Regulations & EHS&S

Achieving excellence in workplace health and safety

By Kevin Kitchen, U.S. Water’s Manager of Environmental, Health & Safety

Earlier this year, two of U.S. Water’s facilities in Minnesota, USA, were recognised for excellence in workplace health and safe

Earlier this year, two of U.S. Water’s facilities in Minnesota, USA, were recognised for excellence in workplace health and safety during the 2017 Governor’s Safety Awards ceremony in Minneapolis. Chemicals Knowledge spoke to Kevin Kitchen, U.S. Water’s Manager of Environmental, Health & Safety, to congratulate him on the award, and to talk about the safety culture at U.S. Water that led to this achievement.
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Q: What are the main health and safety challenges for people working in the water treatment industry?
Our biggest challenge is helping our employees embed safety into their everyday lives, rather than just behaving safely at work.  Our message to employees, and our everyday goal, is to ensure that every employee returns home at the end of the day, in the same condition in which they arrived to work.  We know that our employees want to be safe, and we try to encourage them to open their eyes and minds to acknowledge, report and mitigate risks with the same tenacity as when “baby-proofing” their home for a newly mobile baby. We empower all of our employees to stop work if they feel unsafe, and not to resume until all involved are comfortable, and all risks identified in the job hazard analysis mitigated.
Risks in the water treatment industry include complacency, variability in safety demands of each site or client, and driving safety.  In our company, we have more than 200 delivery, sales and technician employees, on the road every day across the country, collectively averaging 7 million miles each year.
The daily challenges of the job vary by region, role, and customer, but in general can include anything from excessive noise to working with hazardous chemicals and gasses.  With specific regard to the governor’s award, the facilities awarded were two of our production facilities in Minnesota and the risks at these locations include noise, hazardous chemicals, lifting and other manual operations. 
Q: The Governor’s Awards are based on a comparison of your injury data with the industry’s national statistics. How did your facilities compare with the national average, according to that analysis?
Since these were facility specific awards, and each facility compared individually, the awards were given based on their zero-recordable injury status.  Industry average TRIR’s, by NAICS code classification, of the most relevant to our areas of business include:
  • Other Chemical Manufacturing (Cambridge) 1.7
  • Engineering Services (Plymouth) 0.7
  • Chemical Manufacturing 2.0.
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Q: The Awards are also based on the implementation of a comprehensive safety program. Can you tell us more about U.S. Water’s safety program?
U.S. Water has been building a comprehensive, behavior-based program for many years, and is ever changing to accommodate the risks and industry demands.  Some of the main components of our safety program include a proactive approach to risk identification and correction, personal ownership of safety, easily accessible tools and resources, and visible engagement by top management.
One of the ways we engage top management in safety is encouraging them to get into the field. While they are out there actually seeing the daily challenges, we ask them to complete a safety observation form.  This form guides a person through looking for risk, and identifying follow up opportunities, both for the employee as well as the safety department and top management.   
In addition to the safety observation form, we have voluntary safety improvement teams, comprised of all levels of employees, at each location, led by the employees, who help to promote safety locally on the topics that are most relevant.  These teams share their efforts with one another across the organization, and collaborate on solutions.  They also hold safety themed events, and send communications to the organization to ensure effective communication of safety topics.  In addition, we have a number of safety related communications that happen regularly, including a summary that goes to executive management, articles on general safety tips and guidance to employees, and learning moments which communicate risks identified through either a good catch program, near miss report, or an injury.  These communications help everyone across the organization to identify and mitigate any similar risks if they exist.
Q: How do you judge/audit the success of your safety program internally, to make sure it is working or identify areas that need improvement?
We have many tools for identifying risks and actions taken to address those risks, and our success is measured by the use of these tools.  We measure the leading indicators that show engagement, along with proactive actions to identify and correct.  Our hope is that as we see an increase in these behaviours, we will also see a reduction in overall injures as well as the severity of injuries.
Q: Have any recent new/changes in regulations in the water treatment industry influenced your practices, in terms of health and safety?
Regulations are ever-changing.  Because of that, we keep abreast of any changes and we are committed to continuous improvement.
Delivery of hazardous materials is a significant component of water treatment.  Historically, we’ve always taken a proactive approach with DOT regulations.  Prior to official enactment of DOT changes in recent past, we worked in conjunction with the DOT to implement positive change. These changes impacted our hiring and training process with our delivery drivers. In addition, our transportation team installed ELD (electronic logging data) systems in our delivery trucks years before regulations changed.
Not only do regulations influence our practices, but our customers are also influencing us.  Many of our customers are placing much greater emphasis on the safety performance of a contractor.  These customers are performing in-depth reviews of our company’s safety program beyond just incident rates.  These in-depth reviews look for the existence of certain programs, metrics, and the safety program’s identification of leading indicators as well as the existence of proactive reporting such as a good catch system.  We have nearly 150 customers setting their own expectations and measuring our safety performance as a company against those expectations, just to be considered for business.
Q: Your focus clearly extends beyond personal safety, but also encompasses environmental issues with an offering of environmentally-friendly technological solutions to water management. What are the main factors driving this part of your business?
The regulatory landscape at the federal, state and local levels is dynamic and ever-changing.  It involves matters not only of the chemical composition of plant effluents, but also the consumption of fresh water resources.  Making sure that our customers have solutions that support their sustainability and environmental goals is core to our technology development efforts.  They are the drivers of advances in water reuse that not only reduce the volume of effluent waters, but at the same time, reduce the demand for increasingly scarce and costly fresh water.  These emerging technologies are a story of waste to value creation. 
Complementing that is the development of greener chemistries.  A good example is our PhosZero cooling water treatment.  This chemistry enables our customers to achieve technical results with respect to corrosion control and keeping heat transfer surfaces clean, without traditional phosphorus-based molecules that, when discharged, lead to the degradation of water qualities in downstream bodies of water. Dealing with these issues has been in the DNA of our organization from its foundation.  We look holistically at the problem, and integrate chemistry, equipment, engineering, and service to achieve the best overall result at the lowest total cost.
Interview with:
Kevin Kitchen, Manager of Environmental, Health & Safety at U.S. Water, 12270 43rd Street NE, St Michael, MN 55376, USA
T: +1 866 663 7633