“Not another new improvement.”
Mark Atkins, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ chief of safety and occupational health, is fully aware that will be the first reaction he gets when he tells people about USACE’s new safety management system. But he’s on a mission to change not only minds, but mindset as he travels around USACE briefing its new safety management system, Corps of Engineers Safety & Occupational Health Management System (CE-SOHMS).
The CE-SOHMS system will enable USACE to meet the Army’s goal of modernizing safety and occupational health programs.
“You can’t have a world class organization without a world class safety program,” said Atkins. “In some ways, the critics are right. Most of this is not new; everything we are doing with CE-SOHMS is stuff we already know we should be doing. Safety managers have been saying for years ‘safety is everyone’s responsibility.’ What we’re doing with this program is changing that from a nice slogan to a cultural mindset.”
According to Atkins, under the old safety paradigm, safety was stove piped and compliance based leaving it in the hands of the safety managers and operating with a checklist mentality. The new system will be more process and data driven and will measure safety performance and effectiveness rather than just compliance.
He provided a basic example to illustrate how that works.
“Take for example fire extinguisher tests,” he said. “Under a compliance model you may have a requirement to test fire extinguishers once a month. You either did it and were compliant, or you didn’t. You might have a terrible safety program overall but the block was checked. If you weren’t compliant, you’d end up on the naughty list. We never looked at why you were or weren’t compliant. Was it a resources issue? Lack of awareness? A focus on other more pressing issues? On the other hand, you might actually have a very effective safety program but fail on paper. With a systems approach, we look at the processes and improve their efficiency.”
Melanie Barajas, the chief of safety and occupational health for the Middle East District and the Transatlantic Division, recently traveled to several countries in the District’s area of responsibility and evaluated the various offices’ programs with CE-SOHMS in mind.
She said it was an eye-opening experience and some offices already have a strong culture of safety.
“Even though we won’t be implementing CE-SOHMS until FY19, when visiting the different offices I tried to get a feel for the overall safety climate in their offices and projects rather than just going through a checklist. When you look at the processes as a whole, you can really see the difference in an office where safety is ingrained in the culture. It’s not just the supervisors, you see it in the employees, construction managers and contractors on job sites. It’s evident. Personnel are engaged and safety is simply a way of doing business,” she said.
So when Atkins hears people say “there’s nothing new here,” he agrees with them.
“The name and acronym are new but controlling risks and protecting our employees and customers have always been core values of our organization. We are simply focusing on it in a more systematic way,” he said.
The system is already in place in some USACE districts and is slowly being rolled out across others.