're not watching what you're doing on the job," Juday said. "So, while we offer some online training courses, we really still believe in that one-on-one connection, the instructor-led and the hands-on type opportunities."

Another unique approach to training that Juday mentioned was the emotional, personal touch that's incorporated. She said staff always ask the people coming in for training to think about who they are staying safe for — whether it be a wife, husband, daughter, son or any other person.

"We really have a great safety record in our region, but we don't do it for the records, we do it to keep people so they're going home to their families and their loved ones at the end of the day," she said.

Together, all of the services offered at GLSTC create a "blended approach" to learning the best safety practices across industries.

And safety is especially important when it comes to handling chemicals, said Mike Syrylo, environmental health and safety delivery leader at Dow.

"When you start looking at the materials that we're handling, the impact on our communities, we want to make sure that we have that positive impact on our communities and we do that through our safety program," Syrylo said. "So, whether you're working directly with Dow or whether you're working as a contract employee with Dow, safety is our top priority."

He said Dow is partnered with 63-plus contractors within the region that are all part of the group called Contractor Owner Safety Team.

In 2001, GLSTC established COST to provide a platform for the area's contracting companies to collaborate and share trends in safety. It has led to a 94% decrease in Dow's injury rate, Syrylo said.

"So, it's important for us that we have an outstanding safety culture and that's what Great Lakes Safety Training Center does for us," he said. "It helps us to reach our contracting employees that are coming into the area and to make sure that they're getting a universal streamlined training."

GLSTC is located at 1900 Ridgewood Drive in Midland and has been there for about nine years. The location has afforded them a space for a hands-on training lab and multiple classrooms, but they are growing out of the space.

"We've been seeing an increased need in safety training and it's a good sign that these companies want to keep their employees safe because it's hard to find good employees to keep in any job these days," Juday said.

To remedy the problem, the center is remodeling the interior of its building and working to expand the parking lot, which will have a designated area for forklift training.

"We're going to be milking every ounce of parking lot that we can out of this property," Juday said.

The secretary of the GLSTC board and owner of Alloy Construction, Ronnie Neumann, has been with the organization on and off for the last 10 years, she said.

She has seen it change and grow and the greatest thing about it to her is the culture that has been created, she said.

"It used to be, you incorporated safety. You know, you did your job and you added safety to it," Neumann said. "But now, it's like a culture. It's a mindset that safety is just incorporated into everything you do."

In addition, she said the center has created a mindset that everyone works together when it comes to safety, regardless of who you work for.

"We can be working right alongside our biggest competitor but it doesn't matter," Neumann said. "When it comes to safety, we don't want anybody to get hurt so we watch out for each other."

J.W. Fisher, owner of Fisher Contracting Co. and board member of GLSTC, echoed Neumann's thoughts. He said part of what the center provides is a platform for competing businesses to collaborate.

To a certain extent, the area's contracting companies share employees and customers, making them competitors, Fisher said. But when it comes to safety, they are one big team.

Fisher has been one of the center's longtime partners and was even around to sign the articles of incorporation 30 years ago.

"I'm really proud to have been associated with it all these years," he said. "It's been fun to watch it grow. We've gone through some hard times like any company, but I can say unequivocally that (GLSTC) has made Fisher Contracting a better company."

The Midland-based contracting company has been around since the 50s, working on local projects like landfills, road construction, site development and underground utilities.

Having a partner like GLSTC has been important for the business, Fisher said, and as a result of the partnership, Fisher Contracting Co.'s OSHA recordable incident rate has gone down. In addition, they have won numerous awards for safety.

"We would not be nearly as safe a contractor without the Great Lakes Safety Training Center," he said.

In addition, Fisher said the success of the company has been due to the ability to hire and retain good employees — many of which are third or fourth generation.

"There's no substitute for a well-trained and knowledgeable, safe employee," he said. "And "ve always believed the same attributes that make you productive, make you safe — planning and knowledge and attention to detail and not taking shortcuts."

He said the first thing a new Fisher Contracting employee sees is the Great Lakes Safety and Training Center, where they receive a general, eight-hour orientation.

"We do it whether they're going to work in the plant or not," Fisher said. "It gives them a good basic."

Sometimes when they hire new employees from other contracting companies outside the region, they are stunned at the level of time and money spent on safety, Fisher said.

"We use (GLSTC) as our safety education hub," he said.

But the safety education is not only about the employees — it's about the customers too. Customers demand a certain level of safety practice.

"If we don't have a safe culture here, our customers will pick up and leave," Neumann said. "They'll go build a plant somewhere else, where people work safer. So, it's good for the community.

Looking to the future, Neumann said GLSTC has become more important than ever as it provides a place for everyone to come together. She said instead of a "training center" it's more of a "learning and growing together center."

"It's just amazing that we don't know what the future is going to hold yet, but we do know that we're going to walk together through it to get there," she said. "We're working on getting to the future together."

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Information from: Midland Daily News, http://www.ourmidland.com

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