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The Coast Guard Goes Green

Wed, 04/03/2002 - 6:16am
Rick Carter, Editor-in-Chief
The 103-year-old Baltimore-based Coast Guard Yard became the first shipyard in the nation to obtain ISO 14001 EMS certification two years ago. Here's how a veteran staff made it happen.

Anyone who has done it can testify that obtaining ISO 14001 certification for an industrial operation is not easy. The world-class environmental management system (EMS) it is designed to quantify, requires attention to detail, careful documentation, adherence to procedures and strong internal support. It's tough enough for a traditional manufacturing environment; it's exceptionally tough for a shipyard.

When the U.S. Coast Guard Yard, Baltimore, MD, obtained ISO 14001 certification in August 2000, it became the first shipyard in the U.S. _ public or private _ to obtain that important distinction. It marked the successful culmination of two years of work at the historic 112-acre facility that has been in continuous service to the Coast Guard since 1899. The Yard is the only shipbuilding and repair facility owned and operated by the Coast Guard, and is its largest, most modern industrial plant.

A proud heritage
Tucked in a well-protected harbor south of Baltimore, the U.S. Coast Guard Yard has seen and done it all, with respect to its mission. It began as an experimental boat-building, maintenance and repair facility for the nation's growing fleet of life-saving and larger coastal vessels. To strengthen the government's commitment to the facility, its supporters won approval to also locate the newly formed U.S. Coast Guard Academy on the site. The Academy remained there for 10 years, until the significant increase in industrial activity at the Yard necessitated a move to the more tranquil setting of New London, CT, where it has remained.

By this time, the Yard had begun to craft a reputation for quality work and quick turnaround. Tempered by accelerated service during two World Wars, the Coast Guard's year-round role in maritime life-saving and, later, drug interdiction, the full-service Yard has constructed examples of all but the largest vessels the Coast Guard operates. These include medium-endurance cutters, patrol boats, buoy tenders, motor surfboats, river barges, experimental craft and others. It has also repaired virtually everything the Coast Guard operates, including all classes of its vessels, buoys, engines, electronics and ordnance. The Yard has done work for the Navy and Army, and its workforce is so respected it is routinely asked to send one of its "On the Road" teams of experts to perform repair functions for off-site military customers. Within the last 10 years, the Yard has won five federal quality awards and one state productivity award. In addition to its industrial operations, which employ some 600 civilian workers and 90 military personnel, the Yard hosts other Coast Guard functions, including the Engineering Logistics Center, Coast Guard Activities Baltimore, the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Station, and two Coast Guard cutters.

Laurels, but no guarantees
Accolades aside, senior workers at the Yard knew that unpredictability was the only predictable element of any administration's budget plans. They'd seen military bases and shipyards shut down through the 1980s and '90s. The Yard itself had already survived one brush with extinction: a 1988 plan to phase out its industrial work due to budget cuts and a slowdown of Coast Guard operations. The next battle could occur at any time.

As a result, the Yard undertook serious efforts to improve the facility and the quality of its operations. In the 1990s it built several new repair shops, along with a unique shiplift in 1997 that lifts ships from underneath, raising them from the water to land level where they can be moved as needed via marine railway. The time-saving, $18 million unit is the largest of its kind in the continental U.S. The Yard also instituted a TQM (total quality management) program, advanced worker training programs, and cooperative programs with local vo-tech schools. In 1995, it became the first U.S. government organization to receive ISO 9001 certification. ISO 14001 was the next logical step.

"I saw ISO 14001 as a marketing tool," says John Moore, the Yard's environmental protection specialist, with the facility since 1993. "Our business goes up and down. Right now we're busy, but it has its low points where we have to go out and scratch for work."

In 1998, Moore, along with Ed Warble, safety and occupational health manager, with the Yard since 1987, and Howard Galliford, facilities environmental engineer, with the Yard since 1993, felt ISO 14001 certification would give the yard a weighty advantage over other shipyards _ none of which had such certification at the time _ as well as most outside providers. Discussions focused on using an environmental/safety manual the Yard had created under its TQM program as a starting point.

"When the Commanding Officer of the Yard began talking about it, I knew we would have the management support to do it," says Moore, "but resources were a question. We'd have to dedicate three or four people, a lot of their time, and hire a registrar to get us through the certification process. It was going to cost $30,000." For that, the Yard needed approval from Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where little was known about ISO 14001 at the time.

"We were about three years ahead of the current federal EMS requirement [which includes ISO 14001 as an option for government agencies], so we had to explain it to them," says Galliford. After detailed correspondence and a personal visit, "They said it was a good idea and told us to go for it."

The wagon moves
The process began by finding a qualified ISO consultant, then defining the new environmental procedures the Yard would follow. "We started with our manual," says Moore. "And that was the hardest thing for me because I thought the manual was great and I didn't want it to change, but it did have to change." Moore says he found the ISO 14001 standard "not specific enough," but realized its purpose is to be adaptable for different types of operations. "I had to learn it," he says, then he, Galliford and Warble had to teach it to the Yard's seasoned workforce.

"A lot of our workers have been here 20 or 25 years," says Moore. Many had also been involved in the ISO 9000 process three years earlier, but reaction among the group to the new environmental initiative was mixed. "We had people who understood what we were trying to do and we had those who doubted it," says Moore. On an early audit, Moore says he cringed when an auditor approached a long-time Yard worker and asked if he was familiar with the new environmental policy. "He did a great job describing it in his own words," he says, "but then he launched into a tirade against the ISO system and how he thought the money we were spending on it was ridiculous. We didn't have a lot of work at the time and he thought the money could be better spent hiring people and getting new work."

Moore says that despite his embarrassment, he recognized that others probably felt the same way. In subsequent meetings, he stressed the Yard's commitment to ISO 14001.

"I went into countless shop meetings and training events," says Moore, "and said, 'Look, the command has decided to do this, this is where we're going, we're charging forward. You can be on the wagon or not be on the wagon, it's up to you. The wagon has moved.'"

The Yard produced a video about the new requirements and how they applied to workers. It focused on the significant, day-to-day aspects of environmental compliance at the Yard, especially painting procedures, handling paint waste, and the labeling and scrapping of drums. The video was a big help, as were appeals to the workers' love of the water.

"A lot of these people are boaters and fishermen, and sometimes I would attack it from that perspective," says Moore. "I'd tell them that what we do here impacts Curtis Creek [where the Yard is located], which impacts the Patapsco River, which impacts the Chesapeake Bay. And sometimes you could see the light go on."

Moore didn't expect instant, full cooperation from workers, but felt he could come close to that without resorting to threats. "Based on things we've done around here," he says, "I knew eventually they'd be on board. I felt that if the employment situation got better and our work situation improved, some of those negatives would go away or at least quiet down. But you can't legislate the way people are going to think. If they're not going to believe the same thing you believe, that's fine, but they do have to work within the process."

For Moore, creating the process was the most time-consuming aspect of obtaining certification. "The consultant wanted to come in and work with us on the manual hands-on," he says. "And I saw that really blowing our budget, so I said let's work through e-mail and conference calls. I sat with our contracts person on endless conference calls, and I remember wondering if it was ever going to end. But we got through it."

The Yard had its pre-certification audit in late 1999, followed by the certification audit in February 2000. "I was at my lowest point there," says Moore, "because I thought we were going to get certified that time. But they found several non-conformities." These involved the potential for storm-water pollution, a serious matter in a shipyard where most of its materials and much of the work it performs takes place outside.

Warble, Moore and Galliford set about to redefine practices on the site that would affect storm-water runoff. They included proper identification of scrap 55-gallon drums, secondary containment of drums containing oil or liquid chemicals, spill-cleanup procedures, and fueling procedures. "They sent one person back to clear these up in July," says Moore, "and we received our certification paperwork in August."

Since then, says Moore, most worker opposition to ISO 14001 has dissipated. "People are more pro-active than they were prior to the certification," he says. "For example, we write ECARs now, environmental corrective action requests. This is a formal document written to the foreman of a shop if we find a problem, such as a drum that is mislabeled or mishandled or wasn't put on secondary containment. It'll go to him, his boss, and sometimes to the Commander. The foreman has a specified time in which to get this fixed. He needs to explain what he found and how he'll fix it. They've responded well to this."

Galliford says communication is also better under ISO 14001, especially with the Yard's independent maintenance contractors, which the Yard hires for everything from janitorial services to the repair of shop machinery. "Until ISO, we didn't have any formal training with them to explain our environmental compliance," says Galliford. "It used to be, they'd be working in a building, and after they were there for two days, someone might walk in and say, 'Hey, is this lead paint you're using?' Now we go in prior to them doing any work and check for lead paint and anything else that might have an environmental impact. The biggest advantage to ISO is that it formalizes everything and makes a routine we didn't have."

Moore calls this a "mentality change" at the Yard. "For example," he says, "industrial will now bring us into the planning meetings before the vessels are even here, and ask what kind of environmental problems we anticipate. We've become part of the planning rather than coming in after the fact and telling them what can or can't be done. It's a more orderly transition, and sometimes they save money. They realize it's important to bring us in early, rather than later."

Moore has also assumed the role of gatekeeper for the Yard's incoming supplies. "A big part of my job is to review products we're bringing into our system," he says. "If we control that, we control the hazardous-waste issue. It's a two-pronged effort: We have a person in the Yard dedicated to handling hazardous waste in a responsible manner, and we have somebody else watching the front door to make sure we're not ordering things the Coast Guard wants to stay away from."

ISO impact
One of the most significant ISO changes at the Yard was its decision to switch from using abrasives to blast paint from ships' hulls, to using water, a process known as hydroblasting or aquablasting. The abrasive process had required that ships be entirely shrouded with tarpaulins, and that all grit be contained, swept up and removed as hazardous waste at the end of the process. It also meant that, during blasting, other work that needed to be done outside or inside the ship had to cease. Hydro-blasting changed all of that.

"In hydroblasting, the water has to be collected, but it's easier to collect," says Moore. "It can be filtered and screened, and the paint chips taken out and the water recycled." Moore says that due to the high cost of the equipment, the Yard hires hydroblast contractors who contain water runoff and remove all water from the site. When possible, they use automated units, however, which vacuum water as they go, leaving a dry surface, ready for painting. Hydroblasting also allows other work to continue on the ship while blasting takes place, enabling the Yard to adhere to tighter turnaround schedules. The highly efficient process was "one of the first times we saw a savings from an environmental requirement," says Galliford.

Painting procedures were also revised under ISO. Galliford says the Yard has gotten away from traditional painting procedures using a high-pressure air gun with 50 to 100 lbs of psi. "This blew out a lot of overspray and wasted a lot of paint," he says. The Yard now uses rollers and HVLP (high-volume, low-pressure) systems, which still use liquid paints, says Galliford, "but pressurize the gun with just paint instead of the large volumes of air that had been used."

Lessons learned
Those involved with the ISO transformation say the time and effort it required were worthwhile on many fronts. The Yard not only created an improved, well-defined EMS, it successfully put it in action, and has maintained it. Recognition for becoming the first shipyard in the U.S. to obtain ISO 14001 certification has been invaluable. "It has become a bragging point for our elected officials," says Moore, "and they're not going to want to see it go away." The Yard routinely fields calls from other facilities, military and private, about the ISO 14001 certification process.

Some new methods and work processes resulted in cost savings for the Yard. More importantly, says Moore, they resulted in cost avoidances. "If we hadn't done this and had fallen out of compliance in certain areas, the fines can be heavy," says Moore.

In retrospect, Moore says he was surprised at the amount of time -- and overtime -- it took to get through the process. "And it was worth it, but you have to make your management understand the time it's going to take and the staff it's going to take, and that their support is required."

Moore adds that if he were to do it over, he would have asked for more professional coaching on the ISO 14001 standard at the outset rather than learn it as the process unfolded. "I got better as we went along," he says, "but you have to be on your toes at all times. These guys (auditors) will go into dumpsters and pull stuff out; they'll ask workers what things are for.

"The good thing is," he continues, "the standard allows you to write your management system the way you want to write it. But the catch is, if you say you're doing something, you better be doing it, because it will be found out in the audit if you're not. The auditor will ask, 'Why aren't you following your own procedures?'"

Moore says he's confident the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore will both follow and expand its ISO 14001 procedures for years to come.
    

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