On my crew at the Mont Belvieu Plastics Plant, we don’t have an old-timer with decades of experience who talks about how things were done in his day.
And, because we’re part of a relatively young team, we rely on each other to test our thinking, check our work and, if need be, take a step back if something feels off. It’s my job to allow—actually encourage—that free flow of information and make sure everyone on my crew knows he or she has the power to stop a job if something doesn’t look or feel right.
At Mont Belvieu, near Houston, our work is to produce food-grade plastics you probably see and use in your everyday life. The plastic goes to package frozen and dry foods, and meats and cheeses. It’s lighter, thinner and stronger, and we strive to use as little material as possible to help achieve these goals.
As a first line supervisor, I oversee the team and help with the production of about 2.2 billion pounds of polyethylene per year. When startup of our expansion is complete, we will more than double that production. We’ll have a workforce of almost 600 who will help us run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But, despite what may be listed in the official job description, my main responsibility is to make sure the men and women on my team exit the gate every day the same way they entered.
In some ways, it would be a lot easier to have an employee who’s got 30 years of experience, who has seen everything. But, to see the dynamic of a young team working together and keeping each other safe is really an awesome thing.
We’re always bouncing ideas off each other, and I know we have each other’s back.
I can’t do any of this from my office and wouldn’t want to anyway. For that reason, you can usually find me somewhere around the plant.
So, how do I help my team stay focused, and where is the balance between a steady drip of guidance and that white noise that comes from a waterfall of instruction?
I talk about my family, and I ask them about those who are waiting for them to come home. When I’m in the field, I ask about their spouses, their kids, and I get to know them and their lives. I remind them, “That’s why you’re here, to take care of them.” In short, I make safety a very personal and relatable thing.
That’s the connection. To me, that’s the overriding safety directive driving how we act. Yes, we’re all trained to adhere to company policies and government regulations as we make our way through our workday or night. But, safety is not about a rule, it’s a standard. And seeing our loved ones and friends at the end of the shift is the standard by which my team is judged.
Every decision I make in the plant, in the back of my mind I ask, Is this the best thing for my family? By showing my crew members that, they understand, This guy really means it.
On my team, I have about 15 technicians to supervise. Only three have been here for more than five years.
I have a wife, a two-year-old and a six-year-old.
I joined ExxonMobil more than 10 years ago.
You know what? When you think of it, maybe I’m that old-timer.