A look inside Industrial Sand Company “Vista Sand”

By Kelsie Hoitomt

GLENWOOD CITY – The name Vista Sand has been circling around the neighborhood for a year now with chatter amongst the cafes, council meetings and inside the home, but really who is Vista Sand?

Vista Sand is an industrial sand company out of Granbury, Texas that specializes in mining, sizing, and providing silica sand for oil and gas fracturing, which uses the sand to collect large deposits of oil and natural gas in the United States.

The sand is also used for cement board, and Vista Sand supplies washed silica sand and fill dirt to customers. Washed sand can be seen on several sports fields from volleyball courts to PGA golf courses as well as in the foundry industry to make automobiles and motorcycles.

 The Beginning

The company has been operating in Granbury since 2003. In 2004, the site began to wash the sand and sell it to cement companies. In 2007 a dryer was added and then in 2008 the company began sizing the sand for customers.

It was in 2011 that RJ Sikes, Gary Humphreys and Marty Robinson bought the operation and named it Vista Sand.

Employment at Vista Sand

Since new ownership took over, the company has expanded from 30 employees to over 130 with heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, plant operators, maintenance workers, safety and environmental workers and office staff. College interns who are geology majors, engineers, and who focus in other science fields are also employed.

Sikes said that the workforce has been increased to keep up with the booming demand from customers and Vista Sand anticipates the demand for oil and natural gas and the sand needed to get the oil and gas will last for at least 50 years.

Vista Sand employees receive several benefits including full health insurance for the employee, and optional coverage for the entire family. The Company also offers dental and vision coverage, and a host of additional insurance options.

A 401K plan is being developed, and there is a bonus program, as well as two weeks vacation for each employee after one year of employment. The vacation time builds as time passes.

Sikes also shared that the majority of the employees, who use them daily, receive company paid cell phones and other communication devices like walkie-talkies.

Health and Technology

Vista Sand also uses technology and other steps to maintain worker health and safety. Employees receive hearing checks once a year and pre-employment physicals to establish baselines for each employee to help ensure worker health and safety is maintained.

Vista Sand actively monitors the mine site to ensure worker safety occurs through best management practices, following federal safety rules, and the use of things like individual air monitors and daily site inspections. Also twice a year the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) makes unannounced visits and inspects the area with decibel meters and checks the air quality.

Employees are trained in safety and hazard communication in a 24-hour mandatory MSHA “new miner” training session. All miners are then required to complete an 8-hour refresher course each year.

There is also a full-time Vista Sand employee that monitors the workers to ensure that MSHA rules are followed and that personal protective equipment like ear plugs and respirators are worn correctly.

Also in terms of monitoring, technology is so advanced that in today’s world trucks can be monitored through a GPS system that tracks speed, mileage, hours logged and fuel.

Employee Experiences

Four employees from Vista Sand in Granbury were interviewed about their job descriptions, work experience, wages, health and personal opinions of the company.

One young man, Colton Gates, just graduated college a year ago in May and decided he wanted to work in the oil and gas industry so he applied at Vista Sand and has worked there since.

In just over a year he has worked his way up to being a plant foreman of a nine/ten man crew on the day shift. As a foreman he handles the day to day organization in the plant as well as scheduling and making sure there is the proper amount of people staffed.

Since becoming a foreman, he is paid hourly at the prevailing wage for someone with his experience, which more than helps him provide for his family. He and his young son are fully covered with health insurance by Vista Sand. He also receives a paid, company cell phone.

As a day shift employee he works from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. typically four to five days a week with every other weekend off. He has worked the night shift as well which is just the opposite; 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

He shared that the job is hard work and labor intensive. However, he enjoys coming to work everyday because there is always something to do and it’s never boring.

He also shared that on several occasions he has been asked to participate in a golf tournament or skeet shoot as an employee of Vista Sand as a way to give back to the City of Granbury.

He shared that co-owner, RJ Sikes has on numerous occasions taken him and other employees out to eat for an appreciation meal as well as a Christmas Dinner. There have been customer appreciation days also as Sikes is “always willing to give back”.

Operations Manager

The second gentleman, Tyler Moore, is an operations manager on the day shift and has worked at the plant for over four years. He oversees the plant, makes sure parts are ordered for all the equipment, and helps enforce regulations.

He has worked his way up the ladder from being a plant operator to a foreman and then the manager position he holds currently, which earns him a generous salary.

He works on a rotating schedule of four days on and three days off, working the usual 6am-6pm day shift schedule. He has earned himself 80 hours of vacation time with two floating sick days as well, which is typical for those who are with the company over a year.

As operations manager, he has never seen any health concerns as well as zero injuries.

On a personal note, he shared that the owners of Vista Sand are “very caring of our personal lives and they make sure we can maintain our family life as well”.

Superintendent

The third person interviewed is the Superintendent, Ron Lee, who came to the company with over 20 years of experience in the mineral sand industry.

His job is to oversee almost every aspect of the mine including the equipment, the mine lay out, the workers, air quality, and the reclamation of over 3,000 acres.

He shared that in terms of company efficiency, “he has never seen an operation do what these guys have done in just a small time,” which is in terms of growth of the plant and employees as well.

“It’s one of the best operations I’ve seen and the owners really make you feel like you matter as a person,” he said.

Health Inspector

The Health Inspector Manager, Billy Gomez, was hired by Vista Sand in March of 2012 with prior experience in the health and safety field, working with sports teams as a physical therapist. He was also a coach and teacher in public schools.

His job now is to maximize employee safety. This goes so far as making sure an electrical cord isn’t laying on the ground, to the correct ladder being used, to making sure those who need a harness, goggles, or face mask are wearing those.

He said that the regulations go as far as saying that a trash can outside must have a lid on it, otherwise MSHA will write the company a citation.

There are weekly safety meetings as well as “tool box” meetings that keep each person up to date with the golden rules.

He shared that before the plant came under its current ownership with RJ Sikes, there were over $9,000 in MSHA citations. Vista Sand viewed that as a problem, and since then, Vista Sand’s new ownership group has taken aggressive steps to correct the work culture, greatly reducing MSHA concerns.

As part of the aggressive steps Vista Sand takes to ensure they follow regulations, he mentioned Vista Sand addresses potential safety matters before they become an issue. Vista Sand hasa team consisting of a geologist, an Environmental Health and Safety Manager, and a member of the Texas Mine Safety & Health Program Division of Continuing and Innovative Education from the University of Texas-Austin come do a “compliance assisted visit”.

In Granbury, this compliance-assisted visit has occurred several times with  the Texas Mine Safety & Health Program visiting the site, teaching their rules to employees, examining the plant, and then providing a list of potential areas to address. Vista Sand then uses that compliance-assisted visit to proactively address worker safety.