Sandridge follows USDA approved operation guidelines to provide a controlled mixing environment.

The first step to solving a problem is admitting that one exists. Although this first step can be a challenge, Mark Sandridge chief executive officer of Sandridge Food Corp. talks openly about the obstacles his company has faced in recent years.

“A few years ago, we determined that our accident rate was not where we would have liked it to be,” he says of the Medina, Ohio, processor of chilled deli salads, soups and side dishes. “While most of the injuries were not severe, the total number of accidents was increasing, which was not good for our employees. As a result of this less than ideal performance, we knew that our Workers Compensation costs were going to go in the wrong direction as well.”

For a nearly 50-year-old, family-owned company that processes more than 500 different products and counts “always improving” among its core values, Sandridge knew this was an unacceptable state of affairs. In response, he asked Sandridge Senior Director Jim Meadows to form a team-based safety strategy. The results continue to transform the company today.

That effort began in 2004 with a “people safety committee” consisting of employee volunteers. The team was made up of a cross section of workers from around the plant.  “The group decided that in order to reduce accidents, it had to be a priority for everyone in the company,” Meadows says.

The committee now holds monthly safety training sessions with mandatory attendance for all employees (including executives and office staff). Another aspect of the program involves checklists including specific equipment hazards related to every production room. Today, all workers must be trained about these risks before working in a given area. Other improvements include: a reporting system to track all accidents, thorough accident review procedures, “safety month” once a year with contests and prizes, an annual “safety celebration” with gift baskets for employees not involved in accidents for the last year and a “safety suggestions” program in which employees comments are logged, reviewed and considered for the “Safety Employee of the Month” award.

Meadows says all these changes quickly made a difference.

By 2006, recordable accidents decreased by 32 to 18 incidents. Last year only 10 accidents were recorded.

“As a direct result of these procedures, our accidents have declined dramatically, even though our employee headcount continues to rise,” he adds.

It’s true that at a time when many companies are down sizing, Sandridge has been growing - in terms of headcount, production space and productivity. Having a handle on worker safety has allowed the company to focus and improve in other areas as well.

“While many people are cutting quality and reducing work force to save money, Sandridge has done the opposite,” Sandridge says. “We firmly believe that the long term winner in our fresh food industry will be the company that maintains - or increases - their quality.”

Last year, the company constructed a new 30,000-square-foot shipping facility at its Medina plant. The addition pushed overall size to more than 150,000 square feet.

“Fortunately for us, the financing package was in place in the fall of 2007 before the financial crisis hit its hardest. That enabled us to complete our expansion on time and under budget,” Sandridge says. “As a result of this expansion we improved our service level to customers to 99.8 percent on time deliveries and 99.5 percent fulfillment.

“The new expansion of our facilities also has led us to increase the number of employees that we have on staff. In the last four years we have grown our staffing by about 20 percent.”

In recent years, the company also has devoted time and resources to improving operational efficiencies, food safety precautions, waste reduction and product quality.

Sandridge points to the company’s core values for fueling much of these programs’ successes. In addition to “always improving,” these core values include: “integrity/ethics,” “caring employee environment,” “excellence in reputation” and “responsive customer service.” He adds that running the company with these values as a guide helps create “alignment” meaning that all employees are focused on the same goals.

“The number one goal in operations is to keep our people happy, which we know will result in better and safer products for our customers,” he adds. “Since we are a family-owned company, our ways of dealing with employees may be somewhat unique.”

The company offers a number of worker benefits, ranging from rent subsidies to baseball ticket giveaways.

“[We] now have the third generation of the Sandridge family working here. What makes us even more proud is that we also have some third and many second generation associates that are NOT related to the Sandridge family,” Sandridge says. “We think it is a great honor when family members recommend to other family members that Sandridge is a great place to work.”

Just the Facts

Company:Sandridge Food Corp.

Food plant(s) honored:   Medina, Ohio

Selection criteria:   Employee Programs, Worker Safety, Food Safety

Employees:   350

Facility size:   150,000 square feet

Products:   Chilled potato salads, pasta salads, fresh soups, protein salads and other items.