VPP Participant Tesoro Mandan Refinery Utilizes Employee Involvement and Management Commitment to Achieve Excellence in Safety and Health

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VPP Participant Tesoro Mandan Refinery Utilizes Employee Involvement and Management Commitment to Achieve Excellence in Safety and Health


Occupying close to 1,000 acres, Tesoro's Mandan oil refinery, located in Mandan, North Dakota, began operations in 1954, three years after crude oil was discovered in the state. Today, the refinery has a daily capacity of 58,000 barrels and processes primarily sweet (low sulfur) domestic crude oil. The facility manufactures gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heavy fuel oils, and liquefied petroleum gas of which most are shipped via pipeline to the eastern part of the state and Minnesota.

The Mandan refinery has dedicated more than half of its property to the environment by serving as a natural wildlife habitat. In 1972 the area was constructed as part of an engineered wetland for treated wastewater. Mandan refinery employees built nesting structures and planted thousands of trees (including fruit trees) to provide cover and food for the area's wildlife, including waterfowl, wild turkeys, pheasants, and the endangered Least Tern. Deer, coyotes, foxes, and badgers also live on the property. Due to the outstanding environmental efforts of employees and management, the Mandan refinery has received national recognition from the Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Habitat Council, and the National Wildlife Federation.

Saving the environment is not the only important initiative of the Mandan refinery. Over the past decade, the facility has focused on continuously improving its workplace safety and health. Since 2004, the refinery has experienced a 45 percent reduction in injury and illness rates. In 2006, the refinery attained its lowest injury and illness rates since the refinery opened – almost 56 years ago. Also that year, the refinery was awarded several awards by the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, including the Gold Award for reducing its injury and illness rates by 25 percent or more and experiencing no workplace fatalities; the Meritorious Safety Award and the Award for Safety Achievement: 1+ Years. In August 2007, the refinery attained Merit recognition in Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) – OSHA's premier safety recognition program.

Success Impact: Creating a Safety and Health Culture
Management Commitment and Employee Involvement

Although the Mandan facility already had good safety processes in place, several years ago the management team committed to the principle that safety and health must be incorporated into every aspect of the business, because to put it simply, "it was the right thing to do." Promoting a safety and health culture through a systematic process protects a company's reputation and results in benefits that extend beyond monetary profits. In order to be proactive rather than reactive, Mandan management believed that an exemplary safety and health management system needed to be developed and implemented before submitting an application to OSHA's VPP. As Robert Vogel, Mandan's safety representative stated, "It's important to understand that we cannot wait until after accidents to create a system. Identifying hazards and managing them needs to be an ongoing process."

Mr. Vogel, who is also a member of the United Steel Workers (USW), is responsible for tracking and developing reports on the facility's near-misses and incident investigations. These reports are presented to the management team during bi-weekly meetings. The USW supports a worker-driven and company-supported safety and health program, known as the TOP (Triangle of Prevention) Program. This is not a stand alone program, but rather part of a larger health and safety training program within the USW's Health and Safety Department. The TOP Program is a system-based safety program which uses a three-prong attack on hazards in the workplace by identifying failures in the system, making recommendations to correct these types of failures, and tracking the recommendations to completion. As with any program, it cannot be effectively implemented without full commitment from the workers and management. Mr. Vogel networks with other Tesoro and USW sites to share safety information, best practices, and lessons learned.

"Training on hazard awareness for all workers is the key element of the TOP Program; this training includes management and supervisors. At the Mandan refinery the TOP Program is used and supported by all divisions and areas, thus we all speak the same language and use the same process and philosophy to eliminate hazards." Robert Vogel, Safety Representative, Tesoro Mandan Refiner
Joint Safety Effort between Labor and Management

How does a company establish a culture that promotes the importance of workplace safety and facilitates a joint effort between labor and management? A number of key steps must be taken to ensure a successful initiative. The first step is involving everyone. Management believed in the philosophy that good business meant making the health and welfare of the workers a #1 priority. Workers who feel safe, valued, and equipped with the right skills have the confidence and capability to be more effective, efficient, and productive at work. Increasing employee buy-in, support, and participation was critical. First, employees needed to gain an understanding about what the VPP is and how safety and health in the workplace can benefit everyone at all levels.

"Safety, defined by the dictionary, is stated as avoiding something that can have a negative effect on you personally. I hope to livelong enough where this definition is stated in a positive manner, in which, people live to help, care and support productive living." Employee, Tesoro Mandan Refinery
"I was blessed to be raised as part of a wonderful family with loving, wonderful parents, and four awesome brothers. My wife and I have been blessed with three wonderful children. I start with family, because although safety has many aspects, at the core, safety is and must be personal. It is about choosing to make the safe decision, not simply the easy one, and choosing to work safely every time so that we can return home to our family in the same condition we came to work. If you ask anyone who was seriously injured at work what hurts the most, they would describe much more than the physical pain they suffered. They would also discuss the pain their loved ones suffered right along with them. No one ever plans to get hurt. We can't wait until it's too late to take the necessary actions that will keep us safe. For their sake if not for ours." John Berger, Manager, Tesoro Mandan Refinery

A safe work environment boosts employee morale because when people feel like they have a voice and are being heard, they are making a difference. Employee involvement empowers workers. Relaying health and safety concerns and notifying management about unsafe work conditions is "true worker involvement" – not just token positions of workers sitting on committees with no input. This may be a concept that intimidates management of other organizations – but not in Tesoro's Mandan refinery.

"I work at a place where people care for each other." Cal Kopp, Trainer, Mandan Tesoro Refinery

Although employee participation has fluctuated during previous years, Mandan had safety committees in place prior to applying to the VPP. However, the VPP initiative, as well as union involvement, has leveled off any fluctuation and workers have realized that their participation has a positive affect on working conditions. Rather than placing blame, corrective actions on identified hazards are focused on. Examples of three of the facility's current safety committees include:

  • Area Safety Committees – composed of employees to utilize their specific areas of expertise. Through self-inspections and hazard analysis, a list of action items and safety suggestions are developed and provided to management. The employee members receive training on hazard awareness to enable them to recognize and abate/correct potential and eminent risks.
  • Joint Health and Safety Committee – composed of both labor and management, this committee serves as a resource for workers to approach management with their safety and health issues and ideas. The committee also reviews the refinery's safety policies and procedures and finalizes approval of the findings of incident investigations.
  • Safety Milestone Celebration Achievement Committee – composed of the facility's Safety/VPP Coordinator and Unit Operator, the two members work together to promote VPP and educate workers and contractors on the importance of being involved in the process.

Another critical element for Mandan in promoting a safe work environment was to develop written policies, practices, and procedures (PPP) on topics such as hazard analysis. Activities to monitor, control, and ensure compliance with the PPP are documented and utilized. Managers, supervisors, and employees are provided training to help carry out their work according to the PPP, as well as to meet the requirements for complying with health and safety legislation. Employees lead and conduct safety training at the refinery, including a refresher course for employees and orientation course for new employees. An accident reporting and investigation system has also been developed and implemented which ensures that all incidents and near-misses are documented and reported. This helps to make certain that the PPP continually improves. A series of accidents with no change to the PPP demonstrates ineffectiveness in regard to resolving safety issues.

"Thinking safety is what guides me to do my everyday tasks without injury to myself or people around me." Larry Graff, Operations Shift Supervisor
Promoting Safety Outreach and Awareness

Over the past decade on an annual basis, the facility sends an employee to the regional and national conferences hosted by the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association (VPPPA). On most occasions, the employee returns to the facility with an increased safety awareness and new ideas for improving safety. The facility also utilizes the email system, onsite billboards, and training sessions to keep safety fresh in everyone's minds and relay the status of the VPP application process.


"Doing the right thing" regarding safety is something that people at the Mandan refinery recognize as being important – especially when it becomes personal to them. Organizations that are diligent about making sure that their employees go home every night realize that their employees will take more pride in their work and the reputation of their company.

"From the day we are born until we die there will be hazardous conditions around us. Knowing what to do around these hazards is where safety comes in. As a child you were taught how to cross the street, not to run out between parked cars, etc. Someone was looking out for us when we didn't know any better. This goes the same at work – training and safety go hand in hand. There are hazardous conditions that we are around everyday, not by choice but by nature. Gasoline burns, if you're going to climb you may fall, etc. This is where your fellow employees become safety guardians. We all have to watch out for each other. We all want the same thing in life – to go to work to provide a living for ourselves and our families. By working safe we can go home and hold our spouse and grandkids, and we can enjoy the fruits of our labor. Also by working safe we protect our company's assets so we all have a job to go to the next day. Safety is an investment in our future." John Keller, Safety/VPP Coordinator

The Mandan refinery applied for VPP Star status and had their onsite evaluation conducted in August 2009. They are currently awaiting formal approval.

Tesoro Refinery's VPP Merit Recognition Ceremony (September 2007)

Tesoro Refinery's VPP Merit Recognition Ceremony
(September 2007)

Origin: Region VIII, Mandan, North Dakota
Entered VPP: August 2007; recommended for Star status by onsite evaluation team in August 2009, currently awaiting formal approval
Industry Description (NAICS Code): Oil and Gas (324110)
Employees: 235 + approximately 40 contractors
Employer: 1
Source (Date): Robert Vogel, Safety Representative for Tesoro Corporation, Mandan Refinery, and Danielle Gibbs, Outreach Coordinator, OSHA National Office (November 2009)
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