Safety Office: Workplace safety equals team effort

Published May 8, 2020

by Vanessa Villarreal, USACE Chicago District, Public Affairs Office

Ensuring that employees have the safest work environment possible is key to what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Safety Office does. And, according to Pete Flanagan, Safety Office chief, the Corps of Engineers’ Safety and Occupational Health Management System (CESOHMS) establishes a frame­work of policy-making and functional audits to ensure its success.

“At the core of CESOHMS are five compe­tency objectives (COs) around which planning and program execution revolve,” Flanagan said. “As the local CESOHMS evolves, effective safety and oc­cupational health policies and procedures be­come more embedded in the workplace rou­tine. Consequently, acceptance of CESOHMS grows among employees who, in turn, take on a greater role in the success of the local safety program.”

Employees at all levels can contribute to the successful execution of CESOHMS. The Chicago District constantly seeks to fine tune policy and procedure to enhance workplace safety, and develop innovative ways to communicate program purpose and program suc­cesses.

“Mid-level management and front-line workers will be accepting more ownership of processes that help them stay safe on the job,” he said. “Through further refinements of CESOHMS and deeper integration of the process into daily workplace activities, employees will not only rest assured that they are safe, but will have an understanding of why they are safe.”

CESOHMS is constructed around five COs: CO #1 - Leadership Engagement and Personnel Participation; CO #2 - Mishap Reporting and Investigation; CO #3 - Safety Training and Promotion; CO #4 - In­spections and Assessments; and CO #5 - Hazard Analysis and Countermea­sures.

Each CO has a sub-element along with the district’s mechanism for achieving it.

One sub-element of CO #1 is the communication of strategic safety plans and objec­tives. This is achieved when annual safety goals are e-mailed directly to individual employees, indexed on the Safety Office intranet site, and posted to facility bulletin boards.

Also, safety and health roles and responsibilities are inte­grated into daily work practices. That’s done via position descriptions that identify specific safety and health responsibilities, and position hazard analyses that spell out safety and health responsibilities routinely required of the employee.

“Activity hazard analyses identify responsibilities unique to a particular assign­ment,” Flanagan said. “All documents are readily available to supervi­sors and employees.”

One sub-element of CO #2 is to ensure that mishap and near-miss causal factors are identified, reported, and tracked to allow for application of corrective action processes. In order to enhance the timeliness, consisten­cy, and accuracy of the district’s mishap inves­tigation and reporting process, a Mishap Investigation Team (MIT) was formed in 2018. Current team members are Flanagan and Brian Malone. They’re responsible for gathering factual data, interviewing mishap witnesses and victims, and completing and routing the ENG 3394 accident investigation report. In the past, those responsibilities be­longed to the victim’s supervisor.

“Report all mishaps that you are actually involved in, or witness, to your supervisor and the MIT in a timely manner,” Flanagan said. “Upon witnessing or suffering a mis­hap, it’s a good idea to take notes of the circumstanc­es while the event is still fresh in your mind.”

One sub-element of CO #3 is that safety training is incorporated into our planning, scheduling, resourcing, and records man­agement processes. Safety training requirements are fed into the district’s overall training plan. Employees should review their PHA periodically to ensure their training schedule is providing adequate and updated training.

A sub-element of CO #4 is that annual safety inspections are done at all facilities by the Safety Office and occupational health personnel. Results are then posted for review by employees.

CESHOMS relies heavily upon self-assess­ment to assure the quality of the district safety program. Self-assessment requires collab­oration among employees who actually have ownership of safety program elements directly affecting their daily activities.

“Having a vested interest in maintaining a safe work environment helps ward off the attitude that workplace safe­ty is ‘someone else’s job,’” Flanagan said. “As a result, safety innovation thrives while the cost and frequency of mishaps diminish.”

A sub-element of CO #5 is industrial hygiene surveys that are conducted to identify work health hazards like indoor air quality and sanitation.

“Analysis of workplace hazards is a team effort that involves employees at all levels of the or­ganization,” he said.

What you can do

Senior leaders should make safety a topic item at all leadership gatherings; conduct “walk arounds” to talk safety face to face with workers; attend topical safety presentations when possible; convey personal safety-related experiences; and provide feedback on safety infor­mation and education events.

Front-line workers should always be on the lookout for ways to do tasks in a safer manner; coach co-workers on safer work practices; join in on Safety Committee meet­ings and contribute ideas; be your own “safety officer”; be on the lookout for and report work­place safety hazards; and suggest topics for safety meetings and site safety briefings.

“CESOHMS is a program meant to serve every employee in the Corps of Engineers,” Flanagan said. “However, keeping up with all of CESOHMS’ policy requirements, documentation, checklists, and updates can be a daunting task. It’s not hard to figure out that even the best safety program is of little use if nobody can figure out how to use it.”

Tips and safety information can be found at:

“In the end, CESOHMS will guarantee that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers retains its long-standing reputation as a world leader in workplace safety,” he said.