Safety equipment manufacturer makes safety a priority

July 24, 2013
In this Plant Profile, Federal Signal meets a worldwide need from Illinois.
Did you ever wonder where the car companies buy those low-profile, sneaky lights or the sirens for the new police cruisers? A very likely answer is Federal Signal, Safety and Security Division, in University Park, Illinois. The company also makes outdoor warning systems with lights and sirens for tsunamis, tornados, and all kinds of man-made or natural disasters. Other products are as diverse as public address systems, tire pressure warning systems, in-car video for police, back-up alarms, fire alarms, reverse cameras and the colored beacons used to signal line conditions in plants. Much of Federal Signal’s work is custom systems made up of the standard components. More than 20% of its work is for export.

Federal Signal was founded in 1901, and the University Park plant opened in the early 1980s, when the operation moved from Blue Island, Illinois. Since then it has grown to about 450,000 sq ft with 600 employees, 350 of whom are assembly technicians.

Effectiveness and efficiency

Since the Federal Signal facility makes safety equipment for other facilities, its own safety systems are of special interest. Safety is taken very seriously at University Park. When a recent visitor developed a nosebleed in the plant lobby, the Federal Signal response team helped the visitor, performed a full cleanup and disinfection procedure on the area, and filed a formal report before returning to their regular jobs.

“We are proud of a steady reduction in safety events since 2007,” says Dan DesRochers, vice president of operations. “We now define events as near misses, and they’re down by 50% in the past two years. Our workforce averages 47 years of age, with 13 years of service, though we have a lot of people with more than 30 years’ seniority. Females make up 85% of the assembly workers. Most of the work is light assembly, which tends to create repetitive motion injuries. These make up about 75% of our safety events. We have to think ahead of the next safety event to avoid this kind of injury. To help us do that, we have an ergonomic specialist on staff.  Our president wants to personally hear about all near misses.”

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at [email protected] or check out his .

Federal Signal’s approach to staying ahead of safety events is consistent with the July, 2013 cover article, “My Brother’s Keeper.” Safety is handled as a top corporate value and priority. It is built into a regularly scheduled system of continuous improvement events. Involvement in these events and the quality of follow-up and results from them are a part of team measurements and supervisors’ performance reviews.

“Safety kaizen events,” says DesRochers, “are driven by ideas from the floor, including anonymous accounts of safety events. The kaizen events may start with 5S drills and always include sharing updates and knowledge gained with the rest of the organization. When kaizen events create action items, either safety or productivity opportunities, managers make it our job to provide rapid action. It’s how we show the team that we’re as engaged as we want them to be. We invest the same level of energy in quarterly safety audits and the follow-up to incident investigations. Safety teams follow up on safety issues, supervisors conduct monthly ‘safety huddles,’ and we all apply best practices wherever we see the opportunity.”

Worker involvement extends to other improvement programs as well, continues DesRochers. “We conduct 80/20 lean initiatives for product and production simplification,” he says. “Operators are involved in all work cell layouts. Teams are involved in plant-wide safety improvements, and there are celebrations when safety and plant metrics are met. We have slogan contests and banners in the plant to demonstrate energy and progress. All this helps to underscore the fact that engaged employees make a difference.”


“For the journey of safety improvement, the entire workforce must be engaged,” summarizes DesRochers. “An active, engaged safety committee is essential, as is quick response to safety issues. It shows everyone that safety is our No. 1 priority. Enforce all safety policies and look for best practices, internal and external.”

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column, Plant Profile.