BorgWarner Inc.: Optimas Gold Winner for Business Impact

By Rick Bell

Nov. 30, 2014

The Dixon, Illinois, plant of BorgWarner Emissions Systems faced a concern that’s all too common in the manufacturing industry.Borg Warner December 2014

Safety issues confronted the plant’s workers and executives at the downstate Illinois plant, which has been in operation for more than 50 years. It proved to be a significant business challenge for many reasons, especially in the area of ergonomics.

Chronic problems such as lost-time days, assembly-line inefficiencies and corresponding increases in manufacturing costs were escalating. Not surprisingly, cost competitiveness with other companies was eroding for BorgWarner Inc., a global Tier 1 automotive supplier.

Optimas logo 2014Rather than relying on a single event to solve the problem, BorgWarner embarked on a multiyear “journey of learning, partnership and continuous improvement” some 20 years ago, according to its application. It’s a journey that the company still travels.

In 1993, Patricia Lachat, the company’s health and safety manager, implemented a benchmarking and educational program seeking answers in effective safety programs — particularly in ergonomic management for assembly operations.

Lachat and Dr. Gregory Grubb, an area pioneer in occupational medicine, embarked on a decadelong employee-health expedition long before wellness became the trendy workplace initiative that exists today. Since then, their research and innovation have had a significant effect on employee health and safety as well as the BorgWarner corporate culture.

The plant is now considered the company’s benchmark facility for health and safety. The ongoing dedication led to the plant being named a U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration Voluntary Protection Program Star site, which it has maintained since 2000. The site also drastically cut lost-days from 1,200 a year when the initiative started to two to three days during the past three years. The plant went five consecutive years from 2000 to 2005 with no lost days.

The Dixon plant’s achievements led to BorgWarner’s recent decision to invest nearly $10 million during the next three years to support its growth in the commercial diesel market.

For its ongoing commitment to employee health and safety, BorgWarner is the 2014 Optimas Award winner for Business Impact.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director. For comments or questions email

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