Safety Hero: Chris Carter of Orchard Mesa Irrigation

Building a Consensus on Safety

For many districts, a work culture defined by safety doesn’t form overnight. It takes dedicated, consistent, committed, and hard-working people to foster its growth. We want to recognize an individual that exemplifies these qualities and has worked to make their own district a safer place.

This quarter, we have selected Chris Carter from Orchard Mesa Irrigation District as Safety Hero. During her two year tenure, Carter has served as the district’s Safety Coordinator and Administrative Assistant. Carter joined the OMID team in part to develop the Safety Program, which, up to that point, had not reached its full potential.

“It was quite overwhelming in the beginning,” Carter says. “We had so many areas that we needed to create programs, policies, and training for.”

It didn’t take long for Carter to grow into her role. As Safety Coordinator, Chris took on the task of researching and acquiring appropriate safety equipment. She also performs monthly inspections and investigates safety concerns. Chris leads the charge on monthly safety meetings, inviting guest speakers like the CSD Pool’s safety consultant, Adam Johnsen.

“Over the last couple of years I have worked with Chris on multiple projects. She worked really hard to develop what their safety program is today,” Johnsen says. “She has transformed it one day at time by gathering her resources and making things happen.”

Carter coordinates with local agencies to provide an external perspective on their program. She worked with the local fire department to perform training on fire extinguisher use, first-aid, and confined-space rescue training. She also coordinated with an outside entity to perform a mock OSHA inspection to determine areas where their district was deficient in their safety program. Following this inspection, Carter says she was given a long list of items which proved to be a breakthrough.

“This [list] gave us a path to start tackling our inadequacies,” Carter says.

The mock inspections underscored the need for regular meetings and discussions, and from the list provided, Carter created a monthly safety meeting calendar, sometimes matching discussions with seasonal issues, such as heat stress in the summertime. The conversations prompted by these regular meetings work wonders in engaging staff and solving their district problems.

“Many times, this opens a dialogue for what has worked in the past and what hasn’t and what we can do differently,” Carter says.

They also discuss projects and what safety equipment is needed for their execution. The use of personal protective equipment is an integral part of OMID’s operations, and Carter verifies what equipment needs to be upgraded in addition to what will actually be put to use.

“We can purchase all the safety equipment possible,” Carter says, “but if employees are not going to use it because it does not fit or is extremely uncomfortable, it is a waste of money and becomes a safety concern.” The CSD Pool’s Safety and Loss Prevention Grant Program has helped fund additions and improvements to the district’s PPE.

“We were not prepared for the expense to get our safety program started,” Chris says. “The Safety Grants helped accomplish this. We purchased fire extinguishers, respirators, and eye and hearing protection.”

Carter has been instrumental, if not the central figure, at OMID when it comes to their safety culture. When she started at OMID, the district didn’t have anyone to devote their time to safety. In the past, safety meetings were held on a monthly basis with little training, but there was no actual program. That all changed over time.

“Now, our employees are using the policies and procedures we have developed. Safety is a part of our daily jobs, but it is also a work in progress,” Carter says. “We continue to review the way we approach safety.”

For Carter, the success of the position and program depends on a lot more than just one person. Employees often have great suggestions for ways to improve safety. Sometimes the ideas are offered in their safety meetings, and other times, they come into her office.

Much has changed since the beginning of Carter’s tenure. Employees have come to understand the safety program is in place for their own well-being. “We want every employee to take safety seriously, so that when the day is done, they can leave work at work and enjoy their time away from here,” Carter says.

For Carter, her role at OMID has been a fulfilling one. She notes that from management to each individual employee at OMID, every person has helped to make her vision a reality. “We are just starting this safety journey and although we have come a long way, this is a work in progress that we will continue to pursue.”

If you would like to nominate someone in your district to be the next CSD Safety Hero, click here.