At Northland Cabinets, we construct each of our fine pieces of cabinetry using a carefully developed building process, which has been established with safety and efficiency in mind. Whether we’re building custom entertainment centers, cabinets, fireplace mantles, bars or vanities, you’d be surprised at the level of impact our company philosophy has on the superior craftsmanship and overall cost savings we’re able to offer to customers. Because everything we produce is custom-made, every day requires different procedures. What remains constant is our commitment to quality and efficiency with innovative and reliable safety methods integrated systematically into the shop’s processes.
As a family-owned shop, Northland Cabinets will soon be proudly celebrating its 27th year in business. We employ approximately 30 people, the majority of whom have been with our company for more than half of the time we’ve been in business. We consider our employees to be our most valuable resource, and we believe in taking good care of them.
Safety Awareness is Inherent in our Company Culture
Here at Northland, our CEO, Terry Silbaugh, is known for continuously seeking to improve both our product and the shop procedures through a combination of research and employee input. When he’s considering the purchase of a tool or piece of machinery, Terry talks with the shop manager and workers about the safety aspects and whether it’s something that will work with our process.
Terry doesn’t believe in waiting until it’s mandatory to implement new safety equipment or procedures. He does so when he sees compelling research that reinforces the potential safety advantages. For example, a few years ago, Terry purchased the first of Northland’s three “SawStop” saws. These unique saws feature a revolutionary safety system that stops and retracts the blade (within 5 milliseconds) upon accidental contact, drastically reducing the severity of user injury. Recently at Northland, one of these systems was put to the test. The saw stopped itself instantaneously during operation, protecting one of our employees from what could easily have been a very serious injury. Terry believes the safety features on these saws will one day be mandatory – but why wait for disaster if you can be proactive and prevent it now.
In 1987, Northland Cabinets created a safety director position, in response to our rapid growth and increasing concern with back injuries. Instead of hand loading the finished cabinets onto the delivery truck, extra large pallets were made for these pieces, and forklifts were equipped with special forks to lift pallet loads onto the trucks. The size of cabinets was also limited, with larger pieces constructed in separate smaller units. Over time, Northland has greatly reduced lifting, through a series of engineering modifications. The include crane devices that lift sheets of wood and finished cabinets, and work tables that utilize hydraulic airlift systems, allowing workers to easily adjust table height for the task at had and also to slide the project onto a roller track, where it can be moved to the next work area.
Respiratory protection of employees is also important at Northland Cabinets. That’s why we voluntarily implemented a respiratory protection program for our wood staining room, even though air quality levels didn’t warrant it. Nearly every machine in the area is now connected to a dust collector that sucks dust through tubes and collects it in a hopper outside of the building, and any extra sediment that makes it to the floor is swept into tubes connected to this system. With these precautions in place, it’s not surprising that a wood dust study conducted by the University of Minnesota found Northland’s dust levels to be very low compared to similar companies.
The Northland shop is equipped with both fixed and mobile first aid stations, and each workstation has its own customized first aid kit. Machine guards protect workers from table saws and other tools. Much of the design and execution of projects is facilitated through networked computer programs that aid in production, increase efficiency and reduce risky hands-on machine adjustments. During the summer months, we keep a close eye out for heat stress by taking extra breaks, providing gallons of Gatorade, sending people into an air-conditioned space or closing early if we need to.
Safety Awareness is an Ongoing Process at Northland Cabinets
A high priority for safety awareness and compliance at Northland is continuously demonstrated through safety meetings, training and ongoing re-engineering of the shop. We utilize outside resources such as the Minnesota Safety Council, our insurance company and the local fire department to assist us with training. Annual training sessions include a wide variety of topics and hands-on activities that keep our employees fully engaged in the safety process. As an additional part of our Northland safety program, a physical therapist comes onsite annually to meet witheach employee and recommend ways to reduce their risk of injury, both on the work site and at home. Employees are encouraged to borrow personal protective equipment such as earplugs for any of their home projects.
Safety reminders are posted throughout our shop and employees are urged to report near misses, which are discussed thoroughly. We also want our employees to know they should ask for assistance when needed – non of us are too busy to stop and help them. At Northland Cabinets, our commitment to innovative and reliable safety methods helps us protect our employees’ well-being, while ensuring high quality, cost-effective products for our customers.