Since 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been actively implementing a new safety system called the Corp of Engineers Safety and Occupational Health and Management System, or CE-SOHMS for short.
CE-SOHMS, which is implemented over three stages, is designed to move away from the traditional compliance-based approach to safety to a process-based systems approach to safety by changing the thoughts and behaviors of employees.
Stage one looks at the policies and processes that are currently in place and how they might need to be updated or changed. Stage two is educating the workforce to make employees aware of safety processes and policies. Stage three is ownership in the new policies, including measuring whether the district is following the guidelines. Sacramento District has completed stage one, and is currently transitioning from stage two to stage three.
“It’s really moving away from a check-list type of safety format, to getting our employees to change their behavior and think about safety in the workplace more actively,” explained Curtis Morris, chief safety officer for Sacramento District.
The program is designed to be pushed out over a five-year period. Sacramento District started on the CE-SOHMS program in 2017, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was on track to have the program fully implemented by 2022.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Morris explains. “We won’t be able to change to a behavior-based system overnight.”
Morris and his team have several ways that they are pushing out this new program to Sacramento District staff.
“We have “champions of change” which help us facilitate the transformation to this new program,” said Morris. “We have also implemented a section in the monthly supervisor newsletter on a topic for supervisors to create a discussion with their teams that relates to CE-SOHMS.” Sacramento District also briefs all new employees on the topic, as well as holding discussions at annual and quarterly training events on CE-SOHMS.
The champions of change are in place to facilitate CE-SOHMS efforts and to assist with the implementation of the program. As the program has progressed, they are getting involved in assisting with the tracking and highlighting different implementation efforts. A champion’s main function is to be the go-to person in their division to support the cultural change of being aware of safety every day. They can either answer safety questions directly or point people in the right direction to get a safety question answered.
“While I am labeled as a champion of change, I like to think that all of us are champions,” remarks Sara Fetterolf, chief of the analysis section in Contracting. “It’s all of our responsibility to make sure that our work environment is safe not only for ourselves but also for our co-workers.”
However, COVID-19 has halted the way the assessment portion of the program is completed and the way in which people are continuing the conversations of CE-SOHMS in a virtual environment. Due to COVID-19, DoD partners are unable to visit the district and make assessments on the CE-SOHMS program.
“COVID-19 has changed the way we talk about and measure the CE-SOHMS program, but we are actively looking for new ways to keep messaging strong,” remarks Morris. “For example, we’re planning to continue our annual safety day on March 18, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Morris explains that the program is going well in Sacramento District and credits the support of District Commander Col. James Handura and other executive staff with the success Sacramento District has seen with their program so far.
“Without the buy-in from our leadership and having them actively working towards this culture-shift in thinking, the implementation of the program would be much more difficult,” said Morris.