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Going the Distance: Pete Kimbrel, Orenco Systems Inc.

Going the Distance

Originally published in Health and Safety Resource, published by Oregon OSHA, February–March 2019, Volume 63. Click here to view the original publication.


Orenco Systems Inc.

Safety, Wellness, and Environmental Manager

Pete Kimbrel


The company designs and manufactures equipment for on-site and decentralized water and wastewater systems, along with industrial controls and fiberglass products such as buildings, enclosures, and tanks. Orenco’s small-diameter effluent sewers allow communities to install wastewater collection systems economically. The company’s advanced treatment systems produce clear effluent that can be reused in beneficial ways, including for subsurface irrigation. Orenco has 477,000 square feet of facilities in Sutherlin, Winchester, and Wilbur, Oregon.

Responsibilities/hazards addresses:

Our products are manufactured from fiberglass, and there are approximately 1,600 chemicals used in our manufacturing processes. My team—and I say “team” because at Orenco, the safety program I manage is employee-driven—consists of 372 employees who have embraced the safety culture we’ve created and who protect both each other and the company. We’re responsible for monitoring and addressing many different potential hazards. Ergonomic challenges, HAZMAT, lockout/tagout procedures, confined space issues, fall protection, lifting challenges, and protecting the environment are just a few of the daily responsibilities we face.

To address some of our hazards, we’ve developed many standard operating procedures (SOPs) for tasks and processes at Orenco. We then provide extensive training to the employees involved to ensure that tasks are performed safely. Employees either have access to the SOPs online or a hard copy is available from their supervisor. Many of our employees are issues iPads, which not only assist them with their production task for the day, but also allow them to access all of our safety programs. The iPads give employees access to our MSDS/SDS (safety data sheets) program online, as well. If a safety issue arises, the employee can easily contact me and even send a photo of the safety issue, if needed. With this type of technology, our employees are never without safety resources.

Kimbrel with Wendi Stinnett, environment and lab program manager, and Rick Edwards, administrative assistant for the safety and environmental group. Together, Kimbrel says, “We handle all things related to safety and the environment.”
Orenco Systems is a 2013 graduate of Oregon OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). You received a 2015 Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health (GOSH) award in the category of safety and health professional.
When you take stock of those and other experiences you’ve had in your profession, what would you say are two or three of the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that Oregon OSHA is your friend. Make sure they’re kept in your safety “tool box” and use them as often as you need to—they’re available to help anytime. Most of my safety knowledge was gleaned from an Oregon OSHA consultant while we were going through the SHARP process.

Also, make sure that when a safety issue arises, you let the employees you’re working with in that area solve the issue. Give them guidance, point them in the right direction, but let them solve the problem. The employees will take ownership and your safety culture will continue to grow.

Another important thing I’ve learned is to make sure your employees are thanked and given pats on the back when they do something positive related to safety, because without the employees and management involved, your safety program is destined to fail.

In your line of work, how do you measure success?

When I’m walking around any of our three facilities and see a tenured employee taking some extra time to show new employees how to perform their assigned task safely and answer their questions I see that as a major success. Or when I’m contacted by a group of employees that has a new task to perform but is concerned about how to do it safely and wants to discuss the best way to complete the task, I know we’re being successful. When employees—from owners to the new hire who started today—all are working together to achieve the common goal of safety, I know our culture is alive and well. You can’t get to 2.5 million hours worked with no lost-time accidents without everyone making safety a priority!

Kimbrel says having regular safety meetings and recognizing employees for safety accomplishments are important parts of maintaining a strong safety culture. “One thing you can never do,” he says, “is put safety issues on the back burner.”
What are some things you always do to promote safety where you work, and what are some things you never do?

We have safety meetings once a month when all the production employees gather in one location and I speak to them about what’s going on as far as safety is concerned. I inform the group about any new rules or policies, any new chemicals and the hazards associated with the chemicals, updated training information, and if there were any injuries to discuss. Most importantly, I thank the employees as a whole and recognize individuals for any safety accomplishment.

One thing you can never do is put safety issues on the back burner. Also, never fail to include an employee who’s expressed concern about a safety issue in the solution. Never tell an employee that you’re too busy to listen to their concern. Stop what you’re doing and give the issue your full attention; don’t say it can wait. That would be a sure-fire way to damage your safety culture and put employees at risk.

What is some advice you’d give to those looking to improve safety and health at their workplace or for others seeking a career in this field?

Think outside the box, get employee involvement, come up with a plan, and test the plan. Create a safety “tool box” and add tools to it, including others in the safety field, mentors, Oregon OSHA, etc. There are many resources available, so use as many as you need. Most importantly, don’t take the credit for successes. Give the credit to the employees you work with—give them pats on the back and say “thank you” a lot. A safety culture is created together as a company, not by just the safety manager.

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