Safety, Sustainability, Success: The Ingevity Model in Charleston

The final OpExChange plant visit in 2023 led the team to Ingevity in Charleston. Established in 1948, this extensive chemical manufacturing plant is easily recognizable from the Don N. Holt Bridge on Highway 526 when heading towards Mount Pleasant.

Ingevity is widely known for its commitment to sustainability, evident not only in their processes but also in their products. During our visit, Bob Heck, EH&S Manager for the site, emphasized that the Charleston plant has been “environmentally cool before it was cool to be environmentally cool.” Their sustainability efforts date back to their beginnings as they converted waste into useful products.

The spotlight of the OpExChange visit was on Ingevity’s safety culture. They have a strong history of making safety an integral part of their processes. It is in their DNA. Over the past several years, the plant has experienced a continuous improvement trend in its safety record that is worthy of recognition. While they credit specific tools and techniques for this progress, the foundational element enabling sustained improvement is their ingrained safety culture.

OpExChange members from seventeen counties and twenty-two different organizations journeyed from various regions to partake in this collaborative event with Ingevity.

Plant Processes
The facility is extensive, featuring two sub-plants, namely the North plant and the South plant. Initially linked directly to the neighboring paper mill, it spun off in 2016 into its Performance Chemicals division. There are large tanks, kettles, heaters, and distillation columns spread across the vast campus. In their processes, they extract fatty acids, rosin, and lignin from the “black liquor” waste obtained from paper mills, converting these into valuable products for various industries. Through their processes, they manufacture emulsifiers, rosin, tall oil fatty acid (TOFA), and lignin. The final products are packaged and transported to customers via rail cars, tank trucks, and flat-bed trucks.

The purpose of the plant fits very nicely into the theme of lean operations seen in other OpExChange companies – reduction and elimination of waste. This also fits nicely with South Carolina’s efforts to achieve a more sustainable and resilient future.

While the site does incorporate some advanced automation, the nature of their processes still necessitates a fair amount of manual operations. Given the scale of their operation, involving complex chemicals and processes, safety awareness and engagement play a crucial role in their culture.

Safety Results
As a member of the American Chemistry Council, Ingevity utilizes the number of “Tier 1” and “Tier 2” process safety events (PSEs) per month as a key metric for monitoring and reporting safety in their operations. In the context of chemical manufacturing, a tier 1 PSE involves a loss of primary containment (LOPC) with the most significant consequences, while a tier 2 PSE is an LOPC with lesser consequences. Notably, they have not encountered any Tier 1 or Tier 2 events since November 2018.

The chart below illustrates the continuous improvement in the rolling 6-month average of these events as Ingevity consistently enhanced their safety program and culture. When asked about the primary reason for this notable improvement, Bob Mussat, Senior Process Safety Engineer, clarified that there was no singular factor driving this success. Rather, it resulted from a combination of improvements, including increased near-miss reporting, improved safety incident reporting, and focused process change management. The resilience of their safety culture played a crucial role in allowing these improvements to take root and endure.

Safety Culture is an Imperative
Plant Manager Mike Strohm underscored the significance of instilling a safety culture from day one with new employees. Emphasizing that “first impressions matter,” Mike shared that he wants all their employees to understand that he and his team genuinely care about them and their welfare, and that their safety and the others around them are their responsibility. Mike, his staff, and the direct supervisors will each meet with all new employees for at least one hour as part of this indoctrination. He emphasized that “accountability” is part of their culture. Everyone is responsible for not only their safety but also that of their co-workers.

Many programs and activities are in place to promote and prioritize safety across all plant operations. Notably, the initiatives below emphasize teamwork and shared accountability and are staffed voluntarily by members of the workforce.

  • Safety Work Team – Comprising hourly and salaried, union, and non-union members, this team meets monthly to review safety policies and procedures. Actively engaging in decision-making ensures that procedures not only meet requirements but are also assessed from various perspectives. This promotes collaborative alignment with implemented procedures.
  • Weekly Safety Area Meetings – Every area of the plant conducts a weekly meeting dedicated to safety. Interactive discussions take place regarding incidents, concerns, improvement recommendations, and feedback. This time is also utilized for group training sessions.
  • Safety Action Team – This cross-functional team of hourly and salaried employees meets to identify and address opportunities for improvement within the plant. The goal is to achieve actionable engagement with immediate or near-immediate results.
  • Incident Accident Review Team – This diverse team is responsible for reviewing all completed incident investigations. Their role ensures thorough investigations, identification of root causes, and the assignment of action items to address identified root causes.
  • Emergency Response Team – This team is trained and qualified to perform emergency activities such as administering immediate medical attention, providing confined space rescue expertise, and providing incipient firefighting activities.

Safety Incident Reporting
Thorough and standardized reporting of safety incidents is one of the key tools contributing to their improved safety track record. They employed a safety software system to facilitate the investigation and documentation process for each incident. The system guides the team through their investigation, requiring a standardized trouble-shooting process that delves into identifying potential root causes. Incident investigations are wrapped up within ten days, and action items are concluded within sixty days.

Additionally, all near misses are incorporated into the incident investigation process. Ingevity deems this another incremental step in the continuous improvement of their safety system. Recognizing issues and addressing their root causes before they escalate into incidents is considered pivotal.

The safety software plays a further improvement role by creating insightful analytical analysis of incident reporting data, identifying trends, and steering the team towards further preventive measures.

Process Change Management
For any company holding ISO 9001 certification, change management is a mandatory procedure. Ingevity guarantees that every change, no matter how small, undergoes this evaluation process. Bob Mussat explained the workflow, emphasizing the significance of adhering meticulously to the process and obtaining all necessary approvals. He highlighted the enhanced efficacy of this workflow transition from a paper system to its integration into their safety software system.

It’s All About Engagement
During the collaborative discussion following the plant tour, participants engaged in insightful conversations about the tour’s observations, additional perspectives shared by the Ingevity team, and recommendations provided by visiting peer manufacturers.

The Ingevity team underscored that enhancing safety, just like any operational endeavor, hinges on ownership, accountability, responsibility, and, most importantly, engagement. Their robust safety program is substantiated by the shared results.

Brian French, the Continuous Improvement Manager at the site, conveyed that the safety journey is an ongoing evolution spanning many years. With humility, he acknowledged, “We are not perfect, and we are not claiming to have everything figured out.” However, he shared with a knowing smile, “We have implemented numerous initiatives that have significantly enhanced the safety performance of this plant and fostered a positive cultural shift.”

About Ingevity
Ingevity provides specialty chemicals and high-performance carbon materials and technologies that help customers solve complex problems. These products are used in a variety of demanding applications, including asphalt paving, oil exploration and production, agrochemicals, adhesives, lubricants, printing inks and automotive components that reduce gasoline vapor emissions. Through a team of talented and experienced people, Ingevity develops, manufactures, and brings to market products and processes that purify, protect, and enhance the world around us. Headquartered in North Charleston, S.C., Ingevity operates from 25 locations around the world and employs approximately 1,500 people. The company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: NGVT). For more information, visit

About OpExChange
The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos ( More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website


Be the first to comment on "Safety, Sustainability, Success: The Ingevity Model in Charleston"

Leave a comment