Safety is a System at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District
Published May 2, 2022
Updated: May 2, 2022
a man speaks to two men and a woman in a carpentry shop

Marty Werdebaugh, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers safety program manager, role-plays an accident scene scenario for students at a Safety Investigations Board course in West Sacramento, California, April 6, 2022.

On a sunny day in West Sacramento, students from all over the country converged on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District’s Bryte Yard facility to learn how to properly investigate and document safety incidents.

Watching them was Mark Atkins, the chief of safety and occupational health for all of USACE.

Students employed in various safety and operations capacities throughout several USACE districts learned how to implement a step-by-step process for safety investigations and how to put those lessons into action in a series of scenarios.

“A mishap is rarely the result of a single mistake or failure,” said Jason Walsh, training instructor and safety and occupational health manager for USACE. “Rather, a mishap is the result of a series of active and latent failures aligning to create a safety incident.”

Students learned a five-phase approach to mishap investigations, including preliminary examinations, data collection, analysis of data, and deliberation.

The training was split between classroom learning and hands-on exercises. Students took turns interviewing the instructors, who were role-playing as USACE or contracted employees involved in hypothetical safety incidents. They also physically inspected the accident sites, which were designed to model various incident scenarios involving different types of equipment like ladders, forklifts, and electric saws.

The Safety Investigations Board training was part of a bigger concept, though—the overarching reason Atkins was in the California capital. He came with a delegation from USACE headquarters to inspect the Sacramento District for adherence to CE-SOHMS, or the Corps of Engineers Safety and Occupational Health Management System.

And what exactly is that?

“CE-SOHMS is a systems approach to implementing a safety and health program, and that is what world class organizations do,” said Atkins.

“We don’t play around with our financial management; we have a financial management system,” he said. “The same for environmental management. We systematically implement things that are important.”

It puts individuals in charge of recognizing dangers and being empowered to act. Senior leaders expect CE-SOHMS to create a culture that can prevent the series of failures that together often lead to a safety incident.

One way the Sacramento District is highlighting the safe actions of its teams is through a reporting mechanism called “Good Enough to Share.”

Sean Sullivan, maintenance mechanic supervisor at Sacramento District’s Buchanan Dam/Eastman Lake, recently noticed during a routine inspection that five of the six truck bed mounts on his truck were cracked and had the potential to fail. He brought the issue to his team leaders.

Sullivan spotted a potential issue that was “good enough to share” and his vigilance and action likely avoided a safety incident down the road.

It’s a sign that the CE-SOHMS culture is catching on.

“Safety is not merely a priority; it’s an imperative,” said Atkins. “Priorities come and go, but safety is number one for this organization.”