Creating the Culture

For Advanced Vacuum Services, it’s all about workplace safety and employees who are engaged in pleasing customers and helping the business grow.
Creating the Culture

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Advanced Vacuum Services (AVS) has an impressive list of equipment. Still business manager Donna Raver says that what sets the company apart – and contributes most to its success – is attention to safety and the quality and dedication of employees.

The company, based in Greensburg, Ind., spends up to $100,000 a year on safety training and in evaluating safety issues before and during jobs. To take safety to another level, AVS hired a full-time safety director, Dylan Osborne, in 2006. He oversees training in confined-space entry, waterblasting, HAZWOPER requirements and all other areas of concern.

As for finding the right employees, that’s the job of operations manager Ted Moorman, who has been with AVS from the beginning. Employees are expected to be aware of and observe all safety matters, and to help in winning new customers, keeping good customer relations, and reporting any problems with equipment by filling out detailed request forms.

Today, from its base 45 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio, AVS serves customers across five Midwest states. Providing a wide range of industrial cleaning and environmental services, the company and its 17 employees (plus 10 part-time or temporary) supports municipalities, automotive companies, construction companies, power plants, agribusiness firms and others.

Highly committed

“Our employees are committed to safety and quality,” says Raver. “They have a lot of responsibility, and they recognize it. When we hire someone, that person will be trained on every piece of equipment they will work on.”

The company has been known to use graphic demonstration to stress the importance of safety. “We are based on a farm,” Raver says. “We had the carcass of a pig out here, and we took the waterblast gun to it to show what the gun would do. Our people are very aware of what can happen to them without safety precautions.” As the waterblasting business has grown, AVS has offered extensive training classes led by outside consultants.

“We’re not only selling product to our customers, we are selling safety as well,” Raver says. “We will walk away from jobs if we see potential problems. We see others in the business cutting corners and taking risks that we’re not willing to take. It doesn’t matter how much money is involved. If you take a risk and have a problem, it is not worth it.”

When the company takes on a new job, the employees do their own safety analysis before starting work in order to identify hazards. Depending on the type of job, Osborne may go to the site and do an analysis of his own. Where the facility in question has a safety program, the AVS crew sometimes attends training classes there.

AVS employees receive highly competitive compensation along with benefits that include health insurance and a 401(K) plan – a package that befits their level of responsibility. “They have to be able to step up to the plate when it comes to their job,” Raver says. “There might be four crews on four different jobs, and they are 100 miles from each other. They are on their own. They have to recognize and understand the job, and then accomplish what is needed.

“Until they are on the site, they often don’t know just how the work will need to be set up. If the site is a factory, for example, will it be operating while we are there? And if so, how will we stay out of their way? They can fall into a trap if they are not fully prepared.”

Quality equipment

Safety and employee commitment alone would not get the job done. The employees come equipped with a range of top-quality, well-maintained equipment. The inventory includes:

• High-pressure waterjetting system (10,000 psi/30 gpm) from NLB Corp.

• Jetstream of Houston waterblaster (20,000 psi/10 gpm, convertible to 10,000 psi/20 gpm).

• Three Guzzler CL vacuum trucks and one Guzzler DF from Guzzler Mfg. Inc.

• Two 6,000-gallon vacuum tankers and five 6,000-gallon transport tankers.

• A 21,000-gallon frac tank from Dragon Products Ltd. and a 10,000-gallon frac tank from Environmental Tank Services.

• Five semi-tractors.

The fleet also includes a custom built vacuum truck outfitted with a 15-ton, 70-foot-swing crane for reaching the middle of large lagoons. The pump can deliver more than 1,800 gpm over up to 1.5 miles.

Maintenance on all this is monitored with Fleet Maintenance Pro software from FLEETMATE. Employees also note when repairs may be required by filling out work orders when they see problems. Employee Jon Moore has diesel mechanic training and oversees routine maintenance. Local repair shops handle any major issues.

The company considers carefully when buying or replacing equipment. Bill Corya, who handles finance and accounting, says the company may buy new or used, depending on a variety of factors. In addition, if the firm has been renting a piece of equipment for an extended time, that may trigger a decision to buy a unit.

Around the clock

Because of its diverse services, AVS gets calls anytime, day or night. Corya says the company generally can have staff and equipment on site within 90 minutes. The company also performs routine maintenance for customers on an as needed basis.

Emergency work can include responding to incidents such as spills of fuel or corn on Interstate highways. On work during plant maintenance shutdowns, AVS crews may work 12 to 15 hours a day to get the project done within the customer’s time window. “We’ll be in there cleaning and working whatever hours it takes,” says Corya. “Our guys are used to staying in hotel rooms for those longer jobs.”

In June 2008, when a major flood hit the area, AVS was called to the Decatur (Ill.) County hospital to pump water as local fire department’s pumps were not big enough to keep up with the water.

On another job, they worked three days in Columbus, Ind. at a farm cooperative where a lower level full of meal and seed was flooded. After hauling the vacuumed material to a landfill, they pressure-washed the entire basement and set up fans to speed drying.

In another project, the company worked for ten months as a subcontractor in cleaning up an automotive parts manufacturing company in Indiana, one and a half hours from the AVS home base.

That work covered an entire plant comprising 22 acres under one roof. The crews cleaned machinery, floors, trenches and pits along with the wastewater treatment tanks and powerhouse. In addition, some machinery that was to be sold needed cleaning before shipment.

The job used almost every piece of equipment in the AVS inventory. At times, as many as 14 people were on the site, working in two- and three-man crews.

Safety director Osborne says that the project called for numerous confined-space entries as workers cleaned tanks, vessels and furnaces. The pits and trenches contained bacteria, oil and other contaminant, which atomized when pressure-washed, so crews had to wear special personal protective equipment. AVS used the HAZWOPER-trained crew to clean the furnaces using HEPA-filtered vacuum units. Osborne says that at least half of AVS employees have taken a 40-hour HAZWOPER class, and each year they take an 8-hour review course.

Home base

AVS typically works in a 100-mile radius for jobs lasting up to one day, but will travel up to 300 miles for jobs lasting a week or more. Corya says the five-year plan includes adding more garage space on the farm that serves as headquarters.

At present, AVS has a 3,000-square-foot shop, another 2,000 square feet of storage space for vacuum trucks, a 1,000-square-foot office, and about three acres for parking. Corya would like to see a heated garage, especially on cold mornings when emergency calls may come in the middle of the night.

“In all our efforts,” says Corya, “we focus on doing things better and safer. We take care of our customers, invest in our employees, and never at any cost put employees at risk.”


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