Member Spotlight: Silverthorne / Dillon Joint Sewer Authority

The Peak of Training Leadership: At Silverthorne / Dillon Joint Sewer Authority, Safety and Training are a Part of Everything They Do

It has been a few years since the Pool began to provide free online training to members. In that time, several districts have become power users. One such district is Silverthorne/Dillon Joint Sewer Authority (SDJSA). This is a small district, with fewer than ten employees, but one where each employee completed more than a dozen courses last year alone. This allowed them to qualify for our training credit discounts with ease, and shows a tremendous commitment to training. We had the privilege of talking to Operations Superintendent Jason Kruckeberg and Chief Plant Operator Chris Ayriss on how SDJSA achieved such outstanding numbers of completed courses, and how it may have impacted their district’s safety culture.

Jason and Chris had some thoughtful insights about continuous improvement in workplace safety, learning from near misses and incidents, and the importance of training. We believe this message will truly resonate with anyone who may be struggling with getting all of their staff on board.

Mountains of Training

One of the chief issues the district has to deal with is location: SDJSA is set in the mountains where training opportunities are scarce and not readily accessible. This led to the district utilizing TargetSolutions as part of its internal professional development program. The district’s program, which Jason and Chris developed, underscores how a successful safety culture requires constant improvement. While the district reaps the benefit of the free training units for water operators, Jason adds that the general courses on sexual harassment, safety, and preventing discrimination are also very useful, “We like being able to cover annual refreshers on basic safety expectations, too. It helps that the courses can be completed individually according to everyone’s schedule, and we assign one or two courses a month to keep the program momentum high.”

Chris says that the district’s staffing drives their commitment to training. Their somewhat remote location poses a challenge in recruiting new hires, since the pool of available candidates is small. Jason tells us that there have been occasions in the past in which out-of-town new hires were unable to commit to the job because the high cost of local housing.

This impacted how the district vets its applicants, what both Jason and Chris call the “right attitude.” SDJSA looks for employees with a willingness to learn, regardless of their level of experience. Jason tailors training to accommodate a new hires’ background, emphasizing a well-rounded approach.

Chris says that there are times where someone assigned to complete a task may be called to attend to something urgent, requiring other employees to pick up the slack. This requires a lot of coordination and cross-training, but they believe that these aren’t problems, but challenges to be solved, especially before they happen.

“I believe that all accidents are preventable,” Chris tells us. “And that incidents are the result of either ignorance or omission […] At the SDJSA, we have worked to remove the ignorance by using training, and the omission by being observant of our surroundings and stopping people (or asking to help them) when they are doing something dangerous.“

Selection, Safety and Service

Jason says that his district is fortunate to have a self-motivated and naturally curious team, but that doesn’t stop them from giving a push. They assign a topic monthly and distribute a checklist for the team to sign when they finish, “It helps remind everyone to complete the training, and we vary the topic from month to month. If we have done a series of safety topics, we can assign something more water and wastewater skill-specific to keep it interesting.”

He and Chris also occasionally look up unfamiliar topics to see how it can be applicable to their operations. One of the key benefits of the online training platform is the ability to choose a course that is “timely and relevant,” and Jason believes this further encourages staff to learn. For example, he told us about an employee who proactively sought out a hepatitis vaccine after completing a course on bloodborne pathogens.

When asked if there were any courses that stood out, Jason said that some of the topics were chosen due to an accident or a near miss, which helped the crew become more proactive and aware. Following a recent ladder incident, Chris assisted in the development of a new “Ladder Buddy” program that is comprised of different training modules, “We assigned the ‘Water Industry Ladder and Scaffolding Safety’ module [and] combined what we learned with [that] module with the ‘Water Industry Confined Space’ module and some of my prior work experience to create [the] program.” Both Chris and Jason say that had it not been for TargetSolutions, the district’s safety improvements would have come at a much slower pace.

Suggestions for Other Districts

Chris feels that districts have an opportunity to motivate employees by underscoring their sense of public service, “I would suggest that management reiterate the fact that their employees are providing a service to the public, that they are serving their friends, family, and neighbors. Injuries will ultimately hurt the ratepayers and/or taxpayers. I know that I would have a hard time looking my neighbor in the eye if I got injured doing something [I knew I shouldn’t have].”

Both Jason and Chris feel that the primary focus ought to be on continuous improvement and the benefits of small, incremental changes to workplace safety, “[We] would like to pass on to other districts some encouragement to enhance the safety culture by not discounting what we call ‘the little things.’ Making small improvements here and there, like replacing that ladder that looks a little ‘iffy,’ being proactive about keeping your job sites clean and organized, those are things that have a cumulative effect towards creating a safer environment for everyone […] Perfection may be ideal, but it doesn’t make a very good goal. Bringing continuous improvement into how we work is very achievable.”

Special thanks to our friends SDJSA for their cooperation, insight, and the great photos of their facility and team.

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