Safety a priority for local company

MONTGOMERY – A proactive, teamwork approach to safety and the environment has earned a local company top awards. Lee Vanderpool, branch manager of Newalta, said it’s all part of embracing a culture of safety toward reducing and eliminating workplace accidents and incidents.

And why not?

Working around natural gas drill sites is serious business.

“Before, people would act before they thought,” Vanderpool said.

But now, they think before they act, he added. It’s all part of the new mind-set that employees carry with them to work every day. Newalta, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, operates more than 80 facilities, working with industries to minimize waste and recover products.

The work includes fluid recovery, cuttings management and solids control services to oil and gas customers in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. The Montgomery site at 165 Miller Ave. is the company’s first U.S. facility to receive a President’s Award, its top health and safety honor.

“We’re honored to be the first U.S.-based operation to receive this distinction and for our staff to be recognized for their hard work and commitment to the health, safety and well-being of our people at work and at home,” Vanderpool said.

Everyone, he said, has accepted the challenge to be leaders to meet or exceed every goal set forth for them. The local facility, which employs 65 people, also captured two other company awards for safety and environmental excellence.

Some of the initiatives taken by the company are:

Installation of a new auger system to eliminate the use of lime, recycled water and fluid, resulting in a 30 percent reduction in waste going to the landfill

Implementation of a 360-degree vehicle “safety check” walk around system for vehicles prior to their use. An orange cone is used to remind employees to make the check before entering the vehicle.

Design of a hook for the cuttings bins to open pellets bags, eliminating the need for employees to stand under a suspended load.

Vanderpool said safety is stressed with employees, all of whom have readily adopted to the emphasis on safety, which the local facility has stepped up in the last couple of years.

“One of the things that really set us apart from the other facilities was an unexpected audit,” Vanderpool said. “It covered our entire safety program. We scored a 97 percent.”

He said employees are always looking out for each other. Weekly employee safety meetings help drive home the point of avoiding accidents and incidents in the workplace. Challenges are issued to employees as to how they can improve safety too.

A list of Vital 9 Safe Behaviors is posted inside the facility. The list emphasizes following basic safety measures in the workplace with regard to lifting objects, eliminating environmental spills, operating equipment, and organizing and maintaining work areas.

Workers, for the most part, work 12 hour shifts in a two-week on, one-week off rotation.

Much of the work done by the company takes place at drill sites out of the local area.

A lot of the company’s work moved to western Pennsylvania and Ohio following the gas boom in the region of a few years ago, Vanderpool said.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see the boom we saw in 2010,” he said.

But Vanderpool said he’s certain many of the drilling companies that left will return.

He said he expected his own site to be hiring more people later this spring.