"I can tell you it wasn't good, it wasn't acceptable," says Turner, the company's president and CEO.
The plant implemented a safety program two years ago to get its safety record under control, and since then has experienced a dramatic turnaround. Through the first seven months of this year, there were no worker accidents or medical cases reported.
Improving the safety performance at the 190-employee plant hasn't been easy, but Turner says engineering such a turnaround is possible with the right practices and attitudes toward safety. The Monessen plant improved with a lot of plant meetings, table top exercises and plenty of preaching about safety.
But fostering safe working conditions is more than meetings, slogans and signage At Koppers, the emphasis on safety and environmental concerns has become part of the corporate culture. The point is to encourage employees to work safely because they want to, not because they have to.
The process includes meetings and training sessions, and activities that reinforce safe operations. Frequent contacts with employees, brief meetings or job procedure reviews between supervisors and employees catch unsafe practices or conditions and correct them. Supervisors observe employees' performances and provide immediate intervention or reinforcement if there's a problem.
"It's a daily enforcement where we really empower all our employees to look after one another, talk about safety," Turner says. "We have plants that have daily talks about safety, scheduled safety meetings weekly and, in some cases, a monthly detailed safety meeting. It's constant reminders. It starts with myself and all down through the organization."
Koppers' safety record companywide has improved markedly over the past five years, and the company and many of its individual units have received numerous awards for safety, health and environmental performance. Eleven Koppers locations earned the National Safety Council's Perfect Record Award for 2003, completing 12 consecutive months without an accident involving days away from work.
Another 13 locations earned the NSC's Green Cross for Safety Excellence Achievement Award because these facilities completed 2003 with days-away-from-work rates of less than 50 percent of the Bureau of Labor Statistics rates for the applicable Standard Industry Code.
The safety program has resulted in bottom line benefits, too. Workers' compensation costs for Koppers dropped from $2.6 million in 1997 to $363,000 in 2003.
And Turner contends that emphasizing health, safety and sound environmental practices improves operations.
"We've already seen our workers' compensation costs being reduced, but it goes further than that," says Turner. "Once you get this culture of being safe, it also helps productivity and goes on ... into the daily operations of a plant."
One might argue that the turnaround at the Monessen plant came at least in part because of its proximity to the watchful eye of the nearby corporate headquarters, but Turner says implementing safety is essentially in the hands of the Koppers employees in the field.
"Our biggest asset is really our employees out there who hold the brain power to really look at doing things better," Turner says. "It's not someone sitting here in Pittsburgh who knows how to do things; it's the employee at the plant that knows how to do things better."