Saturday, April 12, 2008

Turnaround Tales

Process plants, such as refineries and chemical manufacturing facilities, take what they call “turnarounds.” They will shut down a production unit, “turn it around,” (perform major maintenance and cleaning which can only be done when the pumps, motors, and other equipment is cool and de-energized), and then start it back up again to resume production.

Since the plant is losing huge potential income and profits while it’s out of production, management spends great sums of money to ensure that the turnaround takes as short a time as possible. This includes working half the plant personnel on days and the other half on nights, 12 hours on and 12 hours off, seven days a week with no days off until the turnaround is complete. It also includes hiring outside contract firms to provide hundreds of additional skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled laborers to get the work done quickly.

Yes, my plant is in the middle of one such turnaround.

We’re a small plant. Our normal staffing level is 140 employees plus about 50 permanent contract folks. Right now we have over 500 people in the plant all day and all night, Mary Ann. (That’s a song reference, in case you didn’t get it. Harry Belafonte. Some sources have it as “Marianne.”)

Having that many temporary workers in a small plant for a month or so requires some adjustments. For instance, we had to create a new parking lot for the nearly 400 extra vehicles coming and going twice each 24-hour period. We also had to arrange for some extra plant security, especially around shift-change time, to prevent a lot of tools and other expensive equipment from walking out the plant gate hidden among the crowds of people.

Last Thursday our plant employee gate attendant (NOT a security guard) noticed a man walking by dragging a length of heavy-looking insulated wire. She stopped him and asked what he had. He dropped it and ran to his car.

The wire turned out to be a heavy-duty copper welding lead, probably worth all of $25 at a metal scrap dealer but costing several hundred dollars to buy. The county sheriff was called, the man apprehended, and charges were pressed. The point wasn’t so much to punish the man as to make a point to all the others who might be tempted.

In fact, the man was mostly unhappy about the fact that he was caught when, he said, nobody else was; the inference being that many were getting away with similar theft.

Yes, he confessed. We made a public show of having three sheriff’s cars (with lights flashing) park for over 30 minutes at the plant entrance before taking the man off in handcuffs.

It was mostly for show. We also had several deputies stroll through the big new parking lot looking into cars. They weren’t really expecting to find anything, but they were very visible.

Will all of that help? Maybe. But probably not as much as the fact that we’ve now hired several off-duty deputies to stand at the gate in uniform (wearing their weapon) as people come and go at shift change. We’ll see.


kenju said...

The value of copper has gotten so much publicity lately, that people who would steal are more prone to it, I think. How sad that we have to have them in our lives.

M.E Ellis said...

What a naughty man!