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Sustainability at Ascend: Plants

Running our business safely and efficiently means keeping a Commitment to Zero

We believe it is possible to operate with zero incidents – zero personal injuries, zero process safety incidents and zero environmental releases.

We strive to achieve excellence by accepting zero shortcuts, zero workarounds and zero tolerance for defects, and we work together as One Ascend to embrace this Commitment to Zero every day in everything we do.

Zero is possible

An operator in our Decatur facility was walking through the plant when he spotted a raised platform grating. Although he didn’t trip over the uneven grate, he realized the next person might not be so lucky. Rather than carry on with his task, he stopped and returned to the control room to report and remedy the hazard.

At Ascend we believe we can achieve a zero-injury workplace – but that none of us can do it alone. “Personal safety starts with noticing something and fixing it rather than just walking away,” said Shane La René, the safety manager at our facility in Decatur, Alabama. “It’s all about communication and consistency – sharing and talking and working to get better every day.”

One tool for that sharing is our safety flash report system. With their summaries of facts, findings and lessons learned, safety flashes are quick ways to share the information we need to achieve our Commitment to Zero. Positive flashes, like the one sent about the trip hazard, highlight safety improvements and employee-driven solutions.

Other flash reports provide discussion points for near-miss incidents – close calls that could have resulted in harm. Near misses are judged not by what did happen but by what could have happened if circumstances had been slightly different.

Flashes are distributed company-wide via email and posted to bulletin boards throughout our sites, but they also are used to kick off discussions. Each workday at our facilities begins with tiered accountability meetings to set and prioritize that day’s work. The safety flashes are an integral part of these meetings.

“In our tiered accountability meetings, we talk about these reports every day,” La René said. “Because they come from each facility, there are important lessons for potential hazards. They help us be proactive and, importantly, they reinforce our vision of zero.”

Safer processes

Process safety is about keeping what’s inside our pipes, inside our pipes.

Any facility that handles chemicals needs rigorous policies and procedures to govern the safe handling of those substances. It requires understanding the scenarios that could cause harm, knowing the controls to prevent or mitigate the risks and ensuring those controls are effective.

Paul Gathright, who joined Ascend in 2018 as our process safety leader, calls this “keeping the tiger in the cage.”

“The tiger represents the material, and the cage is the process — pipes, vessels, reactors and so on,” Gathright says. “We need the right preventative safeguards in place to keep the tiger from escaping, and effective mitigation safeguards to protect us if it does get out.”

At Ascend, examples include safety measures such as interlocks to shut down a line if safe limits are exceeded or gas detectors to alert team members of a leak.

But it’s not only about equipment. It’s also about each of us recognizing hazards, following our life-critical rules and demonstrating our Commitment to Zero.

Download the full 2018 sustainability report

Learn more about our vision for operating a safe, sustainable company, see our performance metrics and more.

Keeping steam

We kicked off 2018 focused on safe operations with our Commitment to Zero, which includes a commitment to eliminating environmental releases. But we have long been focused on reducing our environmental footprint and using energy efficiently.

No one exemplifies that better than Cedric Watson, a utilities processor in our Pensacola facility, who helped put in place an inspection program to make us more efficient users of energy.

Steam powers many of the processes in our plants. Making sure we have enough steam at the right places at the right moment is critical to keeping our operations reliable and efficient. Steam traps remove condensation without letting steam out. In Pensacola, where we have our largest facility, there are over 5,000 steam traps. If a trap isn’t performing well, we lose steam – literally – and need to generate more by burning fuel and heating water.

When he began inspecting the traps, Watson used a stethoscope and yellow legal pad. It was a time-con­suming task but proved effective at identifying faulty traps. Today, a team with handheld computers that automatically log the data inspects the traps. Because the computers are more efficient at taking and logging measurements, traps are now inspected every three to six months, instead of every two to three years.

The process Watson and his team put in place has been replicated at a number of our sites, and we’re more focused than ever on improving our energy use. It’s an area where we strive to be better every day.

In 2018, a project focused on steam venting found another 2.5 percent improvement in steam generation at our Pensacola plant. We continue to assess our use of resources to ensure we meet our obligation to our people and the communities in which we operate.