In this Q&A, EID Director of Communications and Community Relations Mary Lynn Carlton discusses the topic of safety with Safety-Security Officer Ron Kilburg and Hydroelectric Division Manager Dan Gibson. Questions in bold are by Carlton, answers by Kilburg and Gibson.
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I understand EID recently won an award for safety. Can you tell me about the award?
We received the “Larry C. Larson Safety Award,” given by the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association. The award recognizes EID’s drinking water division for making employee safety an operational priority. Few utilities are so honored. Management and staff within the division do an excellent job ensuring that the District’s 100 percent safety principle is not just a catchy slogan, but is actually put into practice. They were evaluated on implementation of 21 best industry safety practices, including employee involvement and recognition, accountability, management commitment, and safety record to name a few.
Share with me some of the safety issues and concerns that are unique to EID.
EID’s business is complex. It involves more than just water treatment. It also involves sewage treatment, recycled water services, hydroelectric and recreational services. Because of that, we have a wide variety of risks.
An example of a challenging safety environment, which requires extreme vigilance and caution, is Project 184, our hydroelectric operation, which conveys water from the district’s alpine lakes to our treatment facilities. Employees must safely access the outside of elevated wooden flumes as high as three stories in order to make repairs. They do this safely by using a newly-designed personal fall arrest system that includes a body harness, self-retracting lifeline, and a special horizontal lifeline. Without this system, an accidental fall could lead to serious injury. This work goes on during all seasons, but the winter season is particularly hazardous, when ice and snow pose additional hazards for the crews. With one wrong move, an employee could slip into a partially frozen canal and be immediately exposed to life-threatening situations. EID staff recently developed this safety system and Dan Gibson and his staff were instrumental in testing the system’s reliability with a full-sized mannequin. Because of these improvements, I am confident that flume repairs will be performed safely and efficiently into the future.
Last year, district operations performed more than 500 confined space entries without incident. Examples of confined spaces are sewer manholes and basins and water pressure regulator vaults throughout the district’s service area. We have nearly 100 employees trained and authorized to enter these potentially dangerous spaces after pre-planning for rescue and testing the atmosphere for toxic gases. Our staff is highly trained to safely enter any one of the over 10,000 spaces at district facilities that span a distance from Caples Lake to El Dorado Hills and Swansboro to Outingdale.
Lastly, water, wastewater, hydroelectric and recreation staff follow very specific procedures to isolate hazardous energy sources — like electricity and water under pressure — from causing injury. These procedures make up the district’s lockout/tag out program. Over 400 times a year, staff utilizes the lockout/tag out program when completing these potentially dangerous procedures. I am continually impressed with our staff’s commitment to working smart and safe.
How does EID compare to other utilities in terms of safety statistics?
While we are not an injury-free organization, our safety record demonstrates a solid culture where safety is part of how we do business. At the end of the third quarter this year, the district’s injury rate is 68 percent below other utilities. The standard for comparison is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for water, sewer and other systems. The numbers really reflect the commitment of our staff members to safety. Without this level of employee involvement, the statistics would look completely different.
We are currently the largest water agency in the Association of California Water Agencies–Joint Powers Insurance Authority Workers’ Compensation insurance pool, and are one of the risk pool’s top safety performers. Our safety performance translates into exceptional workers’ compensation insurance rates, and the best use of ratepayer resources. I am pleased with our successes and continue to strive toward continuous improvement.
I know that the district has a safety committee that meets regularly to discuss safety concerns and issues and work out solutions. Can you tell me more about this?
Yes. Our safety committee has been very helpful in keeping safety real. What I mean by that is the committee members are dedicated to continuous improvement. Safety improvements suggested and adopted by the committee have contributed to a sevenfold reduction in the cost of avoidable damage when compared to years before the improvements.
What are some of the most pressing safety issues you are tackling at the moment?
Cal/OSHA is requiring all businesses to provide hazardous materials awareness training before Dec. 1. We have been planning for this for some time and will meet the deadline. The safety improvements include a massive administrative evaluation of documents called “Material Safety Data Sheets,” or MSDSs. The sheets provide employees with important hazardous materials information, including instructions on how to use products safely and what protective equipment to wear.
Can you tell me about the district’s emergency operations plan and what it entails?
The district is a special district and a governmental agency. When a local emergency is declared, the district can be a major contributor in response and recovery efforts. We have a comprehensive emergency operations plan that is flexible and expandable for responding to small emergencies up to countywide emergencies. Department operations have emergency action plans that detail responses to situations such as boil water advisories, sewer overflows and possible dam breaches. We conduct exercises annually to ensure a state of readiness, and we work closely with the dedicated staff in the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services, and the California Office of Emergency Services in Sacramento.