Stewards of safety

Features - Operations Focus

Sadoff Iron & Metal Co. enforces safety in every step of its scrap metal recycling operations.

April 2, 2019

© Michael Burrell /

“Safety here is not a priority,” Sadoff Iron & Metal Co.’s CEO Mark Lasky tells new employees at orientation. He says that, upon hearing this, the new employees tilt their heads in confusion.

“Safety is a core value,” Lasky continues. “The difference is priorities can change.”

Sadoff, a third-generation, family-owned scrap metal recycling company founded in 1947 by Lasky’s grandfather, Edward Rudoy, has 245 employees across six locations in Wisconsin and three in Nebraska. At its headquarters in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Sadoff operates a massive auto shredder, the first one to be installed in the state, he says.

The company processes about 350,000 tons of ferrous scrap and 120 million pounds of nonferrous scrap per year.

With mobile shears, a 1,000-ton stationary shear, the auto shredder, nonferrous balers, a briquetting machine, torching, forklifts and a fleet of 45 trucks on the road daily, “you can just think about all the things that can go wrong,” Lasky says.

Guarding the gates

All grades of ferrous and nonferrous scrap—shredder feedstock, foundry busheling, sheet iron, stainless steel, brass and copper—enter the yards through rail, company trucks and outside carriers.

The Canadian National rail line runs through the 30-acre Fond du Lac yard. The Union Pacific line runs through the Sheboygan, Wisconsin, yard and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC line runs through the company’s Lincoln, Nebraska, yard.

“We hand everyone that comes in an environmental and safety card, so when they come into our facility, they’re familiar with our processes,” Lasky says.

Sadoff works with business management consultant Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP), Madison, Wisconsin, to facilitate the flow of traffic entering and leaving the yards.

“We’ve looked into where we put signage, how we highlight things, so it’s not distracting but it’s helpful,” Lasky adds.

David Borsuk, senior advisor to Sadoff Iron & Metal, lists a few hazards scrap yards must be aware of: free-flowing oils and gases, radioactive scrap, compressed gas cylinders and lithium-ion batteries, which are suspected to be the cause of several scrap yard fires. He says the company’s material acceptance policy was created with Sadoff’s three core values—safety, environment and quality—in mind.

“Several stages of inspection” occur before, during and after material enters the yard, Borsuk says. The company uses a combination of radiation detection equipment that is mounted on its truck and rail scales and hand-held equipment to produce more “precise readings” on radioactive scrap, he explains.

“We have a detailed quality procedure that deals specifically with handling radioactive scrap,” Borsuk says. “When scrap sets off our alarm, there’s a process on how to identify it specifically and procedures on how to deal with it depending on what we find.”

Sadoff Iron & Metal has been in business for more than 70 years. The company employs many family members—sons, daughters, husbands and wives.

“The idea is what can we do to mitigate risk in a business with inherent hazards,” Lasky says. “We want to be a place people come to, and their loved ones know we take it seriously. Production never trumps safety. Everyone has the ability to stop a process if it’s unsafe or if they have questions, so they can go home in the way they came,” he adds.

A sacred trust

Jerry Heitman has been the safety director at Sadoff for 22 years. He manages all safety programs and training across all sites. Satellite yards in different cities and states often can feel isolated, he says, so Heitman makes it a priority to visit all the yards every month.

“My approach is always to take the time and get out there, so I can get an idea of what’s really going on,” he says. “I might show up on a Friday afternoon, but I also know Friday afternoons are when people can tend to lose focus. That’s a good time to be around.”

When Heitman first joined the company, he recalls that yard workers wore red hats and managers wore white hats. Switching everyone to white hats is one of the first changes he made to break down what he calls “silos” and to establish trust between different levels of leadership, from yard workers to operating managers and owners.

Over the years, Heitman says he has developed his own training style that resonates with employees. In a recent training exercise, he told the story of an employee who failed to label air brake antifreeze this past winter. The liquid caused an explosion in the yard and injured a welder, he says.

“A lot of times, eyes gloss over when you start talking about hazardous chemicals and labeling, so I use real-life events,” he says.

Sadoff has had worker fatalities, Lasky says. The latest was the death of an employee at the Fond du Lac yard in 2011. Heitman has presented on the fatality at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ (ISRI) Circle of Safety Excellence (COSE), an initiative offered by the Washington-based association to help improve worker, vehicle and facility safety within the recycling industry. COSE members voluntarily share best practices and safety data for the betterment of their own safety operations.

“To honor him, we needed to examine what had went wrong,” Lasky says. “We’ve been open about it so that others can learn. It’s one thing to have systems in place, but things can become rote and, if you’re not reinforcing them properly, people stop paying attention.”

“Production never trumps safety. Everyone has the ability to stop a process if it’s unsafe or if they have questions, so they can go home in the way they came.” – Mark Lasky, CEO, Sadoff Iron & Metal

Lasky was planning to be an English teacher before his father, Sheldon, tried to sell the company in 1998, but the deal fell through. Despite Sheldon not directly asking his sons to run the business, Mark and his brothers, Jason and Bradford, head operations today.

Lasky started from the bottom in 1999 “riding along in trucks” and operating a forklift. Over the years, he’s observed some of the best and worst management practices in the industry.

“As a newbie in various yards in larger cities and small towns, I got a sense right away when I went onto a property what they thought about safety,” Lasky recalls. “Some didn’t require you to wear a hard hat or safety shoes. “When systems and processes aren’t in place, you feel like you’re on your own,” he adds.

Safety at the core

Heitman says he’s never seen anything like Sadoff’s Safety Core in the industry. The program consists of about 40 managers from all company departments, including human resources, training and transportation.

Through the Sadoff Safety Core, managers carry out monthly action items and audits of work areas, new employee safety checklists and “cross pollination audits,” where managers perform audits at other company yards.

Each week, operating managers from all the yards meet virtually to report safety incidents and “near misses” from the week before. They pull video footage of incidents and watch together.

“We recently had a near miss where an employee came out of our warehouse and he was approaching a loader that was moving material onto a baler pad,” Heitman says. “The employee slipped and fell, and the operator didn’t even know he was there. It’s eye-opening watching this one-minute video that could have turned into a very serious incident, if not a fatality.”

Annually, the group sets goals and tracks metrics. Last year, Sadoff’s goal was to reduce days away, restricted or transferred (DART) injuries, a safety metric used by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Heitman says Sadoff reduced injuries by 20 percent.

Borsuk says he is “semiretired,” but, through his role as chair on ISRI’s Safety and Environmental Council (ISEC), he meets with safety and environmental professionals, senior executives and managers to share common issues and develop best management practices.

Additionally, through COSE, Sadoff shares safety data and mentors other scrap metal recyclers on safety programs.

Commenting on Sadoff’s role in the industry, Heitman says, “We are to be stewards of the safety world. We don’t wait for someone to tell us to wear hard hats, reflective vests, safety boots. We go in prepared.”

The author is the digital editor for the Recycling Today Media Group and can be reached at