Steel & Alloy Receives Joan Kovach Safety Award

BOARDMAN, Ohio -- Steel & Alloy Utility Products Inc., a family-owned business in McDonald, received the Joan Kovach Safety Leadership Award Wednesday from the Mahoning Valley Safety Council.

Co-owner and Vice President Nick Gallo accepted the honor and shared credit with Steel & Alloy safety coordinator Tom Miles, who began the program in 1999.

The other three finalists for the eighth annual Kovach award were the Mahoning Valley chapter of the American Red Cross in Liberty, Magna Seating in Lordstown and Roof Rite Inc. in Boardman.

The state Bureau of Workers’ Compensation recognized 158 companies here for their safety efforts or achievements at the annual safety council luncheon at Antone’s Banquet Center. They received an achievement, special, 100% or group award or some combination. For example, Hampton Woods, a rehabilitation and nursing home, received a group, 100% and achievement award and Howland Local School District won all four.

The 100% award is given to any company that goes a year with any employee taking off time because of an injury on the job. The group award is given to the company that has the lowest number of accidents in its category. The special award is given those companies that, over six months, record its employees working 500,000 hours without serious accident.

Michelle Francisco, safety council program manager at the state workers’ comp bureau, noted that each special award is based on its safety record with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, not BWC claims filed.

Companies have gone from paying lip service to safety to making it part of their corporate cultures, the president and CEO of US Safety Gear Inc., Tarry Alberini, said in the keynote address.

After graduating from Champion High School in June 1977, Alberini followed his grandfather, father and two uncles to work in a steel mill.

Four years later he found himself laid off along with thousands of other steelworkers as the industry retrenched. He worked four part-time jobs to support his family and meet large mortgage payments. One of those jobs was selling safety gloves from the trunk of his car. That was the start of Northco Supplies that eventually became US Safety Gear.

Even though he was recalled by Copperweld Steel in 1987, Alberini continued to sell safety gloves part-time, he said. By 1991, he was working at Copperweld full-time, making a success of Northco, seeing little of his family and always tired.

Shortly before he decided to quit the steel mill, he recalled, he reported to work one winter morning after a half-foot of snow had fallen overnight. As he walked by the plant hospital, “I saw fresh blood of the snow.” Another steelworker had died when “a crane block had fallen and split that gentleman in half,” Alberini said.

“A bell rang inside my head,” he continued, and decided to quit working at the mill and become a full-time entrepreneur. “I worked in a mill. I saw what went on” related to safety.

“I started with $500 and a dream and a prayer,” the keynote speaker told the audience. Today US Safety Gear is “a multi-million-dollar company with 15 locations” including a 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Leavittsburg.

As Alberini makes calls on companies, “I see the [safety] culture changing,” he said. Companies better appreciate the need for and value of safety because they have an increased respect for their employees and better appreciate their value to their companies.

Sam Boak, owner of Sam Boak & Sons and recipient of last year’s Joan Kovach Safety Leadership Award, introduced Claudia Kovach, vice president of City Machine Technologies and daughter of the woman whose name is on the safety council’s highest award. An emotional Claudia Kovach presented it to Gallo.

Steel & Alloy, founded 55 years ago by Gallo’s grandfather, Tom Gallo Sr., is an engineering design and fabrication shop that employs 50. The younger Gallo graduated from McDonald High School in June 1999 and earned his B.S. in business administration in 2004

On Nick’s 10th birthday, Oct. 13, 1992, his grandfather called his house to ask him to be his block man at the plant, Gallo recalled. Upon his arrival, Tom Sr. was driving a forklift and invited Nick to join him on the seat as he moved materials outside the plant inside. They spent most of the day on the forklift.

Just after graduating from high school, Nick reported for work at Steel & Alloy and was told he would spend most of his first day watching safety videos and taking tests. Although bored, he recalled, he watched the videos and took the tests.

Then he went outside to drive a forklift. On his way back to the office, he gave a ride to a co-worker, witnessed by the test administrator who promptly informed the 17-year-old Nick that he had failed the safety test.

Gallo was stunned, he recalled.

Why, he asked.

Because he had given a ride on the forklift -- a violation of the safety rules -- to his fellow employee.

“But my grandfather wasn’t stopped when he drove me around all day,” Gallo countered.

No one thought it prudent to instruct Tom Gallo Sr. on how he should drive a forklift, his grandson was reminded.

That lesson stuck with him, the recipient of the Joan Kovach Award said. Tom Gallo Sr. induced Miles to become the safety coordinator and yesterday was the culmination of 15 years of developing a safer workplace.

Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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