DisAbility staff have vital role at smelter

17:00, Aug 20 2012
DisAbility Enterprises Ltd staff members, from left, Kim Small, Michael Casey and Pat Henery
VALUED: DisAbility Enterprises Ltd staff members, from left, Kim Small, Michael Casey and Pat Henery replace respirator filters at the NZAS Tiwai smelter near Bluff.

Southland disAbility Enterprises may not be a service most people would associate with the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter but its behind the scenes work is some of the most important and valued at the plant, smelter bosses say.

The team of four and their two supervisors are based in an office and a workshop tucked inconspicuously behind the security office.

Apart from the shuffling of feet, there is silence as Pat Henery, Michael Casey, Kim Small and Gary O'Brien sort through respirators, which they will fit with new filters.

The concentration on their faces is visible, yet they do their job quickly and with ease.

Ms Henery said she was an old hand because she had been doing it for 22 years.

Combined, the staff have 74 years' service.


They service about 400 half-face respirators a week, up to 35 full-face respirators a day and about 12 powered respirators.

Personal issued respirators are dismantled then washed and dried in industrial machines.

Staff reassemble them and they are checked by supervisor Stephen Carter.

Other work by DisAbility staff at the plant includes the collection of plastic for recycling at its main facility in Invercargill, assembling about 180 brooms a week and making wooden corner boards to protect billet during shipping.

"We try to recycle things to be reused elsewhere on site as much as possible," Mr Carter said.

DisAbility workers had seen many changes during the years but adapted quickly and were always eager to learn more, he said.

Mr Carter said staff often came up with more efficient ways to carry out the respirator service.

Monitoring officer Rick Oudt, who regularly visits the workshop to ensure things ran smoothly, said DisAbility workers had a good understanding of the process and worked with management to come up with ideas. "They are valued and trusted members of Tiwai staff and production staff know they are getting good quality workmanship," he said.

DisAbility staff started working at the smelter in 1990 when they were contracted to pack disposable masks. The following year they were contracted to service personal protective equipment and respirators for production workers at the smelter. They started on a roster system but now have permanent contracts at the smelter.

The enterprise's occupational workshop was set up to maintain and clean the respirators, ensuring they met required standards. The servicing was commended by Rio Tinto auditors in 2009.

The Southland Times