New Wacker website offers plant safety sounds, sights

By BRIAN GRAVES

Posted 1/28/18

Wacker-Charleston has a new tool to educate the public about safety and the chemicals it uses as part of its manufacturing process.

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New Wacker website offers plant safety sounds, sights

Posted

Wacker-Charleston has a new tool to educate the public about safety and the chemicals it uses as part of its manufacturing process.

Visitors to the Wacker-Charleston website how have access to information which takes some of the mystery away from the sounds and sights related to the plant.

The site has been developed in the wake of the explosion at the facility last fall, where there was much false information from unofficial sources which both confused and scared the public.

Announcement of the site was part of an interview with Mary Beth Hudson, Wacker vice president and Charleston site manager, concerning the progress of the facility’s renewal after last fall’s incident.

“Everybody here is doing great,” Hudson said.

She noted despite the plant’s production process being suspended pending the final report of an investigation into the explosion, all employees remain on the job and are using the time to make things better — in both safety and production,

“I have just come from part of the Yellow Belt Training we provided for 350 of our team members since the beginning of September,” Hudson said. “It’s a productivity tool which gives our team members the skills to identify and implement improvements with respect to safety, quality and productivity.”

She said there were some new packaging equipment being prepared for installation and the teams took the layout, based on the company’s home plant in Germany, “and the team members who are going to be working on that redesigned it.”

“They came up with a more efficient layout for the conveyors and the equipment,” Hudson said. “It also addressed safety concerns by figuring out ways to limit heavy lifting of these bags.”

“That’s an example of what some of the people have been doing while we have not been operating,” Hudson said. “We have had people directly associated with getting all of the equipment that was damaged out of that building. It all had to be re-inspected, tested and is going back in right now as part of the rebuilding phase. We have a lot of people associated with that and we also have to keep our infrastructure running.”

She added there is also analytical lab work ongoing “on some alternative suppliers for valves and different pieces of equipment which have more qualifying local suppliers for some of these parts.”

“We have not laid anybody off, which is amazing,” Hudson said. “It’s twofold. We have a lot of work that is going on and we want to use our skilled employees to make improvements where we can. It has given us pause where we can step back and reevaluate some of these areas and make those improvements. We also want to have our qualified workforce here and ready to restart operations.”

Hudson said the hope is for restart to occur within the second quarter of this year, adding the investigation to determine what caused last fall’s incident is proceeding “at a very fast pace.”

The investigation has involved state and Wacker officials, as well as a third-party investigative team.

“The investigators are still finalizing the report. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re expecting answers soon,” Hudson said. “We generally know we had a catastrophic mechanical failure of the compressor, which lost the hydrogen gas which found an ignition source. Definitively, we know that, but they are still finalizing the root cause. This is a very tedious process.”

She said lessons are always learned from any kind of incident.

One of those has been better communications with the public.

“One of the very important things with respect to communicating with the public is the promotion of the NIXLE system,” Hudson said. “Our communication is with Bradley County EMA and they make decisions in respect to communications with the public. Having people signed up with NIXLE helps them to better inform the public.”

This week, the company added a link to the Wacker-Charleston web page to safety information.

“It links to a page where it talks about what we are doing here with information sheets on the main chemicals we have, a link to the American Red Cross page explaining ‘shelter in place’ and what actions to take, as well as a link to sign up for NIXLE,” she said. “There are also sound samples which allow you to hear and identify what each siren sound means.”

She said there will be a U.S. regional Twitter feed where “we will have capability which will be helpful from an ongoing standpoint with things that are relevant to us as well as if there happens to be an incident, we will be able to have a quicker communication.

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