MRO Magazine

Maintenance Man Honoured

Half a century ago Brian Whitehead apprenticed to be a pipefitter and welder. Now, 50 years later, he's earned a lifetime achievement award. Recently, Whitehead was presented with the Sergio Guy Memor...

December 1, 2002 | By Deanna Clark

Photo: Deana ClarkPhoto: Deana Clark

Half a century ago Brian Whitehead apprenticed to be a pipefitter and welder. Now, 50 years later, he’s earned a lifetime achievement award. Recently, Whitehead was presented with the Sergio Guy Memorial Award trophy by the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada (PEMAC) for his outstanding contributions to plant operations in both this country and his homeland, England.

“My tools from home could go in a museum now,” Whitehead said while talking about his extensive career and the past eight years as manager of maintenance, engineering and services at Nitrochem Corp.’s Maitland, Ont., site. He also has overseen operations at chemical, petrochemical, food industry and other facilities.

“It was quite a shock. My legs went to jelly,” the 65-year-old said when his name was announced at the award ceremony and reception at the Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto, Oct 29, 2002. The event was hosted by PEMAC and conference organizer Federated Press at the 21st Century Maintenance Organization conference.

The Sergio Guy Memorial trophy is presented to individuals recognized for making significant contributions in the field of plant engineering and maintenance, including maximizing production, safety standards, and team building. The association reviews achievements of plant maintenance operators across the country.


“In 50 years, I would say I learned something new every day,” Whitehead, who could have retired in August, said. He also believes in ongoing training to stay on top of new technologies, no matter what the field of expertise. He will continue to upgrade his own skills until he retires next spring, he said.

“It was my choice,” he said of his early days apprenticing in the shipbuilding industry in Beverley, Yorkshire. He was just 15 when he started. “I loved it and I still do,” he said.

After moving to Canada with his wife Maureen in 1977, Whitehead became known for implementing best practices for preventive maintenance programs before their worldwide popularity. In 1991, his employer at the time, Ethyl Corp. of Sarnia, Ont., earned the Floyd Dewey Gottwald corporate award for achievement of the best maintenance practices. This was the first time the award was won by a company outside of the United States.

Whitehead joined the Nitrochem plant in 1994 and was named team leader with the mandate to initiate a five-year maintenance plan. The facility employs 135 people.

“He’s an integral part of the operation here,” Nitrochem site manager Jim Cavers said. “Any plant has to produce a product and the way you do it is to have (the facility) operating smoothly,” He adds that Whitehead is skilled at bringing a team together. Whitehead’s efforts soon contributed to a 20 per cent increase in plant utilization, bringing it to a level of 92 per cent.

In 2000, Nitrochem’s Maitland Site was recognized by PriceWaterhouse Coopers as the Best Maintained Small Plant in the country. Whitehead’s promotion of safe work practices also resulted in a 53 per cent reduction in first aid calls.

“He’s a facilitator and a mentor,” said Dave Jackson, quality manager at Nitrochem. An award for best use of technology has also come Whitehead’s way. The Maitland site was recognized for introducing new technology at an older facility.

Whitehead was also instrumental in bringing in the MMP (Maintenance Management Professional) certification program through St. Lawrence College for Nitrochem employees and other industrial companies in Eastern Ontario. In fact, despite being retirement age, he’s taking the course himself, reflecting his continual interest in learning. The course is now in its second year at St. Lawrence and is also offered at five other colleges in Ontario – Algonquin (Nepean), Durham (Whitby) Humber (Toronto), Fanshawe (London) and St. Clair (Windsor).

“As a maintenance person, I had a vision of how things should be and since I’ve come to Maitland, I’ve been allowed to implement them,” Whitehead said. “You go home from work at night feeling very satisfied. There is a lot of skill at this site and it’s made my job easier. We work as a team.”

Deanna Clark is a staff writer with the Brockville Recorder and Times in Ontario.


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