From Search Warrant to SHARP Winner: How One Manufacturer Went from Government Adversary to OSHA Model

Automated Solutions’ first encounter with OSHA was to tell them to leave and not come back without a search warrant. Over time the company migrated to a relationship mentality with OSHA, first achieving consultative status (VPP), then applying and being inspected for SHARP, culminating in receiving the SHARP award from NC Labor Commissioner Berry.


Sawmills, NC -- (ReleaseWire) -- 03/16/2017 --Automated Solutions, a manufacturer of protective packaging products and equipment, had only recently moved into their Caldwell County, North Carolina plant in 2010 when they received a visit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA. The field representative said he wanted to tour the plant. One of the company founders met the representative in the front entrance and told him he would need a search warrant to enter the building and not to come back without one.

With such an inauspicious start, Automated Solutions should never have made it to being one of the top health and safety companies in the state. However, the issue was never a lack of care and safety for company employees, it was learning to work with the government in a positive manner. Over time, the company jettisoned its adversarial outlook and started to work closely with government officials.

Usually, thoughts of OSHA conjure up mountains of paperwork, arduous inspections, heavy fines, stiff penalties, and overall headaches for manufacturers trying to comply with all the rules and regulations. However, the reality can be much different, especially when a company works with the people at OSHA to develop relationships and help to deliver a safe work environment. At a high level, OSHA and companies want the same thing – healthy and safe employees. Companies can get there in a good or bad manner.

Automated Solutions' founders decided to take the good route. They started by hiring a full-time health and safety coordinator who could also help implement LEAN principles in the manufacturing processes. The coordinator, Kevin Burch, reached out to Nelson Edwards at the North Carolina Department of Labor. Mr. Burch and Mr. Edwards, along with David Poole, also with NC DOL, worked together to bring health and safety compliance to a level where Automated Solutions achieved acceptance into the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program. This acceptance came after the company underwent a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals.

Per the OSHA website, the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) recognize employers and workers in the private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. In VPP, management, labor, and OSHA work cooperatively and proactively to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses through a system focused on: hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; and management commitment and worker involvement.

However, this consultative approach with OSHA was not good enough to really strengthen the government-company relationship. Steve Ellis, hired as CEO in 2013 to run the company for the founders and shareholders, was familiar with the SHARP program, and so when Mr. Burch mentioned to Mr. Ellis that SHARP status was the next step in relationship and compliance, Mr. Ellis was onboard and encouraged the additional work to attempt to achieve that highest level.

During 2015 the company hosted OSHA visits and inspections to qualify for SHARP. According to OSHA, the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) is awarded for an exemplary safety and health management system. The SHARP program recognizes employers who have used the On-site Consultation Program services of OSHA and operate an exemplary injury and illness prevention program. Acceptance of a worksite into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles the company out among its business peers as a model for worksite safety and health.

In 2016, over a year after starting the process, Automated Solutions learned it had earned the NC SHARP award. Mr. Burch told Mr. Ellis that the award could be delivered in person by the NC Labor Commissioner, Cherie Berry, and Mr. Ellis said we would be honored to meet the longest-serving labor commissioner in the state's history. Schedules were reviewed, priorities straightened, and the award and flag were delivered in January 2017.

Commissioner Berry arrived early to company headquarters in Sawmills, NC, prior to the award ceremony. She mingled with the invited guests, ranging from the town Mayor and city council to the Caldwell County EDC Executive Director and staff, County chamber of commerce members, and shareholder family members. Company founder Bob Campbell gave a history of Automated Solutions, going back to its founding over 18 years ago. The company is a privately held diversified manufacturing company with product lines primarily in the packaging industry with polyethylene foam rolls, cohesive polyethylene foam wrap, Cro-nel® and Nyvel® cold seal protective packaging products, specialty multi-layer furniture bags, packaging equipment, and replacement vacuum cutting surfaces. The company's products are sold across the U.S. as well as into Europe, Australia, and Mexico. Some of the company's packaging products are featured in the storage & organization department of The Home Depot.

Commissioner Berry then gave some extemporaneous remarks around what safety means to her. She said that safety is not just about the employee, it is about the employee's children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. She emphasized the point that the SHARP award covered past success and that employees needed to now focus on the present to remain safe. She said safety occurs each minute of each day, and losing focus on that creates opportunities for accidents. Commissioner Berry awarded the SHARP certificate to Automated Solutions and then invited the safety committee of Automated Solutions to the podium to receive the SHARP flag.

Mr. Ellis made the point that the award means that the company backs up its words with actions. He also highlighted the employees' status as the best of the best, noting only one-tenth of one percent of companies in the state have achieved SHARP status. He talked about the safety-quality-service triangle, where safety occupies the top point as the most important to focus on daily. He closed with company success statistics, remarking that over the last few years Automated Solutions has almost tripled its sales, tripled its manufacturing footprint here in Caldwell County, and created over 30 new jobs for the people of Caldwell County and this region. Mr. Ellis then led a tour of the plant for Commissioner Berry and the guests, reviewing the production process for each product line as well as showing off the internally-designed state-of-the-art packaging equipment.

Telling an OSHA official to pound sand is usually a ticket to years of surprise inspections, pages of deficiencies, and a never-ending battle between a company and the government. For one manufacturer, however, that start was turned around to a productive relationship. That is the government, enforcing regulations to protect its citizens in a manufacturing environment, could work well with a company who wanted to protect its employees and make a safe working environment for the benefit of all involved. Automated Solutions, that company, is one of those good stories in health and safety in the country today.

Media Relations Contact

Genia Roman

View this press release online at: