Depending on how you look at it, Mr. Charlie Jones either works for a very small company or a very big one. As Plant Manager for Flint Hills Resources Omaha asphalt terminal, Mr. Jones works at a small facility with fewer than 10 people. Flint Hills also just happens to be an international company providing him with resources and support. While Mr. Jones feels like he works within a small business with a family atmosphere, he knows that he can draw on the best safety practices and safety training from across the country.
Based in Wichita, Kansas, Flint Hills Resources is an independent refining, chemicals, and biofuels company. Mr. Jones has been with the company for twenty-five years. He came to Omaha twelve years ago. “Just the idea of an asphalt plant in July…” Jones said with a laugh. At the time Flint Hills was building a new facility four miles from the existing plant. Mr. Jones was drawn to the area by the opportunity to stay with the company and move into a new field. “Flint Hills really operates with an overall company philosophy, but each business and site has its own personality based on their clients, industry needs, and the location, “said Jones. The Omaha location sells liquid asphalt, and the binder used by road construction contractors to mix with sand and gravel to build roads. It serves Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri.
Funding for transportation related issues remains a challenge for most states. With ever shrinking budgets, many states are changing their product specifications to allow for the of use more recycled asphalt in the mix to reduce costs Flint Hills Resources has developed a polymer-modified asphalt cement that not only realizes these cost savings for the customer, but also results in pavement surfaces that last longer . It has more give and take under changes in pressure and temperature.” Jones says proudly. “Our site makes different blends based on the customer’s requirement.”
Being economic and competitive is a challenge, but the consistent message from Flint Hill leadership is that safety is the number one priority. Years ago, when Mr. Jones moved from corporate to operations in North Carolina, he realized that the company had a lot of safety rules and programs -- it was almost too much for the individuals at the facility. “We needed a position where one local person could own and manage all the safety programs,” stated Jones. The company executives listened and the position was created. Local ownership and management of safety has resulted in a number of benefits, including a drop in injuries.
Flint Hills continues to support safety on every level. Each terminal now has a Local Safety Coordinator (LSC) who is a frontline operating technician. These LSCs have regularly scheduled knowledge sharing calls to discuss various safety topics with a focus on improving employee safety. The LSCs have two leaders from each group that drive the discussions and priorities with help from a Safety Specialist, as opposed to a management employee leading the meeting. “If the local LSC can’t make the meeting for some reason, they make arrangements to have another operating technician on the call, take notes and report back to them -- it’s a team effort,” said Jones. Management monitors the safety training schedules for the staff, but each employee is responsible for managing his or her own plan.
Flint Hills uses everything from tailgate meetings to virtual training modules. Depending on the position there can be twenty to fifty different elements throughout the course of the year. Because its business is seasonal, much of the training can be done between December and April, when the company is not shipping product. There is also an emphasis placed on off-site training, which allows employees from other locations to get together and share ideas.
One of the advantages of a small, stable staff is that experienced people can watch out for new people. “You know how it is, they are new on the job and they want to show they can contribute by jumping in. Sometimes they might even feel like we’re holding them back, but they don’t know what they don’t know yet,” says Jones. “Even the third party drivers don’t like all the rules at first, but then they see that few incidents happen that were not preventable.” The biggest hazard at the location is simply heat. The products are maintained and shipped over 300 degrees, hot pipes and liquid are hazards that need to be managed. The asphalt is heated using steam, which can be a significant burn hazard.. In addition, asphalt can contain hazardous by-products such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Everyone in the plant wears a H2S monitor at all times. “Things happen quickly,” Jones says “but we’ve engineered out a lot of the issues. Even the truck loading racks use pneumatics to reduce ergonomic hazards.” The emphasis on safety must be working, it’s been more than seven years since the last recordable injury.
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