October 1, 2012

Going the Distance

Meet a leading Oregon health and safety professional

What is your background and safety philosophy?

Company:
Covanta Marion, Inc.

Environmental/Safety Specialist:
Eileen Tanner

Covanta
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Workforce: 39 employees

Common Hazards:
Slips, trips, and falls; aging workforce; electrical; brute force; industrial hygiene (e.g., noise and inhalation); and confined spaces.

I began my career in 1986 working for an environmental consulting firm. I conducted groundwater and soil field studies at a wide variety of industrial sites and worked on two superfund sites. During this time I also did undergraduate work in geology and occupational safety and health. I was a regional safety coordinator for a large environmental consulting firm, overseeing safety for five field offices, from 1994 to 2002. In 2002, I accepted a position with a utility company in the upper Midwest as a safety professional for two coal-fired power plants. I have been in my current position with Covanta Marion as the environmental/safety specialist since 2008. At Covanta, we convert waste into energy.

My safety philosophy is that every employee has the right to go home unhurt every day. As a safety professional my job is to ensure that every employee has the knowledge, skills, ability, and tools needed to do their job safely.

You work for a company that has earned Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) recognition. Can you share some day-to-day examples of things you do to maintain the high standards of the program?

The management and hourly staff conduct plant walk downs several times a day to identify unsafe conditions, unsafe behaviors, safe behaviors, and areas for improvement. Employees are engaged one on one during this time to correct unsafe behaviors and we encourage safe ones. A job observation card or a work order to correct an unsafe condition may be generated. Safety work orders are given the highest priority to complete.

Each employee is encouraged to submit near-miss reports and/or safety suggestions. The employees know that every one of their reports will be reviewed with them and acted upon.

We conduct weekly tailgate safety meetings and monthly safety training meetings. Both hourly and salaried supervisors lead the tailgate meetings and, more often than not, monthly training is lead by an hourly employee who possesses specific program knowledge (e.g., an electrician will conduct electrical safety training).

You are a designated "Special Government Employee" who assists with safety and health audits at other companies. What was required of you to earn that title?

In order to become a Special Government Employee (SGE) an application and curriculum vitae is submitted to federal OSHA. OSHA will review your qualifications and, based on this review, you may be chosen to participate. A candidate must then enroll in a three-day intensive training class. Participants are trained in the various VPP program elements and given several examples of what constitutes an action taken to show the commitment level for each element and sub-element. These elements include management leadership and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training. The candidates participate in role-playing for different scenarios and complete an evaluation for each element/sub-element. At the conclusion of the training, each participant must take an oath of office.

Have you learned anything from seeing other organizations’ programs close up?

I am always looking for better and safer ways to do things. I was very impressed by one facility’s confined space program. This particular facility requires that all entrants be present when the pre-entry atmospheric testing is being conducted and are made aware of the conditions. Another facility has a terrific employee safety concern reporting mechanism (a small note pad that can be carried in a shirt pocket). This makes it much easier for employees to write down what they find in a timely manner.

How do you keep your crew engaged in safety issues?

We talk about safety daily, whether in pre-job safety briefings, tailgates, or discussions around the Safety, Health, and Environmental (SHE) communication reports. SHE communication forms are a way for employees to express safety concerns, make safety suggestions, report unsafe conditions, praise fellow workers for their safe behaviors, and really just about anything they want to convey to facility staff members. Employees also are asked to complete a job safety analysis for those tasks that they perform. I visit with the operators and maintenance personnel daily as I am doing rounds to find out what they are doing that day and if they need anything from me. I feel very comfortable saying that the employees have no hesitation sharing information — whether it is good or something that concerns them.

What advice do you have for other safety and health managers hoping to make a difference?

Get to know your fellow employees, not just on a professional level but also on a personal level. Recognize and build on their strengths and abilities. Be a good, non judgmental listener.

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