Top Operations: Lafarge’s Calera Quarry is putting safety first

Kerry Clines

September 17, 2015

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Putting safety first

For Argo’s Calera Quarry, safety is more than a priority…it’s a way of life.

 Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Aggregates Manager.

All aggregate operations must adhere to strict safety rules and regulations as set forth by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), but Lafarge chooses to take safety one step further. The company expects its operations to not only meet MSHA rules and regulations, but exceed them.

On June 22, during its annual Safety Day, Calera Quarry in central Alabama became a member of an elite group of Lafarge operations. “Our annual Safety Day was especially important this year,” says Rory Smith, plant manager at Calera Quarry. “It was a celebration that our quarry was inducted into Lafarge’s Health & Safety Excellence Club. To become a member of that club, you have to meet very strict requirements. The lost-time incident frequency has to be zero. The total incident frequency rate has to be a very low number based on 1 million man hours. There are many business units in Lafarge, and to date, a very small percentage of those have achieved this award.”

Making it safe

“Our safety culture and safety philosophy can be summed up in a few words — take the time to do it right,” Smith says. He does it right and has a lot to be proud of at Calera Quarry — the operation has eight years without a lost-time accident and two years without a reportable injury.

“The crew is like a family,” Smith says. “We have a program we call the Green Hand/Gold Hand program. It’s not required that everyone participate, but we’ve had 100 percent participation at the quarry.”

Green Hands, the new hires, wear a green sticker on their hard hats; Gold Hands, individuals who have completed all their training and passed a probationary period of 18 months of employment without any reportable incidents, wear a gold sticker. “The idea is that Green Hands need a mentor they can go to when they have questions, concerns, or whatever,” Smith explains. “All they have to do is look for a gold sticker on a hard hat and they know that’s someone they can go to. This has been a good program for some time at Lafarge.”

In addition to reporting any accidents that occur, employees report all near misses as well. “If we witness anything that could have happened, or did happen but there was no property damage or personal injury, we especially want to know about these because they are freebies,” Smith says. “They’re lessons that we learn without having to pay a price. We don’t do this to lay blame or assess discipline, though. We share the information with other quarries within our company. It may save somebody else from incurring the same type of incident and maybe having to pay a price.”

Smith adds that permits are required for certain activities — working at heights, working in confined spaces, and hot work. Employees working at heights must be trained specifically for that, and must demonstrate knowledge of and competency in the wearing of fall protection equipment. Working in confined spaces and hot work often times requires an attendant and monitoring equipment.

“The permit process gives us, as management, an opportunity to ensure proper job hazard analyses are done and that the individuals performing the tasks have the proper training and knowledge of the materials that they are going to be using,” Smith adds.

Customer trucks are the wild card in the mix, according to Smith. “Customer trucks are why we’re here,” he says, “but truth be known, we don’t know a whole lot about those guys — what kind of training they may or may not have had; whether they are approved or authorized to be behind the wheel of the truck; what they may or may not be under the influence of that particular day. While they are subject to every rule or regulation of MSHA and every one of ours, they offer significant challenges. We have to witness them doing something before we can correct it, and sometimes that’s too late, so we treat those guys like rattlesnakes. If we want to enter an area where truck drivers are moving about, it’s incumbent upon us to make eye contact with them and confirm that they see us.”

Color coding helps create a safer environment. All company employees wear lime green safety vests, while visitors and contractors wear orange. This allows individuals to be identified from a distance.

Every vehicle under 1 ton in size is required to be equipped with a safety whip that extends approximately 8 feet above the ground, Smith says. This allows the vehicle to be seen when driving around high berms and stockpiles. Emergency flashers are also required when moving about the property.

Working areas in and around excavation are constantly inspected for falling or loose materials sloughing from the banks and walls, according to Smith. Stockpiles are kept pushed down from the top to avoid undercuts in the material.

“Our best safety tool against becoming involved with any kind of ground control issue is inspection and avoidance,” Smith says. “We back into parking spots so that we’re looking forward when we’re ready to leave. All our production equipment and yard loaders have CB radios, as do our control rooms, so that communication is not a problem. We employ bucket scales on all our end loaders, even the pit loader, to ensure that we don’t overload equipment. Our production equipment is also equipped with back-up cameras for additional safety.”

From the beginning

“Southern Ready Mix built this plant in approximately 1977 and began operating this crushing facility then,” Smith says. “The cement plant next door was seeking high-calcium limestone for the manufacture of cement and created quite a bit of spoil from those activities, which was a fantastic aggregate. So, this plant worked in conjunction with the cement plant crushing the muck that was otherwise unsuitable for cement production.”

Lafarge acquired the operation in roughly 2004, Smith says. The company acquired the cement plant as well, and both plants continued to work together just as they had in the beginning. Modifications and improvements to the cement plant have made it one of Lafarge’s premier cement plants in the United States.

“In some respects, it was an environmentally friendly, responsible endeavor because we were crushing the material that otherwise would have been discarded, thrown away, or backfilled,” Smith says. “We were actually using that material to supply local markets with excellent construction aggregate.”

That continued until about 2008, when Lafarge Cement and another construction materials company entered into an arrangement to do some mining together to secure reserves for both operations. “At that time, we began operating the quarry like any other operation,” Smith says. “We were actively mining, drilling, and blasting in one of the pits that had been in existence from the original cement company. Now we’re going after the reserves below the high calcium horizon left behind by the cement operation. It’s a significant change from having muck material brought right up to the crusher and dumped, to actively going out and drilling and blasting and hauling the material to a crusher just like in any other quarry.”

It takes teamwork

Calera Quarry has a small workforce of 13 employees ranging in age from 20 to nearly 60 years old, yet they manage to produce around 1 million tons of material per year, plus or minus. “I have a team member here who has 30 years of service at this property and another with 24 years of service,” he says. “I have several who have been here in the teens of years. But we do have some young guys that have filtered in as others retired or moved on.”

Almost everything at the plant, with the exception of the secondary crusher, the tertiary crusher and screen, and a belt or two is the same as it was in 1977 when the plant was built. It is still a manual plant, requiring an attendant at each stage of production.

The older equipment still performs well, and Smith credits this to the plant’s maintenance program. “We have a rigorous maintenance program that includes inspections, planning, performance, and follow through,” Smith says. “We do very specific inspections at specific intervals as determined by our maintenance program. From those inspections, we’ll plan ahead of time for what we need to do. Then, when we take the time to do those things, we do them efficiently. It’s a continuous cycle of pro-active maintenance activities. Obviously, things do still break, so we still have the reactive component in our maintenance program, and we always will, but we like to feel that the reactive component is much less than it would be without pro-active maintenance.”

Maintenance times depend on the seasons of the year. The quarry maintains a minimum inventory, so maintenance is matched with the production schedule, which is in tune with the demands of the marketplace. At times, this requires a split shift for the maintenance team.

“Our production people come in the morning and do pre-shift inspections, check their equipment, and we produce,” Smith says. “Then we do our post-inspection in the afternoon. The evening shift [maintenance team] knows what they have in front of them. They take care of the details, and we come in the next morning ready to go.”

Surviving the lean market

The Norfolk Southern Railroad has helped Calera Quarry maintain market share through the lean economy. “We have actually fared well because we have access to long-range markets through the rail,” Smith says. “We’ve been very fortunate. In fact, my team is still working five days a week in excess of 10 hours a day. Part of that is maintenance, but most of it is meeting production demands for our customer and contractor base.”

Calera Quarry owns the rail spur that comes onto its property. The Norfolk Southern Railroad pushes the cars in, then quarry employees take care of securing the cars for the customer, cleaning them, loading them, and getting them ready for shipment. About a quarter of what Calera Quarry produces goes out by rail, the rest is trucked out.

“We have a few specialty products that help us out with markets,” Smith says. “We produce rip rap, which allows us to penetrate some markets that others are not exploiting. Plus we have an ag-lime product that satisfies numerous state specifications to help with state and federal subsidies for the farmers. We produce from inch and a half, inch and 3/4, all the way to 3/8 minus screenings for asphalt companies, and serve several ready-mix companies, as well. We have Alabama DOT, Mississippi DOT, and Florida DOT-spec aggregate for road materials — concrete and asphalt.”

The quarry also penetrates the Florida market — primarily in the panhandle — with concrete and asphalt gradations. Lafarge Aggregates built a rail depot in Pensacola in 2007, so it could stockpile materials for its customers.

Smith says the company’s marketing team makes it a priority to achieve a balance in the materials produced at the plant. The team looks for sales of co-products — those products that are produced when making another product — to keep the operation in balance.

Production usually begins at 6 a.m, Smith says. “The scales open at 6 in the morning, and we’ll run till 4, 5, or 6 p.m., as product demands, Monday through Friday, and Saturdays as necessary. We use Saturdays, generally, for one-off projects; not maintenance and repair, but installation or improvement projects should we be making a process change that we know will make an improvement in the operation. We’ve been able to secure and meet demands of our marketplace within that structure for the last couple years.

“We’re still at pretty good levels here in a lean economy in 2010,” Smith adds. “We’re proud that we can offer value to what work is going on and that they choose us. We’ve seen a slowdown in road work but, recently, we’ve seen an increase in other building locally. We’re very fortunate to have a loyal contractor base. We pride ourselves as a company and an organization in providing not only quality materials, but quality support in all endeavors, including our business relationships. I think that is what’s responsible for the reputation Lafarge has in the industry.” AM

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