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Pile of Scrap Podcast

Ep. 25: Safely or Not at All with Sierra’s Felipe Guerra

Posted by Sierra International Machinery on 4/22/20 5:00 AM

Pile of Scrap Ep. 25: Safely or Not at All with Sierra’s Felipe Guerra

Ranked as the 5th deadliest industry, the recycling industry requires pertinent safety knowledge to keep in mind when on the job. John Sacco speaks with Felipe Guerra, Director of Safety at Sierra, to set the record straight on Sierra’s notorious safety program, the strict truck driver training, and how to create an easy inspection in order to get past those pesky auditors and agencies.


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Felipe Guerra and John Sacco


Introduction: The following is an original audio series from Sierra International Machinery: Pile of Scrap with your host, John Sacco.

John Sacco: All right. Welcome to another episode of Pile of Scrap. Today, I'm here with the Director of Safety at Sierra, Felipe Guerra. Felipe, thanks for joining us today.

Felipe Guerra: Thank you, John. Thanks for, uh, really, uh, excited to be part of this and looking forward to it.

John: Yeah! So, your first go on Pile of Scrap.

Felipe: Yes, first time. I've been seeing all the episodes and, uh, I – I knew we were going to be doing one. I just didn't know exactly when, and, uh, time to get ours done.

John: Well, yeah. You know what? Listen… Safety is such an important part of what we do at Sierra, but in the recycling industry, the waste industry, every aspect, safety has to come first. But I've got a quick question for you.

Felipe: Yes?

John: Your last name is Guerra. That's your family name.

Felipe: Yes.

John: What – where was your family fighting?

Felipe: Um, yes. It’s, uh… Guerra means, uh, “war” uh, in, uh, Spanish. Um, yeah, it's a very interesting last name.

John: So, are you a S–Are you Spaniard or are you original, uh, from the – the Mexico or Central America? Your – your family, your –

Felipe: My dad’s side of the family… Uh, there were some Spaniards and Germans. Um, they came in during the war and, um, that's where I know our name came from.

John: Okay. All right. Well, came for the war. Right on. Well, all right. Well, Felipe, listen… Um, quick background. Um, you know, you came to Sierra. And, your background… You were doing stuff in politics down in Mexico and you came to Sierra, so you went from suit and tie to jeans and steel toes.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: What a transition.

Felipe: Big change.

John: So, tell us about your first job at Sierra.

Felipe: My first job at Sierra was in the can area. Uh, I was referred by a friend of a friend that told me they were hiring at a recycling facility and, uh, I came over, I applied, I spoke with our, uh, uh, our manager back then and, uh, interviewed. I brought him a resume and I remember, uh, after seeing my resume, he told me, “We probably don't have what you're looking for, but we have an opening in the can area.” And, I told them I was already aware of that opening. So, I told him, “Yeah, I mean, I'm – I'm here, I need a job. I want to go ahead and start working.” And, uh, I was ready. “So, I started working the can area.

John: So, how did we get you – pull you out of the cans and throw you into safety? How did you get – how did that transition happen?

Felipe: Well, first of all, when I started in the can area, I was doing a lot of translations too, so that's one of the things that started helping management out. And, I think that's how they were able to, uh – I did a lot of interaction for management back then. And, then I started helping our environmentalist. I was doing some of the storm water sampling. He was just having me do little things here and there for him. And, our safety manager who was helped was, um, having me – helping them – helping them with the inspections and getting some of the paperwork out.

John: How many years ago was that?

Felipe: So, that was 15 years ago.

John: You've been here 15 years?

Felipe: Yes.

John: You're just a kid. What were you 17 when you came out? How old were you when you came here?

Felipe: No, I was 25. I was already 25. 24, sorry.

John: Okay.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: So, now you're the head of safety at Sierra.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Tell us a little bit about your certification – certifications that you have. That's a tough word sometimes.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: So, what do you have? What? Tell us about what makes you the Director of Safety – safety in your background.

Felipe: Uh, my background… I have a lot of – um, I'm the training trainer and multiple fields. Um, manlift, a forklift, OSHA 10, OSHA 30, and there's a few others: um, other trainings in, uh, radiation. Uh, I have an OHST, I have a ASP, a CSP…

John: Wow. Okay. No, wait a minute. You're getting fancy with these acronyms. OHST: Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician. ASP: Associate Safety Professional. CSP: Certified Safety Professional.

Felipe: Yes.

John: So, you're certified?

Felipe: Yes, I definitely am.

John: Well, I know, look…

Felipe: It's taken a while, but it's – it's – it's been a – it's been a fun road. Very interesting.

John: Careful when somebody says you're certifiable. Okay, so you know what, look… Let's get down to the meat and potatoes about safety. Our industry, when I was Chairman of ISRI, we were the fourth deadliest industry – the recycling industry. I think we're number five now. So, we – we've actually done better.

Felipe: Yes.

John: So, when you handled – since you handle safety, it's your – what – what is the most and one – number one most important thing that you would say every company out there has to have?

Felipe: Uh, the, if I had to put one as the most important one, which there's plenty of important ones out there, it would be lockout, tag out. Lock out, tag out because of the type of equipment that we have… Uh – that all the industry in general has. It has a lot of equipment that has a potential of having life changing events.

John: Well, lock out, tag out… So, is taking a machine and making sure that it cannot operate –You're actually putting locks on it so it can't be energized.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Why maintenance or repairs…

Felipe: Adjustments.

John: Adjustments, whatever. So, a lot of deaths occur because people don't do that, right?

Felipe: Yes, unfortunately. Too many.

John: Yeah, many people climb into machines that crush cars, cut things in half and they don't think they're going to get hurt. That's the craziest doggone thing.

Felipe: Unfortunately, the people that usually get hurt are the experienced employees and many times it's even the good employee, which is sad to say, because it's the employee that knows the equipment, the fields that he has a pretty grasp. I saw it with the work's done that knows how to get things done. He's the one that feels very confident and feels that the machine – that nothing's going to happen, that everybody assumes he's there and nobody's going to press the button, but things happen and unfortunately they happen too many – much too often.

John: How do you take that assumption out? How do we take – staying on lock out, tag out because that's where most people get hurt. Okay? There's other things from trucking and forklifts and we'll get to that stuff in a second. Staying on lock out – How do we keep the human element? How do we prevent somebody from being lazy?

Felipe: Um, first of all is training, training, training and training. Uh, we do quite a bit of training. Um, we do different levels of training too depending on the level of responsibility. We make sure that our mechanics, the employees that get to apply the locks and tags are highly trained. Their training is not easy. We – we – we force all of our employees to pass their training. If somebody doesn't pass it, they got to go to the training again. And uh, the training, uh, our training cen–our – our training levels are set quite high. So, we need to make sure that these employees understand what they're working with, that they know what's being done. So, we do hands-on training. Uh, we even do a mockup test where we set –

John: Now, is that after they're hired or is this prior to? ‘Cause I'm gonna stay on lock out, tag out for a second. Okay, so if lock out, tag out is applied... And, I always liked one of my favorite safety reminders or tailgating. Tailgates are where everybody gets together prior to the start of the day. Or, if they're doing the repair maintenance, they have what they call a JSA, which is…

Felipe: Job Safety Analysis.

John: So, if they're doing all of that Job Safety Analysis or tailgates prior to every day, it keeps it fresh regardless of all the training.

Felipe: Yes. Yes.

John: Is that what you recommend?

Felipe: Yes. We recommend doing the, uh – you got to do the deliver the JSA. The JSA is going to tell you what's going to happen that particular time of the day. I mean, what's going to happen, what the employees are getting ready to go into. So, it has to be done on a – right before you start the job. And, that's the only way you ensure employees are aware as to what's going on. You keep employees in the areas they're supposed to be in that way, you – you get rid of the wanderers – the people that might be able to get in there and maybe press a button or – or – or move something. And, that's what we've learned.

John: All right, so death and injury for the lack of lockout… What other aspects of the recycling industry that are – are the ones that are creating deaths and injuries? What outs–besides for getting into machine you're not sup–but what are the areas?

Felipe: Heavy equipment. Heavy equipment, um, being struck – being struck by equipment.

John: Front-end loaders, forklifts…

Felipe: Front-end loaders, forklifts, unfortunately.

John: People get hit. Why?

Felipe: Um, not paying attention, uh, backing up; no backup alarms, um, people – people just being distracted, unfortunately. Phones are a huge factor. That's what you got to have policies on that. Um, speeding, people rushing, um, even housekeeping. Um, sometimes people are going through stuff. They'll step on a piece of material… Piece of material will go up and hit it an employee. People being too close to equipment, people assuming because you have a cap that's open that the operator can see you and that's a false sense of security. When the operator's moving a piece of equipment, he's focused on that tip – he's focused on what he's moving and everybody around them shouldn't be assuming that he's aware of everything that's going – that is in this realm.

John: Yeah. You know, we – we had a good friend, uh – it'll go nameless – um, owner up in Canada. He got ran over by front-end loader and the injuries he sustained, they didn't know if he'd be able to walk again and he is. And, um, I think it's being too comfortable with your surroundings.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: Should never be comfortable. Is that what you would recommend?

Felipe: Definitely. It's an environment where you've got to always be paying attention. You always have a customer factor too. Which, customers don't have the training. They don't know what's going on. Customers have – once again, the customer is not concerned with the facility he's going into. He just coming in, dropping off his material. He thinks it’s going to be a quick trip. We've seen it, usually even in the summer, you get customers coming in with their kids and kids get off and now…

John: All right. All right… Let's – let – let's – let's go – All right. You got off. How do we control that? You know, they're – I see this across America. You know, I've done a lot of traveling and you're right. Summertimes; kids aren't in school. They get in the car and they got their sons, their daughters and they pull up to it and kids get out and they start wanting to wander around. How do you prevent that?

Felipe: Basically, our employees have to – your employees have to have to be trained on how to handle all of our customers. Basically, we got to make sure we control our customers are at either in the vehicle… If they are going to have to be out of the vehicle, they gotta be – they gotta be in the spot – the designated safe station – safe zone, yes.

John: You know, that always unnerves me ‘cause kids can jump out of a car and start going…

Felipe: Yeah.

John: Real quick. So, I guess you have to have the greeter.

Felipe: You got to have your staff very aware of their surroundings, what's going on, um, pretty much after the customer ensuring that we control where he's going to be at. At all times.

John: All right, so we've got a lock out, tag out. If that's applied properly, we can prevent injuries and death. Being aware of your surroundings and having your backup alarms and not being comfortable with moving trucks, vehicles within your facility can prevent it.

Felipe: Yes.

John: So, talk about trucking.

Felipe: Yes.

John: A lot of deaths, lot injuries for trucking. How do you train truck drivers? What do we do? How – how – how is – how does the message get out there for that part of the thing?

Felipe: For the truck drivers, we do – first of all, we do defensive driving. We – we – well, let me take a step back. We test them when we're going to hire them to make sure they know how to drive – um, that they are a good drivers. Uh, we do the – the background checks, we check – we ensure it is the – the – the – the per–the person being brought on board and knows what he's doing.

John: So, you're doing this background, you're seeing what kind of a driving record he has.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Okay. And, red flags. We won't hire what? What's – what's the – what's the standard that we won't hire to?

Felipe: Pretty much drivers that, uh – DUIs, drivers that have a speeding violations…

John: One speeding violation or two? What – where – where's the measurement there?

Felipe: One.

John: One.

Felipe: Yes

John: If you have one, you're not hired?

Felipe: They’re not because, once again, I mean, that's not the type of driver we want on the road. We don't want that. When you're driving a commercial truck, that's a lot of responsibility. You hit something and more than likely, it's gonna be smaller than you and you’re – and whatever you hit is going to be losing. So, once again, we're going to keep – we've got to keep the public safe.

John: And, another horrible story. Uh, you know, a friend of mine – another friend in our industry, um, a truck pulled out in front of a family and, um, the car, the trucker was at fault, the mom would – became a paraplegic with three kids. It was a $17 million case. Thank God they had insurance. But, that's how quick you can come to work and you own your business and in five minutes, your whole business is in jeopardy. So, defensive training we have.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Is that a program we have? A program we subscribed to? Who teaches defensive driving?

Felipe: The safety team. Uh, we have several safety advisors. We have three safety advisors and we train our employees. 90% of our training is done in house. So, we ensure that these drivers are trained and before they go out driving. Uh, when they're starting out, we assign another driver to mentor them and teach them where we go, how we do things, our procedures, our steps.

John: So, hold on, I want to go over this. So, we have a – what do we call it? A drive out? What do we – drive along? What do we call that? There's a term we use.

Felipe: Yes, it's a drive along. Basically, it's – it's – it's, um, all of our new employees are SSCs. So, uh, no… [inaudible]. All of our new hires are looked at as, um, we mentor them. We keep them in the green hard hat for six months. During the six month period, we are – we keep a really close eye on them, making sure…

John: And the drivers assign a – somebody who knows how to drive to me. So, you gotta go to driving school when you're 15 and a half years old and you have to drive whether...

Felipe: Pretty much that's what we do with them.

John: We're monitoring that they A) really know how to drive.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Through tests. And so, now, there's something we do at Sierra, uh, that I really like the Journeyman Plan, right?

Felipe: Yes.

John: Describe what – what is the Journeyman Plan? Where did it derive from? And, how's it implemented?

Felipe: The – our JMP that says we, uh,  as – as all of our employees refer to it, or JMP: Journey Management Plan. Um, it's a plan that we've developed. So, we instruct our drivers the routes they are supposed to be driving. We tell them how to get from point A to point B. And, these routes have been pre-verified. We ensured that the trucks can drive these – these roads, that it's legal for them to drive through those, uh, locations, that they will have the right clearances, right permitting… ‘Cause we haul around our own share too.

John: When we do heavy hauling.

Felipe: We ensure that the roads are going to be safe. And, also, that we don't expose our drivers to excessive, uh, let's say school zones. We try and avoid them. We don't want our trucks riding in front of a school zone.

John: Yeah. Well, I – and that just slows you down.

Felipe: Oh, yes. And then we also have… We avoid the left hand turns across traffic for the big commercial trucks, Arkansas…

John: So, you don't do left-hand turns without a signal or you avoid that. You've got to make a lot of rights. Eventually you got to make a left turn someplace.

Felipe: Yes, we avoid – It's wherever there's not a signal. Obviously there are locations where we might be forced to based on design, but wherever we can avoid it, we do it. In fact, just for our trucks that come into our facility, they have to take a course and come back around so they can drive in.

John: Well, I notice that all the time. If I'm out front, I see one of our trucks going by because they can't make that left turn into Sierra ‘cause there's no lights. So, they go down, they take a right at the light and go down and they follow the road around and they make their left at a left turn signal.

Felipe: Yes.

John: So, they're dri–so, we're going actually the extra mile…

Felipe: We are, definitely.

John: To ensure safety.

Felipe: Yes. Commercial trucks move much slower than the regular vehicles. Unfortunately, many, many, many motorists out there don't have that respect towards – towards a commercial truck. So, we – we've had everybody's had it. Commercial trucks we can cut off and you have a motor vehicle accident and, unfortunately, many times in the eyes of the – of – of the DOT: Department of Transportation, it's the driver that's at fault and it's quite, uh, difficult when you've got these vehicles that are 1500 pounds to 2,000 pounds, just cutting off commercial trucks. And, when that happens, it's – it's collision, but it's happened. So, we avoid those scenarios as much as we can.

John: You know, you taught me something. Um, you know, they're – they're putting the homeless shelter next to Sierra on a busy thoroughfare in front of Sierra.

Felipe: Yes, unfortunately.

John: And, there is heavy industrial trucks running up – from cement trucks to fuel trucks, carrying full lows of diesel, full loads of recycles. And, you taught, you taught me that a fully loaded 80,000-pound truck of recyclables going 45 miles an hour, which is the speed limit on Brundage Lane, takes 250 feet to stop. 82% of a football field.

Felipe: Yes. That's a long stretch. And anything that's in –

John: You know, it's funny that we know it, but all these people driving, you know, just a regular civilian car, they don't know that. Trucks just can't stop on a dime.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: That's crazy. So, you know, that's um, so we've covered lock out, tag out. We've covered about being struck by, um, moving vehicles within the facility and, we've talked about the trucks out in the field because everybody – not everybody, but most operators in the recycling industry have all three of those situations.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: So, that's a good start. So, let me ask you this. We have the safety program and you – and you – I asked you to give me some notes about how people can start, but what you'd said is “Do not, uh, buy a premade IIPP,” which is Injury, Illness Prevention Plan or Safety program. You say, “That will get you in trouble.” Why?

Felipe: There's many of those out there. There's a huge market. They're quite easy to – to access. You just have to do a little quick Googling and you'll find companies that are selling them. They're very generic. They're too generic. They have a lot more information that applies to you and what I mean to you, as any business that – that purchases. So, when you have an agency coming in, they're going to be auditing you on the items that are non-existent and that will get you in trouble. And, I've seen too many – I've met too many colleagues in the safety field, especially people coming into this field that they've found themselves in trouble because an auditor comes in and…

John: All right, you said auditors and agencies. At Sierra, we have – they all come in here. We've had Cal/OSHA, we have Weights and Measures, DTS: Department of Substance and Toxic Control, Air Pollution Control Board…

Felipe: Water Board.

John: Water Board. We have all these things.

Felipe: City, County, State.

John: And, we've actually done well.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: Because why? Tell us why we pass these inspections and what do we do? Because I think people need to hear this. I know what we do, but I want you to tell people who will listen to this podcast: What is Sierra doing to prepare for these type of inspections?

Felipe: First off, the key: housekeeping, housekeeping, housekeeping, and that's – that's the key. Being really clean and organized makes things so much easier for everything else you've got to do.

John: Well, my dad, remember? My dad's nickname was Mr. Clean. My dad was a drill Sergeant in World War II and he was nicknamed Mr. Clean and he always was a neat freak, even at home when I was a kid. You couldn't have – you had to, before you could go to school in the morning and sit – you had to make your bed. So, but housekeeping… Why? What – what – what – what happens when the inspectors come in?

Felipe: Well, I will tell you this: first of all, when they all come in… Um, and you see it in all of the letters that I keep forwarding over to you, we get a lot of kudos, a lot of compliments on the cleanliness and the organization of the facility. Most of these auditors and inspectors aren't expecting a clean recycling center.

John: They're expecting to walk into a junkyard.

Felipe: Yes. They're expecting a lot of stuff all over the place, spills, they expect unorganization and they don't see it in us.

John: Man, you know what? Safety – you know, this – there's no way in this podcast we're going to be able to get to everything, but I think we're gonna touch on general stuff. Housekeeping, making sure you have a spill plants – when something spills, hydraulic oil, oil, you have a cleanup plan. And so, housekeeping for anybody's listening, if you want to do anything to keep an inspector from just going nuts right off the start, organize.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Don't have oil and don't have puddles of water with oil film on top, right?

Felipe: Yes.

John: Okay, what are the things do we do to pass these inspections?

Felipe: We do that, we’re really, um, we have a lot of our signage, a lot of the, uh…

John: Signage. Talk about that for a second. What kind of signage?

Felipe: We have signage, um, that pretty much informs our employees on some of our rules and policies, speed limits, uh, what's allowed in certain areas, the, uh… We have signage for the, uh, areas they’re not allowed to be in, some of the products that we store…

John: Right.

Felipe: Where everything goes. We – we – we try and keep everything very organized.

John: The other – the other day, uh, Felipe, we had the, um, um, the inspector from the fire department.

Felipe: Yes.

John: And, one of the – what they wanted to see was documentation.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Talk about documentation and how that helps an inspection.

Felipe: The documentation aspect, um, makes your – makes the inspection so much easier. When the inspector comes in and sees you have all these documents stating your inspections that you're doing what you're supposed to do there. I mean, once again, it's, it – it makes everything so much easier for them.

John: Well, they're – there – when you document – when you tell the inspector this is what we do and then it's documented.

Felipe: Yes.

John: They know it. It's taking place.

Felipe: Yeah. They can see it. For instance, if it's far – like this last inspection, there were, they were checking a lot of fire equipment, um, or storage or our – our sprinkler systems. And they were able to see the tags on the equipment, the markings on them, the inspection forms, and they see the real inspection form. So, that's – it's – it's a – they have the proof there. They're able to see it, they're able to compare it. And, and once again, and it just makes things so much easier. Um, and then some of these inspectors coming from other facilities, I mean, they'll, they're always letting us know, Hey, this is so much easier coming to inspect you. I mean this is easy.

John: Well, that's kudos to you in the Safety Department, but it's a culture here at Sierra.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Keeping the yard clean. Look, we have a lot of customers who come from all over the world to visit Sierra because, you know, the equipment sells and when they come through our yard, we usually pretty much get the same, you know, people are usually surprised how clean our yard is, you know, but you have to do – it's a discipline. It's every day. This – so housekeeping documentation. What else can we do to – what else can you do to when you have these inspectors come in… What else can companies do to help prevent them from just getting throttled by inspectors because they love to come in and find things.

Felipe: Yes. Um, well starting with that first impression. You walk – you walk them through, show them what their – what they got to see. Keep it short and simple. I mean, they're looking for – they're – they're going to give you a list of items are looking for you. You've got to take them to those items and – and if you're able to show them what they're looking for in an easy, precise manner, it's – it’s – it’s – it's a piece of cake.

John: All right.

Felipe: So, it's an in and out.

John: Well, you know, ISRI: Institute of Scrap Recycling. You know, I always talk about ISRI. As a former Chair – you know, ISRI’s done a lot for Sierra. We learned a lot from ISRI, haven’t we?

Felipe: Yes.

John: Okay. And, one of the things that ISRI put out years ago is how to survive a ocean inspection – OSHA inspection. And, we have – we – we survived one and one that many months ago, we had the – the Cal/OSHA here and they were – they were in here like four or five days and they only found a torn tag they didn't like and didn't particularly care for a guard, but we fixed it within a week. And, we really didn't – we had no issues with it.

Felipe: In fact, we had the guard done before the inspector left. We had it done, well, how you wanted it, but we came above and beyond within the week.

John: So, I would say, and you would probably say this to me, when the inspector comes and he wants something changed, you do it right then and there, right there.

Felipe: Yes. When you have an inspector, he's, he's going to be your focus and you're going to let them know that it's very important. We take it very importantly. So, when they show up, I make sure they know that safety has been important for us, that safety comes from the top. Uh, and all of our employees believe in it. So, as – if they find anything, we get it fixed right there on the spot. I mean, I – I notify the right people. We tell them, “Hey, when you have this fixed,” and many times, I'm showing them the picture before they even walk out of the gate. “Here it is. Things got moved, things got done as it were supposed to be done.”

John: Well, if they want to see – they want to see compliance, but they want to see a willingness to comply.

Felipe: Oh, yes.

John: Because what they don't like is they come in, they inspect something, they ask you to fix it, they come back a week later and it's not fixed, you're in trouble.

Felipe: And, I would say this, I've been told by auditors before – the, uh – when I've had little one-on-ones and speaking with them because after they've been telling us so much that like our facility – uh, the – the worst hate is when you lie and you started coming up with all these excuses. They don't like excuses. If something's wrong, let's fix it, let's get it done. They don't want this whole story on how this incident occurred. They just don't care about it. They just want it fixed.

John: One thing– what happened, we learned and we do it on a regular basis, is every button in a electrical panel in a facility has to be labeled.

Felipe: Yes.

John: And during the one inspection there, during this time, we had like one panel that was missing a couple, you know, you know, descriptions of what a went to. But, we have the electrician out here, we had it fixed during the time of the inspection.

Felipe: Yes.

John: And so, it's – there's no shoes. It's not there. Call the electrician, get him here and label it. And that's what they like.

Felipe: And the other thing that they also see is they're seeing that all these other panels or labels, so they know it's – it's – this is this one scenario. There's this one single event. So, that also makes a big difference. It would be very different that we had 50 panels they want labeled. But when you're finding just one and it's only part of the part of the breakers are not labeled, they know it's something that's – that might've been overlooked and could have been, uh, a little bit of weathering. Uh, so they understand too. So, that also plays a big factor when it's just a couple items. When they're finding something constantly, that's when you get yourself in trouble too.

John: Right. I agree. We were talking about ISRI and how to survive the OSHA inspection, but we – a part of the ISEC: ISRI Safety Environmental Council. We attend these meetings. Tell me something that's tra–Tell me something you were able to learn, the number one thing you learned from an ISEC meeting. And, I want you to tell something we showed everybody because we were sharing information. Tell us the one biggest thing you learned in going to an ISEC meeting.

Felipe: There, uh, there's been so many things I've learned out of, uh, out of the ISEC meetings.

John: First thing comes to your head.

Felipe: Uh, first thing: guarding. Uh, there's been many types of guardings that have been shared amongst some of the – some of the members. Uh, in fact, originally that's the way we guarded that, that machine that was, uh, that we had, uh, the issue with, with Cal/OSHA. Um, the original guarding we came up with was out of the eyesight group.

John: And it still wasn’t good enough then.

Felipe: And we had – we had OSHA inspectors there too that were speaking.

John: So are we gonna share our – our – our – how we resolve that issue?

Felipe: We already shared it. Uh, we shared with the group. Uh, it's a really good group of individuals. The – networking – networking there's phenomenal. We – we do so much sharing. Uh, there's emails going back and forth every week, uh, multiple emails. Uh, we can ask questions and the nice thing, it's people that do what we do.

John: Absolutely.

Felipe: That's a golden opportunity. Anybody that's not doing it, they're losing out on something that’s…

John: ISRI’s motto: “Safely or Not At All.”

Felipe: Yes.

John: But, that's the first sign you see when you drive in Sierra: “Safely or Not At All.” Why you got to know it.

Felipe: Yes.

John: It's gotta be part of the culture. So look, you know, Felipe, we're going to have to talk. We're going to have to do another podcast on safety because we've got… So, but I want to talk about a new hire.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Now, this drives me nuts, I'm sorry, as an owner of a company. But it's – I understand it. But, a new hire. Tell us how long it takes for the new hire to finally get out on the floor and go to work.

Felipe: For – for my department to get one employee, uh, to get them into orientation, there's several steps. Uh, everything from physicals, uh, background checks, and there's a lot of steps when they walk into orientation. It takes us a full week to start. That would be a general employee.

John: 40 hours?

Felipe: 40 hours. We take them a full week where we teach them everything from, uh, the – the safety, the p–the personal protective equipment, uh, rules and policies. Uh, what we allow, what we don't allow, we take them on a full yard tour, we teach them, um, what's the proper behavior in our facility. We do quite a bit of, of training, uh…

John: I hate it. But I, I totally understand it. Okay?

Felipe: Yeah.

John: You know why I don't like about the 40-hour training? Because you go into the room, you say hi to the people who are coming to come over and you know, you see the faces, they just going to spend 40 hours in this class within the first week, two weeks, they're leaving because it's just too much for them.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: The actual work and we have to spend 40 hours training and they get out there. They're done. It's just, ah, it drives me crazy.

Felipe: Yeah. It's, it's quite a bit of – of information. Uh, we do a lot of hands-on. We keep it very interactive. We try and give them the best we that we can as to what's going on outside, so they know what they're getting themselves into. Uh, but yeah, it – it's – it's –it is a reality. You get some individuals that have come out and once they see it's hot – especially here in Bakersfield, we can really get really hot weather and sometimes some individuals who just can't handle that part.

John: So, you know, one thing I want to tell people who listen to this, I have a friend in Michigan – young kid and he's a good kid. I would see his post on social media and he'd never wear a hard hat. I called him, I said, “Listen, if I see you do one more post without your hard hat, I'm going to come out there and kick your butt.” You know, just having fun, right?

Felipe: Yeah.

John: But isn't it not true that if the owners of the company walk the yard without the safety equipment, that it's almost impossible for you to make the employees wear the stuff?

Felipe: The only reason that I feel that my team, my team, our team is successful is because it comes from the owners. It comes from the top. And if you don't have the owner buy-in, we're talking to the wall.

John: Okay. Carbon toes, not steel toes. I called you before I bought these doggone shoes. I said, “Felipe, can I wear a carbon shoes – toed shoes?” And you said, “Yes.”

Felipe: Yes.

John: So, it's okay? Carbon versus steel?

Felipe: Yeah. There's different options out there.

John: Well, these are comfortable.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: And I – ‘Cause I walk a lot in the yard and when, you know – so you know that that's the fun part. Let me talk about – I'm gonna – I'm going to go… You know, in California, Colorado, state of Washington, some of these States now legalize marijuana. And, I get asked this question all the time: “Well, if pot is legal, how can you can deny employment to somebody who tests positive for marijuana?” Your response?

Felipe: All of our jobs here are safety sensitive. All of our employees – all of our employees have to walk out to the yard at one point or another. We have heavy equipment, moving parts. Uh, so it's – we don't want anybody to run the risk.

John: So, sa–safety sensitive. We have a zero tolerance policy.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Okay. Now, my question is, is has it been challenged? Has there been any problems we've had or is if you ain't know when they come in here, it's zero tolerance?

Felipe: We – we – from day one, we let them know and that's one of the first things that we cover in the orientation. We let them know we have zero tolerance. We let them know what we test for. We do quite a bit of testing. We have randoms, we have the problem suspicion testing, which we've – we've – we've used that before.

John: Yeah. We found an employee drunk the other day, didn’t we?

Felipe: Yeah.

John: That’s sad, that’s sad.

Felipe: Yeah.

John: You know, but again, more training.

Felipe: We – we let them know, they know what they're getting themselves into and…

John: It's inherently a dangerous business, right?

Felipe: Yes. it is.

John: All right. And you as a safety director, you've got to meet what keeps you up at night? When you – when you leave here, you go home and you start thinking about safety… What keeps you up at night about keeping everybody safe at Sierra?

Felipe: Here at Sierra, um, just making, making sure that we – we – we stay away from the shortcuts. The – the possibility of the employee thinking they can just go in and get something done really quick, thinking that we can just get this done real quick?

John: Real quick without the lock out, tag out.

Felipe: Without the – the JSA, without following the procedures, thinking that they can just grab that stool instead of grabbing the ladder, thinking that they can just get this done really quickly. That's what keeps me up. And, that's what we gotta constantly be focusing, training them and teaching them.

John: All right. Now, I gotta – I gotta ask you this. So, you go home, you got your kids and you're all safety all day. You must go cr–your kids must hate you at times. “No, son, don't swing that baseball bat by your sister.”

Felipe: Yeah.

John: How much safety do you take home and your wife and kids go, “Dad, this isn't Sierra.” Come on.

Felipe: Uh, I do quite a bit at home, I’ll tell you that. I will tell you this: my kids have been taught how to use a fire extinguisher.

John: Well, that's important.

Felipe: So, we, uh, we have fire extinguishers in my restrooms, my garage. Um, my house is, I consider my – my house very safe. I have the cameras, I have the alarm, I have the dog.

John: Yeah. Do they – do they – do your kids think you overdo it with safety with them when they're playing? Come on.

Felipe: I think they're used to it now. They see it as normal practice. Um, when we go on vacation, we go to Mexico and – and – and not many people use seatbelts out there. So, we get in the car and my kids start putting seatbelts on and I got other – other people that know us like, “You don't have to do it here.” And my kids are like, “No, we have to, Dad says we have to.” So they – they're, they're used to it, but – but – uh, I do throw, uh, little curve balls to them every – every so often. ‘Cause, uh,

John: Oh yeah, my k–my kids think I overdo it on the… “Dad. We're okay,” is my daughter all the time. “But, you gotta be aware of your surroundings.” And I think that that look that applies to your business and to your home life and when you're out. You gotta be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Felipe: And I will tell you another – another – another thing that we did here with our safety. Part of our safety that we – that we did, we teach our employees is home safety too. ‘Cause if we can make them be safe at home, they're going to be coming back toward tomorrow. If we can, we can make them be safer. We can change the culture. And that's one thing we've been striving quite a bit. We try and many times give them examples that hit home. We tell them what happens when you fall off the ladder at home cause that's what the – that's what they're going to be really at risk. They know we got a safety guy here in the yard looking at them. They know we're going to have somebody at the job site and what our policies are and they know they can get themselves written up, disciplined if they don't follow the rules and policies. But at home that's, that's where they might just be tempted to just grab that couch and stand to change the lightbulbs.

John: Well, you know, my favorite safety meeting of the year. Always. I love the Christmas safety.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Because it's the reward for being safe and give it – But you know, I you in the safety team, put together a slide show about being safe at Christmas, how Christmas trees, how quick they can go on, you know, light up on fire and, and you know, so I like the fact that we tell our employees, “Look, safety. Take it home with you,” You know, I think that's a message. Again, for anybody listening to this, take your safety with you. Don't just leave it at work. Just because you're safe here at work doesn't mean you don't be safe on the weekends when you're driving around. And look, I know people think about it, but it's all the time, isn't it?

Felipe: Yes. You're much more at risk to be hurt outside of work than at work.

John: Well, Felipe, listen, we've been at this for long – not longer than I want. We're just going to have to do part two a little later because there's so much more to delve into, more details about safety, but I think what we want the message here about safety is that you gotta have a safety plan in your company, right?

Felipe: You have to.

John: And what's the easiest way for somebody to start?

Felipe: If – if somebody's starting out, I would recommend taking a 10-hour – OSHA 10-hour course. It would give you some basics as to what you're supposed to do and not to do. Once you've done that, once you've grasped that, go to the 30-hour OSHA course.

John: Okay.

Felipe: That – they'll go a little more in depth. They'll tell you on the signage and what you're supposed to do. Do's and don'ts. And once you've done that, definitely. Or as soon as you can, try going to an ISEC meeting. The people you will meet there will be so much help.

John: It's, it's – you got to join. It drives me crazy as a – as – like I've said a hundred times, a former chairman people, “Well, what does ISRI do for me?” It does a lot. And, because this ISEC – the Environmental Safety – the ISRI Safety Environmental Council provides so much information pertinent to what we do every day.

Felipe: And I will tell you this, I feel that Sierra's quite advanced when it comes to safety. We have a lot where when many things, we're very proactive. There's many things that we do that others don't, but still, even with all those advantages, if I can call them that way – that we have versus some of some of the other facilities. Every single time I go to – to the one of these ISEC’s meetings, I learned something. I always come back with business cards. Some are from – from some of the members that are going to be helping and some are from people that are helping me out. I'm always learning something. There's always something to learn, something to do. There's always somebody doing something that somebody else is not doing.

John: Right. Right.

Felipe: And, everybody’s open.

John: Well, and everybody's open exchange of information.

Felipe: Yes, yes.

John: And, that will help keep us all safe. Let's just – you know, Felipe, thanks for the time here though. We're going to have to do another part because I want to get into some details. I want to get into accidents that have happened and why they happened, okay? This, I think, is a good 30,000-foot view of it. Get started, people. Housekeeping: number one.

Felipe: Yes.

John: Absolutely number one. Document everything you do, wear your, you know, your protective – your PPE equipment. Your personal protective equipment. And owners, if you walk in your yard without your hard hats, your safety vest – those two things alone. If you walk out in your yard, your employees will not follow. Without a doubt.

Felipe: You're going to kill your program before it even starts. If the owner doesn't follow it, the employees are not going to go, not follow along. They're not going to buy into it. They're not going to really feel that they– that they should be doing.

John: It's a cultural thing. Yes, and once the safety culture hits, what is fascinating is how the the – the veteran employees do not put up with unsafe acts by the newbies.

Felipe: Oh yeah.

John: And, it's really cool. All right, well Felipe… Listen, awesome. We've got so much more to talk about and we'll do that down the road. Maybe another month. We'll – we'll have –we'll reconvene and do more, give more details, probably gory details that people don't want to hear, but we're going to do it. I thank you for your time.

Felipe: Thank you very much.

John: And, all right, well that's it for another episode of Pile of Scrap.

Felipe: Thank you.

John: Thanks, Felipe. I appreciate your time, buddy. Thank you.

Felipe: Thanks.

Conclusion: This has been a Sierra International Machinery original audio series. Thanks for listening. Please share this podcast and make sure to subscribe.

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