Safety Hero

Driving Safety Culture at South Adams

The Fleet & Facilities Technician is this quarter’s Safety Hero.

Click here to nominate your district’s Safety Hero.

South Adams County Water & Sanitation District is Colorado’s most extensive combined Water and Sanitation District, serving the people of Commerce City, and overseeing an area of more than 65 square miles and almost 50,000 individuals.

James Burkholder, our latest Safety Hero, is coming up on his six year anniversary with South Adams. He started out in Distribution and Collections Maintenance and recently made the move to Fleet & Facilities Technician, where his main responsibilities include maintaining order and safety throughout the grounds and facilities.

Burkholder has also been a part of the safety culture of South Adams for five years now, serving as Chair on their Safety Committee, which meets monthly. As Safety Chair, Burkholder’s role is still evolving, as South Adams determines how best to allocate district resources.

“I nominated James because of his drive and determination to make our District a safer place for both the workers and the public,” said David Goff, the Fleet & Facilities Supervisor for South Adams County Water and Sanitation District.

When South Adams had a vacancy for the position of Safety Chair, Burkholder stepped up and took responsibility for this role, overseeing safety matters for the entire district. When district members have questions on safety procedures, PPE items, or general requests for safety aid – they’ll check with Burkholder, who goes out and assists when and where he can, ordering supplies, and offering training when necessary.

“In my opinion James is responsible for the growing safety culture at South Adams County Water and Sanitation. He is not afraid to get his feet wet when it comes to safety and pull from every resource that he can,” said Adam Johnsen, Safety Management Consultant for the CSD Pool.

“James is our biggest advocate for safe practices, involving training, working with CSD advocates, and leading by example,” said Goff. “[He is] determined, dedicated, and resourceful.”

Growing the Safety Culture at South Adams

South Adams’s Safety Committee meets once a month to discuss events, accidents, preventative measures, and improvements, and to make sure everybody goes home safe. The district has multiple safety programs in place, and is continually working to improve their safety culture.

The district hosts Safety Launches annually, inviting MSA Safety out to join them at these events, where they provide safety scenarios, and offer games and giveaways. Burkholder has worked to grow these events, adding more vendors over time.

Other safety initiatives include a boot reimbursement program, which began a few years ago as a way to incentivize staff to maintain the correct safety gear, specifically the required work boots. The program started out with a $75 reimbursement for boot purchases, but since then, the district has increased that amount to $150. Additionally, the district stepped up their fire extinguisher and first aid resources, and now boasts fire extinguishers and first aid kits in all district vehicles.

South Adams also makes use of CSD Pool Member resources, inviting Safety Management Consultant Adam Johnsen out for safety walks, where he has joined district members on a tour through district facilities in order to inspect for potential safety hazards. As a result of these inspections, additional improvements have been made.

“I have been working with James for a few years now after he introduced himself to me at a Confined Space training and invited me to their safety committee meeting. After the safety committee meeting James asked me to conduct an audit on his facilities. During this audit I learned a little bit more about the safety program,” said Johnsen. “Everything I saw from PPE management, air monitor usage, and safety practices was initiated from James.”

Burkholder is always looking for ways to improve the safety culture at South Adams.

“On a regular basis I receive phone calls from James checking in,” said Johnsen. “Sometimes he just wants to brainstorm and other times the questions are a little bit more specific.”

Responding to Covid-19

As with many districts, South Adams’s most recent safety challenge occurred when Covid-19 hit. While maintaining safety among staff, updating procedures, and keeping morale high were major concerns, the biggest difficulty lay in the PPE supply shortage.

Because of Burkholder’s resourcefulness, however, South Adams never felt the pinch. Burkholder kept an eye on supplies before the Covid-19 shutdown happened, touching base with vendors prior to the shortage, and because of this, “while others were having trouble getting things, I already had the pathways open and we were never really down,” said Burkholder.

South Adams was never in short supply of masks, hand sanitizer or other PPE.

“From fire extinguishers, PPE, first aid kits, air monitors, fall protection, and Covid PPE, James has stepped in to make sure that the entire district is set up for success,” commented Johnsen.

“We were prepared and never went without,” noted Burkholder.

Current Safety Challenges

When asked about current safety challenges for his district, Goff mentioned budget constraints, a common problem among public entities. But maintaining relationships with vendors and advocating for the district’s needs are key when it comes to managing safety culture amidst budget restraints, according to Burkholder.

“I work with 40-50 vendors and they all know me and how I am… I pinch pennies,” says Burkholder. “Every year it’s a negotiation over pricing.”

“All in all James has someone he can reach out to for everything that he needs,” added Johnsen. “I have even taken a few of his contacts and handed them over to districts needing support in those areas.”

Reaching out to direct distributors, finding new sales representatives, and not being afraid to negotiate have all played a part in Burkholder’s success in maintaining supply chains for his district.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for price breaks. And always work with the vendors because they’ll end up working for you,” notes Burkholder.

Looking to the Future

Due to the preparation and planning of South Adams staff, safety committee members, and individuals such as Burkholder himself, South Adams has been able to maintain their safety culture successfully.

“[Our] safety committee is only going to improve and get better. We’ve accomplished a lot so far, and I think we’re just going to keep on accomplishing,” notes Burkholder.

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