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'Let's Talk Safety' a utility member benefit

Protecting public health is the top priority of water utilities everywhere. But along with that comes another mission: providing water professionals with an injury-free environment.

“Let’s Talk Safety” is a 52-week manual of short talks – a whole year’s worth – to help utility managers protect those who protect the public. This annual resource is a benefit of AWWA utility membership.

“The reason we do this is we noticed when we had injuries, or near misses, they were related to complacency,” said Dave Weihrauch, whose Oxford, Ohio utility began conducting weekly “Let’s Talk Safety” meetings more than three years ago. “This breaks up the complacency, and makes us think more about safety.”

All utilities that renew membership by December 15 will receive a free copy of “Let’s Talk Safety 2017” in PDF form via CD-ROM. In addition, small utility members will get videos and bonus content specifically designed for their needs.  “Let’s Talk Safety” is also available for purchase.

 “Often, utilities mention to us that this is a highly valued benefit,” said Susan Franceschi, AWWA’s chief membership officer. “It allows them to be proactive and provides them with an easy mechanism for scheduling safety talks. It hits the major topics.”

On a recent Friday afternoon, a “Let’s Talk Safety” get-together was attended by 10 employees at the Oxford utility, including two managers, two water treatment plant operators, four service workers, a  meter technician, and meter reader.

They tackled Week 37 in the manual – “Night Work: Reduced Visibility Increases Hazards.” Weihrauch and Chris Sizemore, Water Distribution Manager, led the discussion and followed the guidebook, which encouraged utility workers to wear reflective material, line up parked equipment so it serves as a boundary to protect work zones, and use floodlights to illuminate flagger stations, equipment crossings, and any other areas where crew members will be working.

The book noted that 25 percent of workers killed on the job when struck by a vehicle were working between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., but only 9 percent of the workforce is on duty during those hours.
 
“We talked about a few additional hazards inherent to night work, including fatigue during the day following a night of unexpected repair work, which may require postponing a scheduled job or two,” said Weihrauch, who is also vice chair of the Association’s Water Utility Council.

The employees read aloud the “talk” points and recounted previous close calls during night work. Several recalled a fatal car crash involving an intoxicated driver and passenger that occurred one night near an active water main repair. Josh Hatmaker, a utility maintenance worker, remembered a few “helpful” onlookers who gathered up traffic cones and brought them to the utility workers, “which might not have been so bad had we not placed them just 10 minutes before,” Hatmaker said.

The group also talked about the need to be vigilant regarding open ditches, especially during night work, Sizemore said, and never assuming that pedestrians will not be around or that they will heed a job site area control measures such as barricades, caution tape, cones and barrels.

Weihrauch said his utility conducts “safety wraps” on Friday afternoons because it’s a good time to discuss issues that cropped up that Monday through Friday, and a natural end to the work week.

“The weekly meeting is a good fit for our work group after the equipment is cleaned, maintained, and stowed away and no one is particularly interested in beginning a new project,” Weihrauch said. “The meetings are informal yet structured.”

Weihrauch said he and the utility employees like the fact that they’re talking about safety outside the scope of a formal accident review process.  “It’s good to talk about safety when it’s not in the context of a documented incident report. It’s definitely a more relaxed atmosphere.”

Among the 52 topics covered in the 2017 “Let’s Talk Safety” manual are safe chemical delivery, avoiding harm from laboratory hazards, preventing slips and trips, and fuel handling practices. The guide also includes additional AWWA safety resources and tips for making safety meetings more engaging and effective.

“Utilities look forward to the manual,” Franceschi said. “When they don’t get them in a timely fashion, we hear about it.”
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