Gut Rumbles

August 29, 2007

A white-end guy

Originally published June 18, 2002

Today at work, I had to do a PSSR (Pisser, as I call it) on a new operation we will begin test-driving next week. A Pre-Start-up Safety Review is a dry walk-down of a new system that is ALMOST ready to run, where a collection of "subject matter experts" examine everything with a fine-toothed comb and create a punch-list of items that must be corrected before we in Operations actually take charge of our new baby. The "Pissers" involved were the Design Engineer, the Construction Coordinator, the Safety Specialist, the Area Support Chemical Engineer, the Area Trainer and poor old Acidman Mars, who is responsible for making the new creation run whether it's a Golden Child or a Thalidamide Baby. Needless to say, I take these exercises pretty seriously if I see something I really don't like.

Most of the defects we found were minor and easily corrected. Engineers draw P&IDs for a project. P&IDs are basic line drawings that show where pipes go, how many valves are needed and what instruments should be put on those pipes. But P&IDs don't say "put the valve HERE" and drill the instrument tap "THERE." So, you always end up with an important isolation valve or two put where Spiderman couldn't reach them and instrument taps drilled right next to the valves. My big problem with such idiocy is not with the engineer. It's with the allegedly skilled craftsmen who installed that ridiculous crap. If I were a professional pipefitter, before I ever installed a valve on a line, I would ask myself one question: would I ever want to open it, close it or work on it where I am about to install it? If the answer is "HELL NO!" then I wouldn't put the valve there. But these professional craftsmen do it all the time.

They are contractors. They'll never see that valve again in their lives. They KNOW that they'll never have to open it, close it or work on it. They'll install it KNOWING it's screwed up and just hope to get away with it. That's one of the main reasons we conduct "PISSERS."

We started on the third floor and walked the system for seven floors up from there. When you hit the end of this new line, the only thing higher in the air than you are is the 180' and 200' stacks at the back of the plant. We found a few of those "Spiderman" construction defects and noted them (Bwhahaha! The slack bastard that did it will have to come back and do it right the second time. HE SEES THE VALVE AGAIN! Unfortunately, we probably pay extra for the dorkle to undo his mistake.)

We finally walked through the dust and the noise and arrived on the roof next to the new baghouse. While everybody else was checking out the baghouse, the exhaust blower and the pulsaire system, I heard the Safety Specialist say, "THE WHITE END SUCKS." I turned around and said, "What?"

"The White End sucks," he said. "Somebody wrote it right there on that I-beam." Sure enough, one poetic construction worker had penciled his thoughts about the area where I work in bold letters on that beam. I laughed and said, "He got THAT right!"

The Area Trainer said, "It takes a special kind of person to work the White End. Either you like it, or you hate it. There is no in-between. And my opinion is, fuck the ones who don't like it." My Area Trainer is a White End guy. The same as I am.

In manufacturing pigment, we take black sand and turn it into the whitest substance known to man. (Before some overly-scientific perfectionist such as Stephen Den Beste corrects me, I'll confess that the pigment actually IS NOT white. It is a clear crystal that refracts light in such a way that it APPEARS to be white to the human eye. Who cares? I look like a slender version of Frosty the Snowman when I get it all over me.) The guys who work in RAW PIGMENTS handle the stuff when it's still black, and when they put into a gaseous form. They seldom are covered up with it, which is a good thing, because they use a lot of hazardous chemicals to change the ore from black to white.

When the BACK-END guys are done with their magic, they send the product to me as a white liquid. I classify it, grind it, treat it, filter it, dry it and grind it into a very fine dust, then package it for shipment to our customers. Depending on what kind of dust we're making, you consumers find the finished product in paint, paper, plastic, vinyl siding, the white stripe on whitewall tires, the white M&M on M&Ms, the shiny icing on your birthday cake, the abrasive in your toothpaste and the stuff that actually refracts sunlight off your naked flesh when you wear sunscreen. Our pigment goes into all kinds of things.

White End guys are the ones who deal with the finely-milled dust and blow a lot of white boogers from their noses when a day of problems is over. White End guys bathe with Ivory Dishwashing soap, because that's the only detergent that will remove that stuff from their skin. White End guys shower, exit the shower with the water still running so they can check their naked selves in the mirror to find the white spots they missed, then climb back in the shower to remove them. Blacks and whites work well together in the White End, because everybody is Frosty when things go bad.

I am a White End guy, like my Area Trainer, my shift supervisors and their operators. Maybe when you scrub with dishwashing detergent often enough to remove the dust, you squeeze it under your skin and into your bloodstream. I really can't explain it, but I've worked almost everywhere in that plant over the last 22 years, and I've seen what the other areas have to offer. Today, there is nowhere I would rather work than the White End.

It may "suck" to other people, but it's home to me.

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