A Star Once Again

Burley's Tessenderlo Kerley plant recertifies with OSHA

Published in the August 2009 Issue Published online: Aug 06, 2009
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Tessenderlo Kerley's Burley, Idaho, plant has done it again.

The U.S. Department of Labor's OSHA recently re-certified the facility's participation in the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) at the star level-their highest-this summer.

The Tessenderlo Kerley Inc. (TKI), manufacturing plant employs 13 workers who produce soil fumigant for distribution to agricultural product retailers. The facility has an injury and illness rate 100 percent below the national average for its industry.

The plant has come a long way in 12 years.

Back in April of 1997-before Phoenix, Ariz.-based TKI acquired the plant-there was an incident that took the life of one employee and tarred the facility's reputation. Since that time, and since TKI took over, employees have used the plant's negative reputation as motivation to the point that it now excels in being a safe environment despite the volatile chemicals handled there.

Richard Terrill, OSHA regional administrator for Region 10 (which takes in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska) says that OSHA'S VPP five-fold principles include employee involvement, training and coming up with a system to identify and fix potential hazards.

Terrill points out that to be certified at the star level, the facility must have an injury rate-over a three-year period-lower than the average for that industry.

"A company like this that has a small number of employees, if they have a couple of incidents, it knocks them out," he says.

The certification was first awarded to TKI's Burley facility in 2006. In February of this year, OSHA looked at 2006-2008 to consider the plant for recertification.

"They had no OSHA recordables, and they had no lost-time injuries. So, effectively, rates of zero on both counts," Richard says.

He points out that employee involvement is not easy, but TKI is making it work.

"In a sense, the management of the company turns over a lot of the running of the safety programs to the employees. They say, `You're the operators-you know better than anybody the hazards of your job.'"

But an easy process it hasn't been, according to Mark Payne, an "A" operator at the plant.

"You've got to go through every product, every scenario to see if in your wildest dreams there could be a problem, what the chances are of that happening and anything you can do to prevent that from happening. You brainstorm them to the outer limits to keep yourself safe."

Even if there's a one-in-a-million chance of something happening, they record that.

"From when one railcar gets on your track to when it goes out in a truck or railcar, you've got to do everything in between," he says.

The Burley plant has three reactors that converts the volatile and highly flammable raw materials into the non-flammable finished product. In the third reactor, samples are taken every hour. If something changes-even minutely-alarms go off.

"We set parameters for it, and we set them tight," he says. "For what chemicals we have here, the way it's set up, I feel it's as safe as it can ever be," Mark says.

It helps that they have extended periods of downtime. Production time is limited to six to eight months a year, depending on demand. Generally, production times are from mid-February to the end of April and from the first of June to the end of November. During that downtime, facility maintenance and improvements are completed. The shops are thoroughly cleaned and tools are even repainted. And there still remains time for operators to travel to other TKI plants to help with their projects.

Terrill is pleased with the progress the facility has made-helping TKI keep employees safe, and helping OSHA at the same time.

"For us, what it does is it validates a model that actually works," he says, "that we can try to give to companies that don't have such good programs, and say, `Look, if you go this direction, and you work hard at it, you can reduce your injuries and illnesses.'"