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Evergreen Metro Wins Safest District in 2021

Their consistent care and dedication to safety made Evergreen a standout.

Evergreen Metropolitan District has been chosen as the Colorado Special District Property & Liability Pool’s Safest District of the Year in 2021 for their consistent care and dedication to the safety of the district and its staff.

Currently, Evergreen maintains the water and wastewater services for a total of three districts, including West Jefferson County Metro District, Kittredge Sanitation and Water District, and Evergreen Metropolitan District.

While staffing itself is on the short side right now, with water and wastewater administration managed by a crew of just 29 employees, the district enjoys a low attrition rate on the whole, with low turnover and high retention, boasting a general manager coming up on 37 years of service. Aside from being an enjoyable place to work, Evergreen also receives exemplary marks in their development of their safety committee, use of risk management resources, and overall safety culture.

Establishing a Safety Committee

Evergreen Metropolitan District established a formal safety committee in 2009, which includes representation from every department.

Every department has a voice, and each department lends a different perspective to the safety goals of the district at large. The committee itself intentionally keeps the safety discourse fresh by shifting the committee makeup every two years, thereby giving each staff member additional buy in and commitment.

“Making sure everybody is motivated every day and safe is an ongoing process,” notes Dominique Devaney, Administrative and Human Resources Manager.

Meetings are conducted monthly, where the most pertinent safety topics are addressed. Monthly meetings are backed up and informed by additional weekly staff meetings within each department.

Safety culture at Evergreen starts at the top, and filters down to each individual member of the district. The consistency and thoroughness with which safety measures are addressed and applied have attributed to the uniformity of the district’s safety culture in general.

CSD Pool Member Partnership and Resources

Evergreen also uses Safety Loss & Prevention Grant resources to support their safety program, keeping an eye on allocated funds to prioritize the equipment most in need.

“[We] frequently leverage CSD resources to our benefit,” says Devaney.

The district has also incorporated strategies offered at a recent CSD Pool seminar in their daily undertakings. After attending the Organizational Strategic Decision Making seminar in 2019, Evergreen consistently applied these risk management mindsets to their planning and preparations for the district, using these guidelines to inform any upcoming undertaking.

“Leveraging that asset that we have with the CSD Pool has been huge, not only for actual trainings but for compliance and awareness,” notes Devaney.

District management and staff also make use of the safety training courses found on Vector Solutions’ training site, making sure each employee utilizes those resources at hand.

Evergreen works closely with the Pool’s Safety Management Consultant, Adam Johnsen, to conduct onsite classes specific to the district needs, most recently including trainings on the topics of Confined Space and CDOT Flagger guidelines.

“I always enjoy making a trip out to Evergreen Metro to conduct training because their team is a lot of fun to work with, and they are always ready for some training to help their team be safer,” says Johnsen.

In addition, Evergreen has shared feedback helpful to establishing safety protocols for others, generously sharing resources with the CSD Pool. Updates made to CSD Pool resources based on this shared feedback include improvements to the standard operating procedures on managing sewer overflows and water main breaks.

In each risk management decision, discussions around safety are specifically managed with an eye toward developing a cohesive safety culture districtwide. This starts with safety training targeting the onboarding of new employees and culminates in the monthly safety committee meetings which determine the guidelines implemented by each department.

Safety Challenges for 2021

One of the year’s biggest challenges for Evergreen has been keeping operations running smoothly and safely while managing some truly massive projects, including installing a new high service pump station and constructing an activated sludge basin. Both projects have involved a great deal of oversight and investment, costing the district three and six million dollars respectively.

Developing and maintaining a consistent safety culture has been key in supporting the district’s operations and procedures throughout these busy times.

“Making sure every employee goes home safe and sound every night is a priority,” says Devaney.

And as with other districts, Covid-19 has offered a major safety hurdle over the past year. Keeping necessary operations running while also keeping personnel safe has been no mean feat. But as a result of Evergreen’s consistent safety culture and organization, the district has maintained operations smoothly throughout this global crisis.

“As a result of scheduling and training awareness, use of PPE, [we] never had an outbreak of Covid that has caused us to shut down, or majorly effect operations,” says Dave Lighthart, General Manager for the district.

Safety Goals for the Future

Fostering consistent and clear communication is one of the main tenants of Evergreen’s safety program.

“You gotta stay engaged, the further apart your crews have to work, the more important communication is. You can’t just assume someone’s okay just because you don’t hear from them,” says Lighthart.

To further this goal, one of the district’s future safety improvements includes improved audio protection and communication devices for the jetting crew, whose role is to clean and maintain the wastewater lines, while checking for and clearing any blockage and addressing leaks. Maintaining consistent and clear communication is an important part of coordinating this key role.

In addition to communications improvements, Evergreen also has an eye to developing driver safety, hoping to participate in the SKIDTRUCK driver training program in future.

Maintaining a Successful Safety Culture

When asked why they’re successful in maintaining their safety culture, Evergreen attributes their progress to an awareness mindset, clear communication, and a culture of caring.

“We try to maintain good communication between managers, supervisors and all the staff – make sure management is aware of any issues, [so that] they get addressed before they become big issues,” says Lighthart.

Procedures are examined and reviewed after any safety mishap in order to prevent similar mistakes from occurring in the future. Every employee, from staff to management, is empowered to speak out to improve the district’s safety culture. Staff is entrusted to independently address potential safety concerns waiting to happen, and because of the district’s proactive approach to safety, safety incidents have been slight, for the most part.

“[It’s important to] really actively listen to employees and know what’s going on in a situation,” says Devaney.

In addition to active listening, the district offers an Employee Assistance Program administered by two different providers. The program is open to all staff and regularly utilized by employees.

Management is also intentional in supporting each employee’s mental health, checking in with staff to ensure workloads are balanced and problems addressed.

But when it comes to maintaining a consistent safety culture, focusing on a culture of caring will ultimately make the most difference in preventing costly incidents.

“We’re a small district, working tightly with each other – we’re very family oriented,” says Devaney.

Focusing on people over problems can bring safety measures into perspective, and result in a renewed dedication to the district’s safety program.

The bottom line is good safety is all about developing a culture of caring, with a focus on the people involved.

“Remembering your staff is your number one asset. That’s a big one…Your staff and personnel are your number one investment and asset,” says Devaney.

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