Sheet Metal Today: No Shortcuts in Safety

Cates Sheet Metal Industries, Inc., is celebrating its 40th anniversary in the sheet metal industry. Since our founding in 1968, we’ve been an industry leader in the field of commercial and industrial sheet metal.

Safety has been an important part of our success. Following an accidental death of an employee in May 200l, Cates Sheet Metal realized the need not only to have a safety program in place, but also to ensure that program be an aggressive effort to eliminate all accidents and injuries. From that day forward we’ve also become a leader in strong safety programs as well.

Cates Sheet Metal practices a safety policy and philosophy of “zero accidents.” We’re committed to protecting and promoting the health and safety of our employees, and it’s become part of our culture and daily practices.

Our safety program was developed to ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local regulations, with particular emphasis on the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Our policy of zero accidents is intended to prevent all accidents and human suffering, as even minor incidents oftentimes cause physical and mental pain, as well as financial hardship. We’re committed to what we firmly believe is a worthwhile and achievable goal.

Safety Committee Helps Shape Safety Culture
Cates Sheet Metal’s safety program begins with a safety committee made up of a cross section of the entire company. The committee is composed of representatives from every department in the office, shop, and field. It includes the company president Paul Russell, office staff, field and shop foremen and supervisors, detailers, project managers, journeymen, and apprentices. Most serve on the committee for a one-year term, to allow more people to be involved with the safety program. The committee also relies on an advisor from Cates’ insurance carrier, an OSHA representative, and the Kansas City chapter of Sheet Metal Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA).

The safety committee meets on the first Wednesday of each month. All safety policies and procedures are made and approved by the safety committee and its advisors, based on recommendations brought to the committee. The result has been a safety culture that provides a safe and healthy working environment for employees.

Safety Director a Strong Presence
As Cates Sheet Metal’s full-time safety director, it’s my responsibility to implement and enforce all safety policies and procedures. Each month, I conduct 25-35 safety audits of the offices, shops, and field operations. Our shops include a commercial division, industrial division, and a spiral shop at another location.

Our shop foremen and supervisors are informed of any hazards, violations, or unsafe conditions on his or her project. I’m also responsible to ensure continuing safety education for all employees on a regular basis. I conduct a monthly safety meeting for all foremen, supervisors, detailers and project managers. Safety industry representatives will also visit, to provide safety training, some of which is hands-on training.

All of Cates Sheet Metal’s foremen and supervisors are OSHA 30-hour trained and have current Red Cross first aid CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) training.

This thorough program has greatly reduced our insurance premiums. When I took over the program, our experience modification ratio (EMR) was rated at 1.0. Today, our EMR is 0.64.

Incentive Programs that Work
When I assumed responsibility for the safety program, it took awhile for the safety culture to become ingrained in all employees. After a couple of years, however, safety has truly become one of our hallmarks.

We’ve utilized several incentive programs to reward our employees for working safely, including:

1. If no employee in either of the shops or the field (each shop and job site is treated separately) receives a “notice of violation,” receives an OSHA recordable accident, or has an unexcused absence in the course of a week, the employees receive safety points that can be used to purchase Cates clothing, work clothes, prescription glasses, and foot wear.

2. Each employee that has been employed by Cates Sheet Metal for one year receives an additional 1,000 points.

After revising and restructuring the safety program, Cates Sheet Metal’s employees have enjoyed a much safer work environment, which allows them to go home each day the same way that they arrived at work, safe and healthy.

Employee Health Matters, Too
We not only encourage our employees to work safely, but we want them to live healthy lifestyles, too. Earlier this year, Cates Sheet Metal became a participant in the Missouri- Kansas Welfare Fund’s Wellness Program. A total of 52 employees and spouses participated in a series of wellness screenings and questions about their lifestyle and agreed to strive to accomplish goals they set for the year. The employees will be rewarded when their goals are met.

Cates Sheet Metal has always prided itself in quality products and installation. Because of the efforts and support of our management and our employees to create a safety culture that works, it clearly supports the meaning of our safety slogan: “Cates: Where Safety And Quality Meet.”


Joseph A. Cates and John Seibolt founded Cates Sheet Metal Industries, Inc. in 1968 as Cates Seibolt Industries. Six weeks after opening the company’s doors, John Seibolt passed away – leaving Joseph to depend on his 35 years of sheet metal experience to manage the new company alone.

Later that year, Joseph’s son, Dan, joined the family business after graduating from the University of Kansas. Also a field-trained sheet metal craftsman, Dan combined his on-the-job experience and college business education to help his father develop Cates into the most progressive and computerized sheet metal company in Kansas City, MO. Cates was the first organization in the area to use computerized estimating, computer aided drafting, and computer-aided manufacturing. It was also the first to install the city’s only plasma cutting system.

Cates expanded into spiral and oval manufacturing in 1999 and used its technology to acquire numerous projects outside of the Kansas City area, such as the Omaha Arena, Houston Convention Center and Hilton Hotel, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, and the Omaha Union Pacific Office Complex. New capabilities quickly outgrew the Cates manufacturing facility and the 20,000 sq.ft. Cates spiral shop opened its own location around the corner from the company’s headquarters.

Joseph Cates retired in 1989, and Dan took the reins as Cates president and CEO. As the company continued to prosper under Dan’s leadership, Cates left its Olathe, KS home of 28 years and relocated to nearby Lenexa. It doubled its space to a 30,000-sq.ft. manufacturing facility and 10,000 sq. ft. of office space.

Dan Cates serves as company chairman. Paul Russell is president, and Carson Cates is vice president of preconstruction services.

Jim Pickel is safety director for Cates Sheet Metal Industries, Inc. Prior to joining Cates Sheet Metal, he managed an environmental testing and training facility. He currently serves on the safety committee of the Kansas City chapter of SMACNA.

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