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WATCH YOUR BACK

Oct 1, 1997 12:00 AM


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How many employers provide a fully equipped fitness center on the premises for employees? It's easy to talk about how much management cares about employees, but a fitness center is physical evidence of words turned into actions.

Concern for the well-being of employees pervades buying decisions, too, at Triangle/Expercolor (Skokie, IL). For example, when an employee happened upon an ergonomic lift, plant management listened, proving that this is one printing company that demonstrates a progressive approach to its employees.

Triangle/Expercolor's concern for employees started back in 1955 when the company was founded with the $250 savings account of owners Harvey and Yetta Saltzman. These entrepreneurs started with a single-color press, a paper cutter and two employees, all housed in 2,000 sq. ft. on Montrose Avenue in Chicago, and set up shop. The company started by printing general commercial work, later specializing in four-color work and then added digital electronic color prepress operations.

In 1972, Triangle moved to its present facility, a 28,000 sq. ft. building in Skokie, a Chicago suburb. In the early 1980s, through revenue bond financing, the company expanded to 50,000 sq. ft. and added five- and six- color presses and electronic prepress equipment. Triangle believes in an environmentally friendly approach--soy-based inks are used in an alcohol-free pressroom. Today, sales are closing in on the $7 million mark.

"Triangle specializes in one- through six-color printing," according to David Saltzman, vice president and son of owner Harvey. The company offers three areas of service: electronic prepress, including full-color films for web and rotogravure printers; custom printing of annual reports, catalogs, corporate brochures, greeting cards, point-of-purchase materials, posters, etc., and a print-on-demand service for the travel and tourism industry which includes sales sheets, postcards, brochures and more. Single-source convenience is the goal--services offered include everything from design and digital photography to electronic prepress and mailing services.

With such diverse clients and products, Triangle/Expercolor employees lift and move both light and heavy materials throughout the plant, making them prone to back and repetitive motion injuries. Employees wear the OSHA-mandated backbelts, but sore backs and physical strain remained a concern. Therefore, when Triangle learned about equipment that offered cost-effective injury prevention, it decided not to wait until a permanent back injury sidelined an employee. Instead, the company connected with Interthor, a manufacturer of ergonomic lifting equipment.

Interestingly, Interthor is one of Triangle's print customers, but didn't become a supplier until one of the printer's salespeople called on Interthor. There he saw something Triangle employees could use: a device that eliminates bending and lifting. When Bob Toton, plant manager of Triangle, heard about the device, he made a trip to Interthor to investigate. Seeing that the price was right, management opted to try a Thork-lift for a one-month free trial. The company was on to something.

At the end of the first week, Triangle called to order a second Thork-Lift. "Press crews were fighting for the truck," recalls Toton. "Now we have four. For the money, it can't be beat."

The Thork-lift is a battery-operated combination lift table and pallet truck. It picks up a skid or pallet load, wheels it to the work site and then adjusts to the appropriate height. An electronic remote control also is available so that employees don't need to stop production to either lower or raise the lift. A press of a button does the work. The Thork-lift supports up to 2,200 lbs.

Toton says no workers' comp claims have been filed since purchasing the equipment. Employee Tony Grembowski uses the lift to keep the pallet level with the paper cutter he works on. "What can I say? My back isn't sore." He specifically appreciates the electronic remote control that lets him continue feeding the paper cutter without leaving his work area.

"It is a cheap way to increase productivity," notes Toton. "And it shows consideration for the staff. There's no lifting at all, just sliding. We have no more complaints of back pain. No more Doan's pills."

Toton knows it's unusual to get excited about ergonomic equipment in an era of computer-to-plate and direct-to-plate technologies. "Everything is computerized, and this is manual. But it gets the job done."

Getting jobs well done is definitely something Triangle/Expercolor does with flare. Take its growth plans, for example.

"We'll do it through acquisition," asserts Saltzman.

One recent acquisition, Graphic House, is a case in point. Formerly a small one- and two- color shop in Chicago, Triangle has moved Graphic House's equipment--a two-color Heidelberg and two A.B. Dick presses--into its Skokie facilities.The company is actively seeking other similar companies to help increase Triangle's market share.

Of course, it's easy to talk about growth. Given the way Triangle backs up its concern for employees' well-being however, there is little doubt that those words will turn into action.