Workers at Georgetown’s American Gypsum plant celebrate a million hours of safe work

  • Thursday, January 30, 2014

  • Updated Thursday, January 30, 2014 8:05 pm

Tommy Howard/Times Workers at American Gypsum near Georgetown gather for a group photo in front of stacks of their product. Wallboard from this plant is shipped along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

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Workers at American Gypsum’s plant near Georgetown on Friday celebrated a million hours of no lost time for accidents.

That major accomplishment came after production of wallboard started in the summer of 2008.

Some 80 workers produce millions of board feet of wallboard for commercial and residential construction projects and suppliers along the Eastern Seaboard.

The $150 million-plant produces enough wallboard each day for the equivalent of building about 250 houses.

The main ingredient of the wallboard is synthetic gypsum from the Winyah Generating Station owned by Santee Cooper. Both the power plant and the gypsum plant are off Pennyroyal Road southwest of the City of Georgetown.

SEFA Group (Southeastern Fly Ash) also operates on the tract of land.

American Gypsum and SEFA recycle what previously were waste products from the coal-fired power plant.

Thomas Brockington is one of the more-recent “hires” at American Gypsum. He’s a stack operator, placing the wallboard in the warehouse until it’s ready to be shipped out.

“I like the atmosphere. Everybody is treated fairly,” the Andrews resident said during a luncheon Friday.

The work has a routine to it, He works four 12-hour shifts most of the time.

“Management and everybody talks to you. It’s a great place to work.”

When the gypsum particles, water and various compounds are mixed together to make a slurry to form the wallboard, things get noisy.

The mixture is fed onto a continuous sheet of recycled paper and travels about a half-mile on a conveyor to drying ovens. The conveyor runs about 500 feet a minute, feeding into drying ovens that are 600 degrees. As the wallboard solidifies, the tempurature steps down to about 300 degrees.

Brockington said it’s noisy, but earplugs help make it not too noisy.

Davey Morris is part of the maintenance crew. Right now, they’re working to replace some of the equipment that’s been used since 2008 to make a lot of wallboard.

Robert Cooper from Hemingway is one of the longest-serving workers at the plant. He was hired on Aug. 28, 2006 as the plant was being built. A Hemingway resident, Cooper works in the loading area.

He went to a plant in Colorado for training so he could help show other people how to handle the wallboard as more were hired.

Debbie Nettles is another long-term employee at the Georgetown plant. She handles a lot of the administrative work.

Steve Wentzel was Georgetown plant manager when it was first built and construction began.

He’s now vice president for manufacturing in the company’s Dallas office. He was succeeded by John Melech as plant manager.

Wentzel and several others came back to Georgetown for the milestone of surpassing a million hours of no lost time to accidents.

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