The man in charge of environmental health and safety at a Franklin plating company knows what people think when they see the types of chemicals they work with inside their building.

The list of hazardous chemicals used inside Electro-Spec — ammonia, cyanide and different forms of acid — sounds worrisome. And a spill or leak could be dangerous, said Ben McKnight, environmental health and safety director.

But that’s exactly why multiple precautions, ranging from spill containment areas to water filtration systems and routine testing of water quality are done, McKnight said.

“When people hear cyanide, you think you come to work dressed like Neil Armstrong. That’s not the case,” McKnight said.

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“We understand the implications for all these chemicals and we do what we need to keep this safe.”

Electro-Spec is one of more than 70 companies across the county required to register with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security exactly what hazardous chemicals they store and their plan to make sure those materials are handled safely.

The chemicals in the county range from different types of fuels and oils at gas stations and equipment storage facilities to different types of acids and metals used in manufacturing. For example, Duke Energy substations around the county have Hyvolt II, which is a mineral oil used in electrical equipment that is required to be reported, a spokeswoman said. Indiana American Water Co. uses chlorine, fluoride and polymers to treat the water supply, a spokesman said.

Each of the companies also has to follow a safety plan to make sure those chemicals stay contained and that conditions for employees also are safe, and businesses take those procedures seriously, officials said.

Their plans have to be shared with local emergency workers, including police and fire, and employees also are trained, local company officials said.

At KYB Americas, employees go through routine training and operators on chrome-plating lines even take urine tests to be sure the chromic acid they work with is not getting into their system, officials said.

On their list of chemicals used and stored at the 550,000-square-foot main plant in Franklin: argon, carbon dioxide, chromic acid, petroleum oil, lead, nitrogen and sulfuric acid. The chromic acid is the top concern, since it is toxic, but it also is key to what they do at KYB. Without it, they can’t make chrome and can’t get the shock absorbers they produce for multiple types of vehicles to work, said Charles Manzione, safety, environmental and finishing manager.

But that is also why KYB follows specific protocols to protect against spills and leaks, he said.

Multiple companies across the county use similar measures, including Electro-Spec, Nestle Waters North America and KYB having their own wastewater systems to filter out chemicals used in their processes, which officials said ensure that the chemicals and materials used inside their facilities stay there.

And NSK, a bearing manufacturing company in Franklin, KYB, Electro-Spec and Nestle Waters all have built their facilities to contain a leak or spill to a certain area of the building if one were to ever happen.

Top certifications

KYB, Electro-Spec and NSK also are on a short list of companies that are ISO 14001:2015 certified, a key worldwide standard for environmental management, which is an achievement facilities tout.

And they should, since the designation is difficult to get, requiring multiple inspections and detailed reports, said McKnight, who also serves as executive director for Partners for Pollution Prevention, a state organization of industries, businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments interested in pollution prevention.

Electro-Spec also is one of fewer than 60 companies in the state to have earned special designations from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management through its environmental stewardship program and through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, McKnight said.

Companies’ environmental and safety plans also are woven into how they do business and a key element of it since reducing energy and waste also saves money, officials said.

For example, a gold tank at Electro-Spec costs $75,000 to build, so no one wants to let it leak for any period of time, McKnight said. And they tout their accomplishment of 1,000 days of no time lost due to workplace injuries, he said.

But their safeguards also are intended to make the public feel safer.

At Electro-Spec, officials have opened the facility to multiple groups, including city officials, emergency workers and state inspectors, and they have been used as an example of how to operate by a workmans’ compensation insurance group.

One reason for being so open is to continue to build trust in their facility after a 2003 fire that destroyed the plant. That fire was caused by a heater, and not a chemical reaction of any kind, but people still remember it, McKnight said.

And after that blaze, people were afraid of the facility, plant manager Mary Gordon said.

Now, the facility has automatic shutoffs, the entire building is covered with sprinklers and employees check for any issues — from equipment overheating to leaks — seven days a week, including Christmas, McKnight said.

Companies also want to be sure their employees feel safe.

That’s why Sonoco, a packaging company in Edinburgh, requires safety coordinators in all 330 of its facilities around the globe and conducts its own safety audits, a company official said.

Nestle Waters in Greenwood starts each shift and meeting with a safety briefing, according to a company statement.

Fifteen Electro-Spec employees are trained as first responders, able to perform CPR and other life-saving first aid procedures before other emergency workers arrive, McKnight said.

And the facility routinely conducts mock emergency drills, including for severe weather, a fire or a spill. A safety committee meets monthly and safety walks, where fire extinguishers and other emergency stations, such as for eye washing, are checked to be sure they are ready, McKnight said.

At KYB, routine training for the company’s 750 employees is a key part of safety precautions, especially since 35 percent of their workforce is Burmese and don’t speak English as a first language, Manzione said. Workers on chrome-plating lines wear aprons that are collected and disposed of as hazardous waste in specific bins to keep the items separate from non-hazardous materials, a procedure which is routinely checked to be sure it is followed, he said.

Environmental policies are handed out to all employees, with the goals of reducing energy and waste and increasing communication, he said. For example, if an employee notices a machine does not appear to be working correctly, they can make the call to stop and ask for a supervisor to check it, he said.

Employees also are trained in detail on the plan for any environmental issues, such as a spill, including who to call and what to do. The main plant also has 200 fire extinguishers employees are trained annually to use, Manzione said.

At NSK, employees who handle the chemicals deemed hazardous, including kerosene used to clean components and sulfuric acid used in forklift batteries, are trained on safety measures, along with all the other employees, company officials said. And employees are encouraged to report any potential improvements in their safety procedures.

Tests become standard

Multiple amounts of testing is done inside facilities across the county, officials said.

At KYB, that includes air quality testing and urine samples on machine operators on chrome plating lines, to monitor for any chemicals being absorbed, and the results are never near the limits, Manzione said.

Water draining off the property is sampled at least once per year and exhaust released from the plant is monitored daily, officials said.

And officials always are ready for random and routine inspections by different regulatory agencies, which happen often, senior production manager Jerry Reamer said.

“When you try to do the right thing everyday, it’s never wrong,” said Jim Fields, who supervises the chemical technicians and runs the chemical lab.

One piece of technology companies didn’t have years ago was the monitoring systems that will shut off production if an issue is found.

For example, at KYB, if a tank were to overflow, water would be shut off to the entire plant, Reamer said. If a tank, such as for nitrogen or carbon dioxide, is getting low, both the company and the supplier are automatically notified, he said.

At Nestle Waters, the facility’s production systems are designed to automatically shut off in the case of a leak or a malfunction, and the facility is also designed with a secondary containment system to make sure any kind of spill or leak is contained and would not spill into the factory, the company statement said.

And at Electro-Spec, in addition to sensors warning if a machine were to overheat, they also have an automated system that monitors tanks used to rinse and remove metals from their materials, making sure they don’t get too full and overflow, McKnight said.

Facilities are also built to contain any spills, so nothing would spread to the rest of the facility.

And they take other simple precautions, such as storing bases and acids separately at KYB to prevent a chemical reaction, and making sure their facilities are secure and only employees and other authorized people can get in, officials said.

The Nestle Waters facility, which produces bottled water, uses ammonia to cool down its mold machinery, and that ammonia is also stored in a locked room that can only be accessed by designated employees.

Some other companies aren’t required to take precautions, including Endress + Hauser in Greenwood.

The most the facility stores is in a 55-gallon drum, and doesn’t have to be reported, but safety in general is still hugely important, said Jonathan Savoy, who works in maintenance, safety and environmental management.

Employees use paint, caustic soap and polyurethane in their work, and all safety measures are closely followed, including wearing gloves, eye protection and respirators, he said.

Workers also go through annual training on safety, including multiple scenarios, such as if a train were to derail on the railroad line that passes by their building, so they are prepared for anything, he said.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure my employees go home safely every day,” Savoy said.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at or 317-736-2718.