Russia firm gets top safety award

By Patricia Ann Speelman -

RUSSIA — Francis Mfg. Co., of Russia, was given the first place Safety Innovation Award by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) during the latter’s Safety Congress and Expo in Columbus, March 7.

Francis Account Manager Mark Francis and key teammate Jess Pohlman accepted the award, which comprised a plaque and $6,000.

The local firm had submitted the results of its sand conveyance system in the competition, which honored innovative solutions to safety concerns in the workplace.

A panel of independent judges evaluated and scored the innovations based on several criteria, including risk reduction, innovation and cost savings and potential for the innovation to be used by other employers, according to a BWC release.

Francis’s sand conveyance system was developed by Hapman, a Kalamazoo, Michigan, manufacturer of many kinds of conveyors.

“I went to them with our problem. We took their design and adapted it to our situation,” Francis President David Francis told the Sidney Daily News, Monday, March 11.

The Russia firm’s “problem” was the injuries suffered by molders who had to shovel up to 20,000 pounds of sand into their mold-making machines every day.

“We looked for alternative ways to shovel sand for four reasons,” David said. “One was to reduce our work-related injuries; two was to save money on workers’ compensation rates; three was to make FMC an easier place to work; and four was to extend the age of our molders. In the past, once you hit 40 or 45, it became too difficult to continue.”

The Hapman conveyor solved all those problems. Francis Mfg. acquired its first one in April 2015 and has since added another 18 to its shop floor, an investment of “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” David said, $40,000 of which was covered by a safety grant from the state in 2016.

“A shovel worked for a long time,” Mark said. But by 2015, it was time for something better. Coming up with that something better took some trial and error. The first Hapman solution didn’t work.

“Wet, fine foundry sand is about the most abrasive thing you can find. It likes to compact. It’s a tough medium to convey,” Mark said. Unlike dried corn or metal screws or any of hundreds of other things that easily move on conveyors, the foundry sand presented unusual problems.

Once they were solved, musmusculoskeletal injuries were vastly reduced. When Mark, during a meeting of the Sidney/Shelby County Safety Council, heard about the Safety Innovation Award, he decided to apply.

“It look like we qualified. It took a couple of hours to put all the information together. Then we flew it up the flagpole to see what happens,” he said.

The Hapman conveyor automatically moves tons of sand to each molder’s work station. A bucket loader puts the sand into the conveyor. The whole system is unique to Francis Manufacturing.

Automating the molder’s sand handling has resulted in reduced absenteeism and increased production. Workers have reported increased energy at the end of shifts and have fewer complaints of back and shoulder pain, according to the BWC release.

“There were more technically advanced (innovations submitted by other firms), but they thought ours was more impactful,” Mark said about why Francis Mfg. took top honors.

The monetary prize will pay for an employee appreciation day planned for May.

“We’ll roast a hog and give out door prizes,” David said.

Other companies who placed in the BWC competition were Terydon Inc., of Navarre, J&R Farms, of Mount Vernon, and Yoder Drilling & Geothermal Inc., of Sugarcreek.

By Patricia Ann Speelman

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.