Combining Quantity with Quality

Proper training may be the most important component of any job. It can also be the most challenging, especially when faced with a growing staff or employees that are new to the field. With this in mind, we’re spotlighting South Suburban Parks and Recreation and the strategies they use to train and maintain safety standards for such a large staff of full-time, part-time, and volunteer employees. They have implemented some impressive best practices that make them stand out.

General Info

South Suburban is one of our largest members, currently serving a growing population of 157,000 residents. Any organization serving such a large population needs to have a large enough staff to match. Fortunately, South Suburban employs about 240 full-time employees and 1,200-1,400 part-time employees, depending on the season.

South Suburban is described by Mindy Albert, South Suburban’s Business Support Supervisor, as “a community-driven organization whose role is to provide both indoor and outdoor recreation amenities to six communities and three counties.”

District amenities include four recreation centers, one entertainment center, one community center, two ice arenas with two sheets of ice each, four golf courses, three 18-hole miniature golf courses, 50 tennis courts, a BMX track, batting cages, athletic fields, more than 100 parks with over 3,800 acres of parkland and greenways, 61 playgrounds, and nearly 100 miles of trails.

It is clear how much must go into making sure all staff is properly trained and up to date on safety protocols.

Training Week

South Suburban has implemented a “Safety Week” to ensure that training is uniform and conducted quickly and effectively. These events are held semi-annually in the spring and fall to line up with new employee orientations during the largest hiring seasons of the year.

Each “Safety Week” has a different theme, and South Suburban’s Safety and Risk Management Steering Committee is in charge of determining those themes, as well as the greatest needs for district-wide training.

“[They] review statistical data and reports regarding workers’ compensation, patron and vehicular incident and accident reports and determine the greatest need for district-wide training,” Albert said.

Even with this system in place, challenges remain.

“Management knows that safety takes repetition,” Albert said. “That can be hard to do with such a fast-paced environment. Our ‘Safety Weeks’ make training a sure thing multiple times a year and allow for supervisors to tack on specific items that are pertinent to their groups in addition to the district-wide requirement.”

As with the years before, plans are already in motion for this spring’s “Safety Week.”

“We are currently making plans to roll out the Drivers’ Assessment Program through TargetSolutions [CSD Pool’s LMS] for all our district drivers,” Albert said.

There are also plans to work with the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department in order to make sure facility managers can conduct tabletop exercises with their facility staff to prepare for emergency scenarios.

With the size of the staff and the constant fluctuations of part-time workers, these routine safety weeks have gotten everyone on the same page and ensured that the staff is informed, safe, and utilizing best practices.

Beyond Safety Week

Even with the extra attention, safety does not begin or end with “Safety Week.” South Suburban, like many, still faces an uphill battle getting staff up to code. To ensure that everyone on staff has the appropriate safety training and education and properly adopts that training, South Suburban has a few tricks up their sleeve.

“We have many options for training, require what we absolutely need, send a lot of reminders, and keep reports to follow up with who still needs to complete training,” Albert said.

These department-specific trainings include AED training, licensed daycare requirements, lifeguard classes, lightning precautions, pesticide handling, and more. They also have a Leadership Academy in the district where full-time employees can choose from a variety of safety trainings to meet a core competency, as well as a “Learn and Lunch” program that includes an informal discussion of safety-related topics.

Yet, challenges remain, especially when providing training for their 1,200 part-time employees.

“We have extreme ends of contact time with these individuals, from those who teach a fitness class daily at a recreation center to that of an umpire who officiates on field one night per month,” Albert said. “We cannot expect these staff to take away time from their school schedules or full-time jobs; we have to be diligent in presenting safety trainings and materials in conjunction with department trainings, coaches’ meetings, just before their shifts, or in break rooms.”

Needless to say, training is a full-time job. Albert and the rest of the team at South Suburban are constantly coming up with new ideas and ways to dole out their training and make sure it sticks. For 2020, they have quite a few new projects and initiatives they are working on.

In addition to the previously mentioned tabletop exercises, South Suburban plans to implement a notification software system to alert staff of lockdowns and lockouts at district facilities.

“This will take some time to establish our contact lists and involve a lot of training for administrators to know when and how to call an emergency notification,” Albert said.

Additionally, the staff is also implementing a new software provided by TargetSolutions for all safety data sheet (SDS) documents. All facility staff have begun to organize and dispose of its chemicals within each District facility, assemble safety data information from manufacturers and input SDS information into the software categorically. Finally, quick access labels will be produced for storage rooms and vehicles.

All of this hard work isn’t without its accolades. Recently, South Suburban achieved national accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).

“We strive to be a leader in our industry with a keen eye for safety and emergency management and set an aggressive work plan to stay on track,” Albert said. “We continually challenge ourselves to have the highest standards for equipment, facility and park maintenance, employee trainings, and low patron or vehicular incidents and accidents as well as worker’s compensation claims.”

Community First

South Suburban continues to look toward the future for guidance on how to operate in the present. Their demographics are changing and their population is set to grow in the near future with the expansion of Lone Tree at Ridge Gate, a new community centralized near the district. Soon, they will be opening a Regional Recreation Complex and a new Regional Park.

But, even with all this transition, South Suburban sticks to their guns.

“We are guided by four principles: Quality First, Enrich Wellness, Connect to Nature, and Lead Sustainability,” Albert said.

The district also communicates with all local agencies and offers support for disaster relief operations to assist in providing space or assistance to emergency responders as necessary.

For example, law enforcement from Arapahoe County and the City of Littleton provide law enforcement training periodically for employees. This training includes understanding the relationship between law enforcement and the district, incident response for disruptive patrons, when to involve the police, and preservation and handling of evidentiary items. On top of that, Arapahoe County Emergency Managers also facilitated a high-level situational exercise for staff to practice their Emergency, Security, and Crisis Response Plans.

Takeaways

While this model may not be for everyone, South Suburban has taken many important steps in ensuring the safety and security of their facilities and staff.

From having a dedicated staff person who knows the TargetSolutions software, to the utilization of their Safety & Risk Management Steering Team for big picture training management, South Suburban understands just what is as stake for their staff and organization.

“Safety and emergency planning is not a one person job; it is a shared responsibility that never sleeps,” Albert said.

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