Safety Hero: Sandy Mourning of Upper Thompson Water and Sanitation District

For the last fourteen years, Upper Thompson Sanitation District (UTSD) has been home to our latest Safety Hero, Sandy Mourning.

Before her time at UTSD, Mourning worked for the National Park Service in Rocky Mountain National Park in the water quality lab. That prepared her for her current position as UTSD’s

Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator and Certified Water Professional – Class A. Mourning played a key part in drafting the district’s recently revised safety manual and developing monthly safety presentations to district staff.

Mourning coordinates CPR, AED, first aid, and ALICE training for the district. District manager Chris Bieker says Mourning, “devotes time above and beyond her regular work duties to the District’s safety program.”

Since the beginning of her tenure, Mourning has been a driving force in UTSDs safety culture. “When I first started, our safety program was very basic,” Mourning said.

Today, the district has a Safety Coordinator who facilitates safety training for all UTSD employees. The safety program has grown to include new rules, practices, and procedures. Mourning and her team at UTSD have taken control of how safety fits into district operations by covering a myriad of relevant safety topics.

The district has also instituted Safety Tailgate meetings. These are forums where staff members collaborate on a list of possible hazards which may be present when performing a task. Staff also discuss what personal protective equipment is needed and the status of their inventory.

Recently, Mourning and her team held a meeting around a task that required them to enter an aeration basin. An aeration basin is a holding and treatment pond with artificial aeration to treat the pollutants in wastewater. As one can imagine, having the right PPE and safety protocol in place is crucial. Mourning and her staff are more prepared than ever for tasks like these.

“That’s the beauty of it. The culture is now changing,” Mourning said. “People are much more safety-conscious.”

Last year, Mourning spearheaded the task of revising the district’s safety manual. It was expanded to include all district departments, specifically the wastewater treatment plant, and updated to detail lock-out-tag-out procedures, a strict lifting policy, and confined space entry protocol, among others.

“When I first started,” Mourning said, “[the manual] was about 2-3 pages, and most concerns were not focused on the plant.”

Monthly safety presentations are another achievement for the district and for Mourning. These are presented district-wide and delivered to employees of the plant, collections department, and administration. They discuss safety concerns people bring up, new equipment, and possible issues in the future. These topics are applied in ways that affect each part of the district.

“In the past, we’ve put together trenching and shoring classes for the area. We also have fire safety training where we have hands on training with fire extinguishers. This focus on safety training crosses departmental lines and includes every staff member.”

In addition, Mourning plans to engage the team in “Table Top Exercises.” These are informal meetings where people are given a scenario and address how best to respond, what policies to use, and what agencies to get involved. This is so people know how to act instead of just watching. “People want to work safely,” Mourning said. “At UTSD, we want everyone to go home to their family safe and sound.”

Mourning exemplifies the dedication to placing safety at the forefront of their operations. Her professional demeanor and engaged attitude are what make her an asset. When she heard about this award at a staff meeting with the district manager she could not have been more surprised.

“I definitely felt like a kid at Christmas time,” Mourning said. “I’m pretty pumped about it.”