USW Local Union 9-631 strengthens training, communication through Triangle of Prevention

USW Local Union 9-631 and Valero Memphis Refinerty continue to strengthen their labor-management partnership through TOP.

Despite the challenges over the past few years, United Steelworkers (USW) Local Union 9-631 and Valero Memphis Refinery continue to strengthen their labor-management partnership by building their safety program and improving training throughout the facility. Together, they also improved the communication and understanding of lessons learned from investigations.

Local 9-631 and Valero Refinery in Memphis, Tenn., are part of the USW’s Triangle of Prevention, or TOP, program. TOP is a union-led, company-supported health and safety program which focuses on a USW Systems of Safety approach to incident investigation. TOP also looks at measuring and tracking incidents and near-misses to prevent future accidents. Valero Memphis has been a TOP site since 2007.

Last year, Local 631 members and Valero Memphis management were awarded the first TOP flag printed, to fly over the refinery as recognition for their accomplishments and collaboration.

“The commitment of the local and support from the company at a very difficult time to overcome these challenges, sets an example for everyone of what we can do when we work together to ensure a safe site,” Steve Doherty, TOP program coordinator at the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center, said.

In addition, the site was given the Fallen Workers Memorial Award at the annual TOP Conference in late September 2021. This award is given to local unions for joining in solidarity and exhibiting collective involvement within the program.

“We rebuilt the training in some of the TOP books to better fit our site,” Dwayne Blackwell, one of the TOP trainers for Local 631, said.

“Our TOP worker-trainers dedicate their time off to the program,” Jeffery Vick, TOP representative for Local 631 added. “We rotate the team so that we see every USW member.”

The team believes in the significance of having everyone involved in the program. They look beyond identifying and addressing hazards, to assisting the Process Safety Management (PSM) team through TOP, and they count on the participation and feedback from frontline management and senior USW members who have site-specific experience to share.

Vick shared that it took time and dedication to build this foundation, and that a large part of what supports the commitment from this team is two tragic incidents which occurred in 2012, claiming the lives of two individuals, and severely injuring others. He recognized that working together is critical and saw TOP as a vehicle to ensure that collaboration.

Vick worked together with Local 631 President Leo Stanford and Vice President Lucas Marion, who also serves as the TOP alternate representative, to strengthen TOP among the membership.

“You have to trust your union leadership,” Vick said.

The union leadership selected the current TOP team, including USW TOP trainers.

“In regards to safety, you have to find the people that do care and get them involved,” Jeremey Sides said. Sides is one of the newest members of the TOP team.

“No one here thinks the same but we can all come together for safety,” Sides said.

The local union leadership also ensures that TOP items are on the labor-management meeting agenda every month.

“Workers are starting to see their voices being heard,” Blackwell said.

“Hazards are being fixed too,” Blackwell said. “TOP is carrying safety and being representatives.”

The impact of health, safety and environmental training provided by the TOP team led to increased input from members of the union and management. Through questions and conversations during the training, the site was able to identify and address hazards through the Systems of Safety.

For example, participants identified a hazard involving hoses and were then able to readdress the procedure and properly lock them out until they could be fixed.

Through the TOP program, the site addressed the potential for unknown chemical releases in a lab by instituting proper warning devices. Also, due to the safety concerns voiced by workers, the site repaved a hazardous driving area.

When an issue arises, the TOP team assigns hourly investigators with available salary investigators to initiate and complete an investigation. The salary investigators are determined by management. The team works together through a process which documents every step such as the interview process and provide valid recommendations to management. As the TOP representative, Vick maintains a database of all of the information and then shares the information via training sessions in order to reach all workers.

The TOP team plans to not only continue but strengthen their efforts to better protect the health and safety of all workers at Valero Memphis Refinery.

“The bottom line is TOP gives workers the tools to protect everyone at our facility from harm,” Vick said.

“This includes engaging members, providing quality investigations, disseminating lessons learned and working with management in the scope of the TOP program,” Vick said.

The United Steelworkers (USW) Triangle of Prevention (TOP) program is partially supported by a grant through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), via the Tony Mazzocchi Center (TMC), award U45ES006175. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not represent the official views of the NIEHS.