PITTSBURGH – In recent years, the Safety Office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District and grown in size and scope.
One person used to run the entire safety program for the district of 750 employees spread across 26,000 square feet at 40 different work sites. The office has five full-time positions, including a supervisor, and more than 30 collateral duty safety officers. CDSOs assist with ensuing employees’ safety in addition to their full-time jobs.
“Due to more staffing, we’re able to conduct better accident investigations, leading to better control measures that will reduce overall accidents in the future,” said Larry Bengough, the district’s chief safety officer.
The safety program focuses on a culture of service to help employees succeed.
“We’re getting out there to help address their needs,” said Matt Ehrin on his drive to a lock and dam in West Virginia for a safety inspection. “We can help them do their jobs quicker because [we help provide] equipment and training they actually need.”
When Ehrin visits a field site, he sees employees at each facility as customers, not as potential violators, he said. It changes the attitude employees might otherwise have toward safety, he said.
Rather than seeing safety as a burden, workers view the office as a facilitator, one mechanic said.
“It’s easier to talk to them. As a customer, if you could talk to those people to help you, you feel more comfortable bringing up safety concerns,” said Jason Moats, a mechanic who is also a CDSO.
Ehrin and another safety specialist, Jeff Ice, conduct inspections of each field site at least annually, which can sometimes require four hours of driving.
“Before, when we had only one safety representative, we’d be lucky to see them once a year,” Ehrin said, who formerly worked as a lock operator and has been with the district 10 years.
A CDSO accompanies the safety specialist during each inspection. Together, they check everything from mechanical issues that may compromise operations down to fire extinguishers, defibrillators and making sure each office has fully stocked first-aid kits. When they note a discrepancy, the report helps request resources on behalf of the project in need.
“We are building the safety culture from the top down,” said Ehrin. “Backing the safety culture [means] getting the equipment, the tools, and coordinating training across the district. You can’t just snap your fingers. It takes a lot of legwork.”
Ehrin mentioned confined space entry as one example where the safety office helped in the past. The hazards of working in a confined space, such as inside a tunnel, require air monitoring, specialized harnesses, and proper training. Working in restricted areas without the right equipment can lead to entrapment or suffocation, which can cause brain damage or death.
Due to the cost of the equipment, the safety office helped establish a sharing program where multiple sites can borrow gear when needed.
Success in safety is not just about equipment, but about people, Ehrin said. He is incredibly thankful to have CDSOs across the district.
“We cover a pretty big area, and that’s why the CDSOs are so important … In my opinion, they’re the most important piece of the puzzle for safety,” said Ehrin.
The district fully implemented the Army-wide civilian CDSO program two years ago. All CDSOs completed a 30-hour OSHA course, which covered a mix of regulations of general industry and construction requirements. CDSOs also conduct quarterly inspections and assist with accident reporting.
“Reporting accidents, for us, is actually a positive thing because we can better assist employees on their future protection and safety in the workspace,” Bengough said.
Bengough said he wants CDSOs to report all accidents because it gives his office a holistic view. Accurate reporting helps paint an overall picture of risk patterns, which better determines solutions and reduces future accidents.
“Why wouldn’t you want to make things safer for you and the guys around you to make sure everybody goes home at the end of the day?” said Moats.
In addition to ongoing inspections, the safety office implemented additional training throughout June, known as National Safety Month. The safety team dedicates each week this June to a different safety topic, such as occupational health, fatigue management, hazardous materials, electrical safety, and summer heat.
Bengough also wants to stress the importance for all employees to reach out to his office for resources. The safety’s internal website offers training, regulations and frequently used forms, he said.