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EWEB Earns National Safety Award

June 18, 2018

Operations field staff instal new water distribution pipes

The premier water utility trade association in the United States has recognized EWEB's impressive safety record and proactive approach to implementing best practices for employee safety and health programs as one of the best in the nation.

The American Water Works Association presented the Wendell R. LaDue Safety Award to Chief Water Engineering & Operations Officer Mel Damewood and EWEB Commissioner John Simpson at its annual convention in mid-June. The scientific and educational trade group includes more than 3,900 utilities that supply roughly 80 percent of the nation's drinking water.

"I really want to stress that this is an award earned by all the employees at EWEB," Damewood said. "Staff has made safety our primary cultural attribute, and I'm proud to be a part of the safety culture here at EWEB."

Evaluation of award nominees includes a review of a utility's safety record over the past five years, safety and health program best practices, the scope of systemic safety training initiatives at all levels, and the breadth of safety culture throughout the organization, said EWEB Safety Manager Mark Maguire.

"They evaluate your entire safety program, not just two or three years' of performance," Maguire said. "They really do a deep dive into the foundational components of your program, including accountability, commitment to best practices and management's support of safety as a strategic priority."

In addition to holding monthly safety meetings throughout the organization to discuss accidents, near-misses, "good catches," unsafe conditions, what's working and what needs improvement, field personnel conduct "tailboards" prior to beginning work activities each morning to keep safety front and center.

Along with in-house safety staff, we utilize outside vendors to provide relevant training to employees that ranges from fall protection and trench safety to CPR/First Aid and confined space instruction.

The nature of the work at EWEB, whether installing new water pipes in deep trenches, working in close proximity to high-voltage power lines or operating hydroelectric projects that include dams and power canals, places field personnel in hazardous conditions on a daily basis, Maguire said.

When accidents or near-misses do occur, we explore and investigate those incidents to improve our practices and processes with the intention to eliminate or at least mitigate hazardous conditions.

EWEB's commitment to safety reaches all levels of the organization -- from upper management to crew personnel. It's understood that shortcuts or unsafe work practices not only affect the person performing that act, but all those working around them as well. The fundamentals of performing work safely and the value of that action are built into our culture.

"The practice of working safely is not performed based on regulatory requirements, but on the premise that employees go home each and every day after work in the same condition that they arrived, and that nobody is injured," Maguire said. "And senior management understands the moral and financial value of providing a safe workplace."

Maguire, who has worked in the industrial safety field for more than 20 years, said he doesn't have to "sell" safety at EWEB because safe work practices at all levels are ingrained in the culture. EWEB won the same safety award from the AWWA in 2015.

"To have the performance we had and have is pretty remarkable given the high-hazard nature of the work we do," Maguire said. "To earn this award two out of the past four years speaks well of our program and our culture."