Stellar safety record at local Coke facility

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Coca-Cola Bottling Ltd. in Chatham (MRC) recently marked a decade of no lost time to workplace injuries. The accomplishment is attributed to a healthy workplace culture where the motto is “see something, say something.” For every accident-free year, a banner featuring the signatures of all employees is hung. MRC site manager Rene Lapointe; Cesar Torres, co-chair of the plant’s joint health and safety committee; and Bill Pickering, senior manager of equipment operations, display the latest banner.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Coke Zero isn’t just a drink at Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd. in Chatham.

Thanks to the perseverance of employees and management, the Park Avenue plant has gone 10 years with zero time lost to workplace injuries

The milestone on Feb. 6, puts the plant first for safety out of Coca-Cola’s 55 Canadian locations and was marked Feb. 22 with a special lunch and celebration. Dignitaries and executives were treated to a tour of the plant, getting a firsthand look at how 25 technicians refurbish Coke coolers for all of Canada.

Cesar Torres, who co-chairs the plant’s joint health and safety committee, said the key to the facility’s long-term safety success is its employees.

“Everyone, every day just making sure that we’re safe and making sure things run properly,” Torres explained, adding there’s an extra incentive as nobody wants to end the decade-long run.

“They don’t want to be the guy to ruin the streak,” Torres noted. “As time has gone on, the streak has continued so we end up putting even more focus into safety.”

Well-placed signage, up-to-date training that goes above and beyond government mandates, consistent safety meetings, high visibility clothing and equipment, and a neat and clean workspace all combine for the win, Torres said.

Led by MRC facility manager Rene Lapointe, meetings are held each morning and a complete safety inspection takes place each month.

If anything is amiss, it’s addressed immediately, Torres noted, as management is onboard with making the site as safe as possible.

“Our management team is fantastic,” he said. “If we need something safety related, there’s no questions asked. We take care of it.”

The company’s motto is “see something, say something,” he added.

Part of the city’s landscape since 1938, the plant stopped bottling Coca Cola in the late 1980s. The re-manufacturing facility, known as the “make ready centre,” opened in 1981 and ran alongside a distribution centre until 2014 when it was converted entirely to a refurbishment centre.

Some 5,000 coolers are revamped in Chatham every year, which in addition to saving money helps the environment by keeping machines out of the landfill.

Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Limited is a family-owned Canadian company, separate from the Atlanta-based producer.

Mark Scholtes, vice-president of supply chain for the business, said travelling to the Chatham plant every February to mark another safe year has become his “favourite” annual trip.

“There’s no other facility in Canada that has reached this milestone,” Scholtes told the gathering.

“Zero is possible. We certainly couldn’t be more proud of what’s been accomplished by this group. This team plays a pivotal role for our entire business.”

Senior equipment operations manager Bill Pickering, who co-chairs the joint safety committee with Torres, had words of praise for the entire staff.

“A healthy and productive workplace can only be achieved thanks to the tools and the training available,” Pickering said, “but the other key ingredient, and the most important ingredient, is the people who make up our workplace – your workplace – and their attention to detail. And at the Chatham MRC, we believe our workforce is made up of the best people,” he said.

Along with fixing coolers and providing new coolers, plans are in the works to begin revamping Coke fountain machines in May.

Mayor Darrin Canniff and Chatham-Kent–Leamington MP Dave Epp brought greetings and signed the banner, with both saying it’s one of the cleanest and most orderly facilities they’ve ever seen.

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