By Aaron Corvin
Wearing a ball cap with safety glasses perched on the brim, Mike Jervis looks every bit the affable, easygoing connoisseur of craft beers that he is.
Listen to him talk about the health and safety of workers at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, where he serves as the company's safety director, and things get serious in a hurry.
"I'm a big advocate of doing it right the first time," he said.
That's evident everywhere you look inside the company's 16-acre complex, which delivered more than 340,000 barrels of beer to customers in 28 states last year. Everything from enclosed work spaces and a bulk de-palletizer to an industrial repair shop and a quality-control laboratory is tailored to serve health and safety first.
But Deschutes Brewery isn't going it alone in building a culture of doing the right thing. The company has frequently sought guidance from a part of Oregon OSHA that doesn't involve enforcement of rules and penalties, but that is nonetheless crucial to helping employers maintain effective safety and health management systems: consultation services.
Staffed by 32 experts, the program offers employers a variety of no-cost, confidential services, including safety, health, and ergonomic hazard assessments; recommendations to control and eliminate hazards; and hands-on training on health and safety topics. The program's ultimate goal is to help employers become self-sufficient in managing their safety and health systems.
During the consultation process, consultants will not issue citations or propose penalties for rule violations. The potential benefits include fewer accidents, lower injury and illness rates, decreased workers' compensation costs, and higher employee morale.
Oregon OSHA's consultants possess an array of experiences and knowledge from both the private and public sectors. They've built relationships with various industry groups, regulatory agencies, and professional organizations. And they're supported by Oregon OSHA's Technical Section, the Research Library and the nationally recognized Occupational Health Laboratory.
Since the mid-1990s, Deschutes Brewery has received a total of 20 visits by Oregon OSHA consultants – 14 for health reasons, five for safety, and one related to ergonomics.
During a recent tour of the company's production facilities, Jervis showed off several examples of the benefits of those visits.
Moving from room to room, Jervis pointed out groups of tanks and vats used to store yeast and boil water to brew beer. He described how workers sometimes enter those containers to perform maintenance work. Oregon OSHA consultants, he said, helped the company not only identify hazards posed by such confined spaces but also define procedures to gain the upper hand on those hazards.
At one point, Jervis led the tour to an industrial repair shop, where welders fix and reconstruct the stainless steel pipes and parts that help make the beer-brewing operation hum.
The welding work gives off toxic fumes. The company installed a flexible trunk-hose ventilation system to protect workers from the vapors. The company didn't stop there, though. It called on an Oregon OSHA health consultant to test the system's effectiveness. The consultant, Cory Stengel, found no cause for concern.
Next up on Jervis' tour was the company's laboratory, where workers handle various chemicals for quality-control testing. The lab features a hood-and-ventilation system with a protective sash that moves up and down like a window. The system is intended to keep chemical vapors away from workers.
But the company wanted to get a better handle on whether the system was doing its job, Jervis said.
Stengel took on that work, too. He used an air velocity meter to pinpoint where the sash should be located to make sure air was flowing properly for workers.
Stengel has conducted 13 of the 20 consultations that Deschutes Brewery has received from Oregon OSHA. He said the company's awareness of potential hazards, coupled with its willingness to team up with OSHA, has helped the brewery develop a strong health and safety culture.
We have a team-oriented approach to making beer, where ideas flow and people work together to stretch the concept of what beer is. ...Our safety culture kind of does the same thing.
That partnership continues today.
"They don't hesitate to call when they have a question," Stengel said. "Sometimes, it turns into a visit. Sometimes, it's advice over the phone."
Not only has Jervis used Oregon OSHA's services, but he's also attended many of the safety and health conferences in the region. Those include the Central Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Conference and the Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference.
Jervis, Stengel added, has "taken the safety baton and just ran with it."
• From 2009 to 2014, private sector employers requested more than 85 percent of the safety and health consultations provided by Oregon OSHA.
The advice given by Oregon OSHA's consultation program reaches a broad audience.
From 2009 to 2014, the agency conducted 16,166 consultations, reaching an average 180,010 Oregon employees each year. Because consultation services are voluntary, the annual workload is driven by demand from employers.
At the employer's request, a consultation may be comprehensive or address only a specific issue. Either way, Oregon OSHA's consultation services receive high marks in customer service. More than 92 percent of employers surveyed in fiscal year 2014 rated their consultant as good or excellent.
Jervis said Deschutes Brewery's decisions over the years to seek guidance from Oregon OSHA reflect the company's open, team-oriented approach to making beer, where ideas flow and people work together to "stretch the concept of what beer is."
"Our safety culture," he added, "kind of does the same thing."
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