Safety culture meets VOSH ETS: How the Bedford Regional Water Authority implemented new standards

By VRSA Senior Safety Consultant Edward Shelton

Many organizations seek to build a safety culture.  The goal, of course, is to provide employees with the tools, resources, training, and supervision needed to ensure they can safely and effectively perform their jobs. This helps them provide valued and necessary services to citizens and customers.

At the Bedford Regional Water Authority (BRWA), building a safety culture is far more than a slogan.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created the necessity to change the way we go about our work, the BRWA has continued its dedication to employee safety and health.

Because of the nature of the work, and in compliance with the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) VOSH COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), the BRWA developed a means to electronically pre-screen employees prior to entering the workplace, as well as a means to simplify the process and remind employees to complete the pre-screening prior to starting their shift.

Utilizing Google forms, BRWA Marketing Communications Specialist Cody Lawhorn developed an electronic means for employees to conduct daily pre-screening through employee smartphones.  Additionally, Lawhorn provided a QR code on the entry doors of all BRWA facilities for employees to simply scan in order to access the pre-screening form.  This serves as a reminder for each employee prior to starting their shift.

Supervisors can verify that employees on shift have submitted their screening at the touch of a button, providing a verification step for the BRWA to ensure that employees are not only self-monitoring, but are not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 while at the workplace.

“The process of putting together our complete program was an administration team approach,” said BRWA Safety Coordinator Darryl Burks. “The first step was informing our employees of the ETS, sending the standard out to everyone with mandatory implementation of face coverings and social distancing.”

From there, the authority utilized the VOSH ETS training template by VRSA, customized with their policies, and provided this training to employees.

Of course, complying with one standard is not the mark of a culture of safety. 

The BRWA is going above and beyond with the development and implementation of an employee-led safety committee helmed by Burks.  In working with all levels of employees, the safety committee started from the ground up building the organization’s safety mission and focus on workplace safety measures.

“We support our mission by providing quality service in a safe environment,” said BRWA Human Resources Manager Melissa Meador. “The mission of this safety committee is to actively promote a healthy and safe work environment for all employees and our community in all aspects of water and wastewater treatment within the BRWA by way of education, communication and safe work practices.”

Actions speak much louder than words.   Even in this time of COVID-19 protections, the BRWA hosted a physically distanced OSHA 10 Hour Construction Course at their Smith Mountain Lake Water Treatment Facility.  This class was facilitated by VRSA Senior Safety Consultants Eddie Shelton and Vinny Gallo.

“To us, safety is never an option, it is a necessity,” said BRWA Director of Administration Megan Aubrey.  “COVID has tested our flexibility and creativity in problem-solving and figuring out the best way to implement new safety measures, as well as coming up with creative ideas for implementation of trainings.”

With the OSHA 10 course, the BRWA has shown that flexibility, creativity, and effective planning can allow for an organization to continue building a culture of safety, even while operating in the COVID-19 environment.  It further demonstrates the dedication to safety in that attendees of this course consisted of front-line employees, supervisors, and managers.

A culture of safety is not built on one person. 

It is built throughout an organization from the director level all the way down to the employee who was just hired.

“We didn’t put safety on the shoulders of one person,” said Aubrey.

When building a culture around safety, every employee needs to be empowered to understand; be trained in; and speak up in matters involving employee safety and health.  The BRWA provides this opportunity through their safety committee, as well as training offerings that go above and beyond OSHA and VOSH minimum standards.

Many people look at safety in terms of cost.  When building an organization focused on safety, risk management becomes an investment.

Sure, there are actual financial costs to safety; however, there are financial costs for failure to provide a safe and healthy work environment.

Yes, conducting classes does remove personnel from the field for the duration of the class.  However, risk management and safety is not about cost… it is about investing in your organization’s future.

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) reports that investing in safety: creates a positive public image; prevents financial costs involved with regulatory agencies (VOSH, DEQ, etc.); results in a reduction in workers’ compensation over time; and increases the morale of employees.

From a dollars and cents standpoint, ASSE reports that for every dollar effectively invested into safety, organizations will save $4 – $6 in the long term.  The BRWA fully understands that building a culture of safety is no accident; it is a long-term, strategic investment in the safety and health of employees.

Two of VRSA’s senior safety consultants previously worked for VOSH, allowing VRSA members to draw on their experience for understanding of these new regulations – as well as the VOSH inspection process. Since the standard was announced, staff have presented several webinars, hosted regional and entity-specific roundtable discussions, developed programs and training templates, and provided consulting to assist members in implementing the standard.

For more information on how VRSA’s staff can assist your organization with the VOSH ETS, contact your VRSA Risk Services Safety Consultant.