St. Paul Engineer District Called Safest Workplace In Corps Of Engineers
By Patrick Loch
The St. Paul Engineer District was selected as the winner of the 2018 Chief of Engineers Safety Award of Excellence-District Category, the district announced recently.
Selected among 43 districts within the Corps of Engineers, the St. Paul District was honored for providing a safe work environment for employees, contractors and volunteers. Of note were three consecutive years of declining injury rates and identifying a process that cut hearing loss cases from eight in 2015 to zero in 2018.
The district employs more than 650 professionals at nearly 40 sites covering 139,000 square miles in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. District employees are responsible for maintaining 280 miles of navigation channels, operating 13 locks and dams on the Mississippi River and overseeing 16 reservoirs, 435 picnic sites and 1,189 campsites in four separate river basins.
Other district missions include environmental rehabilitation and restoration, regulatory permitting functions, real estate management and mobilization for disaster response and emergency operations.
“Our footprint is huge, and to have this incredible reduction in the number of incidents is a testament to the programs in place and our employees’ commitment to them,” said Barry Simmonds, district safety and occupational health manager. “We want our employees involved in the safety process, and they’ve embraced those principles that are making a difference.”
The process, Simmonds said, began when the two-person safety office got “buy-in” from both leadership and employees across the organization to involve as many employees as possible in a safety program. This includes 47 trained Collateral Duty Safety Officers representing every office in the district. They conduct monthly training and inspections, and conduct initial reporting of mishaps.
“The extensive use of collateral duty safety officers in the district has resulted in much more employee participation and a greater knowledge of safety throughout the dispersed work areas,” Simmonds said.
Hand-in-hand with collateral duty safety officers, the district safety office recently began implementing the Corps of Engineers Safety and Occupational Health Management System, which again stresses employee participation at all levels to improve safety.
With more people trained to identify unsafe acts or situations, and stimulating participation beyond the two-person office, the district was able to achieve great success, including:
• the district was 100 percent compliant with the 2018 safety management action plan;
• no fatalities since 1981;
• a single recordable property damage mishap in 2018 ( recordable mishaps represent $5,000 or greater in damage);
• outside of 2015, when hearing cases spiked, the recordable mishap rate has been dropping since 2013;
• in 2017, the Dredge Goetz unit had zero reportable injuries for the first time ever; and
• in 2018, the district had three entire work groups (maintenance and repair, recreation and natural resources and channels and harbors) all record zero reportable injuries, and all three were given awards for the achievement.
Terri Stamm, district safety and occupational health specialist, was instrumental in implementing an aggressive hearing conservation program in 2014. She first received the proper training, then had a specialized machine purchased that would measure the effectiveness of various types of hearing protection worn by employees.
“What we found was that some employees could not effectively wear standard hearing protection,” Stamm said. “So we had them fitted with custom hearing protection.”
For example, through the hearing conservation program, airboat operators—identified as a high-risk group for hearing injuries—were able to purchase custom helmets with molded hearing protection. The results are evident: not a single hearing loss claim in 2018.
“What it really comes down to is having the employees who are willing to implement safety programs,” Simmonds said. “We want employees involved, and they’ve done so by embracing those principles that are making a difference.”
Several other factors played into the St. Paul District winning the Chief of Engineers safety award, including:
• implementing an anonymous, online reporting feature that allows any district employee to submit an idea or relay an unsafe act or condition in the workplace;
• creating of a tracking database to ensure resolution of inspection findings;
• an additional tracking feature to keep all employees up-to-date on general and job-specific safety training; and
• communicating an aggressive awareness campaign through newsletters, stories and site visits.
“This is not just an award that the safety office wins; team safety takes everyone,” Simmonds said. “It’s all of us—all employees that want to do the right thing—who are being recognized for creating this safe place to work.”