Velocys Achieves Safety and Health Excellence

Company: Velocys, Inc.

Location: Plain City, Ohio

Employees: 65 Workers Company-wide

From left to right: Greg Collins, OSHA On site Consultation Program; Dr. Jan Lerou, Chief Technical Officer; Roy Lipski, CEO; Don Kirkham, Facility Manager, Plain City, OH
From left to right: Greg Collins, OSHA On site Consultation Program; Dr. Jan Lerou, Chief Technical Officer; Roy Lipski, CEO; Don Kirkham, Facility Manager, Plain City, OH
Success Brief:

In 2009, after the installation of a new piece of equipment, Velocys contacted the Ohio On-site Consultation Program to get help monitoring noise exposures. Since Velocys' initial consultation visit, the company's workers' compensation insurance has decreased by almost 20%.

Company Description:

Velocys, a subsidiary of Oxford Catalysts Group PLC, is an independent science and technology organization that specializes in microchannel process technology for the production of synthetic fuels. Founded in 2001, Velocys operates a state of the art energy research and development facility (NAICS 541710) in Plain City, Ohio. Constructed for the development, testing, and scale-up of energy and chemical processes, the facility accommodates activities ranging from catalyst screening tests to pilot plant operations.

The Situation:

Since its inception, Velocys has been committed to achieving environmental safety and health excellence. The company's commitment to safety and health best practices is viewed as a team effort that begins at the top with the Board of Directors, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). To ensure a safe and healthy workplace, Velocys bases its safety and health management program on regulations set forth by OSHA, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Ohio Fire Code, and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Velocys' safety culture, promoted and positively reinforced by management, encourages workers to raise question about potential safety issues. After the instillation of a piece of equipment in March 2009, workers became concerned that the new machine was producing excessive noise. Dr. Don Kirkham, Velocys' Environmental Safety and Health (ESH) Coordinator recalled learning about OSHA's free On-site Consultation Program while attending a safety course offered by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation in 2007. During the course, the instructor explained that the On-site Consultation Program offers small and medium-sized businesses advice and assistance with workplace hazard identification and assists in strengthening safety and health management programs. With this information in mind, in May 2009, Dr. Kirkham contacted the Ohio On-site Consultation Program to request a consultation visit to get help with noise monitoring and noise reduction options.

The Solution:

In September 2009, two consultants from the Ohio On-site Consultation Program conducted a comprehensive consultation survey of Velocys' 27,000 square-foot facility. The consultants conducted a noise monitoring study to determine if the new piece of equipment that Velocys had installed was operating within the manufacturer's claim of 74 decibels. The noise monitoring study showed that the equipment was operating at 73 decibels, slightly below the manufacture's claim. The consultants informed Dr. Kirkham that the properly functioning equipment does not produce excessive noise. The consultants also assisted Velocys with hazard identification and correction and reviewed the company's safety and health management system. They recommended modifications to the Velocys' lockout/tag out procedures and once the changes were made, the consultants provided training on them.

Based on their review of facility's safety and health management system during the consultation survey, the consultants recommended that Velocys apply for OSHA's On-site Consultation Program's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). SHARP recognizes small employers for their exemplary performance in correcting all workplace safety and health hazards and implementing effective safety and health management programs. Acceptance into SHARP is an achievement that singles out small employers as models for worksite safety and health. The consultants believed that Velocys' exceptional safety and health management program as well as its commitment to safety and health, made it a prime candidate for SHARP. With this encouragement, Velocys began an aggressive effort to achieve SHARP status.

During this process, Velocys made a number of enhancements to its safety and health protections. The company installed a fire alarm, smoke detectors, strobe lights, pull stations, and a remote carbon monoxide and lower explosion limit monitor to protect employees from entering a potentially hazardous atmosphere. Velocys also installed a seatbelt on its forklift to prevent the vehicle from moving if the seatbelt is not latched. Improving the operation and safety of the facility led to Velocys's receiving SHARP certification in December 2009.

The Impact:

In 2008, prior to working with the Ohio On-site Consultation Program, Velocys' Total Recordable Case Rate (TRCR) and Days Away, Restricted, and/or Transfer Rate (DART) were zero. Velocys' workers' compensation annual insurance premium for the site was $94,397 in 2008. In 2009, Velocys began working with the Ohio On-site Consultation Program and was able to sustain a TRCR and DART of zero for that year as well. These improvements to the company's safety and health management program earned it an 18% reduction in its workers' compensation annual insurance premium.

Dr. Kirkham believes that working with the Ohio On-Site Consultation Program validated many of the company's policies and enabled Velocys to find areas for further improvement leading to a safer and healthier environment for its workers. Dr. Kirkham stated that the SHARP designation is the pinnacle of the company's safety and health success but Velocys will not rest on the laurels of the SHARP designation. Velocys' investment in worker safety and health has improved the company's ability to do business. Working with many of the world's top 25 companies, one of the first things a potential business partner asks for is Velocys' safety record. The documents that Velocys assembled to satisfy SHARP requirements are readily available for companies that request them. This library of documents can be queried instantly via the computer, increasing efficiency and convenience.


Dr. Don Kirkham, Facility Manager, Velocys, Inc.