Wacker Chemical: 'Safety culture' is key to strategy

Wacker Chemical: 'Safety culture' is key to strategy

August 13th, 2014 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

A worker performs tasks as part of the massive construction effort to create the Wacker Polysilicon facility in Charleston, Tenn. Operations are expected to begin at the plant in mid-2015.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Despite the death of two subcontract workers in 2012, Wacker Chemical maintains an incident rating below Tennessee averages, said Timothy Sloan, senior director of the Charleston polysilicon facility's safety team.

Maintaining a "safety culture" is a key component of Wacker strategy, both in facility construction and operations, according to a recent presentation he and other company representatives gave to the Cleveland/Bradley County Safety Council.

On Tuesday, more than two dozen safety professionals got a glimpse of the company's comprehensive approach to cultivating efficient safety programming at its facilities and how it plays a role in Wacker's plant in Charleston.

The program is a matter of ensuring "every one of us makes good choices and addresses conditions of the workplace," said Timothy Sloan, senior director of the Charleston polysilicon facility's safety team.

Wacker's safety programming framework requires an "open door" and thanks people for bringing safety concerns to the table instead of just blaming them, he said. It also requires the complete engagement of employees and contractors.

The facility, which will employ 650 people when fully staffed, will necessitate quite a large rollout regarding training and development, said Sloan. All employees receive instruction regarding day-to-day and emergency procedures, he said.

More than 100 contractors -- and the 1,500 people employed by those contractors -- involved in constructing the Charleston facility undergo a thorough approval process and also receive instruction, he said.

Contractor compliance with Wacker's safety culture relies on "behavior-based observation," said Sloan.

"The key there is communicating up front with contractors," said Tim Gunnell, plant safety engineer. "When they get to the site, they're ready to rock."

Despite concerted efforts to ensure site safety, two employees of Baker Concrete Construction fell 85 feet to their deaths in 2012.

State safety officials later fined Baker Concrete Construction, citing inadequate employee training and a failure to properly brace and maintain formwork, which is used to mold concrete structures.

Despite the incident, Wacker still maintains an incident rating below Tennessee averages, said Sloan.

Emergency planning also is critical, said Sloan.

Part of emergency preparedness means that a 32-member fire crew is employed by the Charleston facility, he said.

The company's safety culture extends beyond its staff and project contractors, and relies on creating synergies with organizations beyond the facility, said Sloan.

Federal and state safety regulators as well as local emergency responders are viewed as important partners in Wacker's safety programming, he said.

The Wacker project in Charleston is transitioning from construction to operations, which will occur in phases, said Sloan.

Current projections call for a startup date in mid-2015, said Amanda Plecas, communications and government relations manager.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.