Investing in safety

Features - Employee Training

OC Waste & Recycling in California prioritizes landfill safety through the development of a digital management system.

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September 9, 2021

Photo Credit: OC Waste & Recycling

For OC Waste & Recycling (OCWR)—which oversees the solid waste disposal needs of 34 cities and 16 unincorporated areas throughout Orange County, California—ensuring the safety and health of the community, as well as the agency’s employees, is a top priority.

Over the last few years, the county has put an emphasis on utilizing modern management techniques to better regulate the county’s three active landfills: the Olinda Alpha Landfill near Brea, the Frank R. Bowerman Landfill near Irvine and the Prima Deshecha Landfill next to San Juan Capistrano.

These efforts have translated into the creation of an online safety management system, known as OC Safety, to document and track details related to safety, including audits, training, inspections, near misses, and the reporting of incidents and injuries.

“[OC Safety] was developed in partnership between the OC Waste & Recycling agency and the county’s IT department,” says Jordan Young, safety culture manager for OCWR. “What it does is it allows us to easily and efficiently track all the details that we need to with regard to these inspections, audits and incidents, and do it in a consistent way that provides transparency and accountability.”

The first prototype of OC Safety was originally developed internally by landfill staff with prior safety and technical knowledge, says Young. Once the agency caught wind of the rudimentary program and recognized the value of having a digital safety management system, it soon began to invest in the development of a more formal program.

“We started developing [the program] back in 2016,” says Tom Koutroulis, director for OCWR. “As it was being developed, we wanted to incorporate a lot of the safety-related information to provide analysis as to how we are managing operations for not only our employees, but also as it related to the public and contractors that were coming in.

“OC Safety is really a tool for our employees to take advantage of [to improve] safety at the sites. Our industry is ranked one of the sixth [most dangerous] industries, so, knowing that … we see this as a step in the right direction for us to provide a safer working environment for our employees and those that frequent the landfill.”

SIMPLIFYING OPERATIONS

 

With the responsibility of managing more than 4 million tons of solid waste from over 3 million residents and businesses across the county, OCWR’s three landfills are among the largest in the state. Given the scale of the county’s operations, Young says keeping track of records and documentation prior to the development of OC Safety was a challenge.

“Anyone from the waste industry can understand that when you have more than one landfill or more than one facility, you have various employees working in different locations,” he says. “Before we had the web-based system, we were looking at paper documents and had to make sure those were getting reviewed and that we kept a good record of them.

“OC Safety took us from the days of papers and snail mail and days and days between submitting a form and having that recorded or verified to all those things happening instantly.”

Now, landfill supervisors can file inspection reports via phone or tablet application. Within the system, Young says users can document the location, report any findings and include a picture. These details are then uploaded directly to the electronic system, which can be routed to other required reviewers to incorporate feedback or edits.

Depending on what type of incident report or form is created, the system will notify the correct personnel through a series of distribution lists.

“The system will automatically notify the people who need to be notified, whether it be a landfill superintendent, a landfill manager or the safety manager,” says Young. “That’s a big benefit for the agency when it comes to completing inspections. As soon as the tablet hits connectivity or is plugged back in at the office, the results of the inspection are distributed to the person who is responsible for following up on any issues.”

“OC Safety took us from the days of papers and snail mail and days and days between submitting a form and having that recorded or verified to all those things happening instantly.” – Jordan Young, safety culture manager, OCWR

Supervisors can also run reports and trend analysis rather than having to manually enter data into spreadsheets, which has simplified the process of identifying areas for improvement.

“When we look at the incidents and accidents that are happening on an individual case by case basis, we always identify the root cause in order to implement effective corrective actions,” says Young. “But when you take a step back and you look at the data or trend analysis, you can learn more about what’s happening in the organization and which areas of our safety program need more focus.”

This practice has been particularly effective in the event of near misses, where trend analysis gives supervisors the opportunity to identify hazards and find solutions.

“OC Safety gives us a tool to identify issues and track who did the investigation, what solutions were identified and the status on the implementation of those solutions,” says Young. “And before anything can be closed out, it has to be field verified. So, whether it’s the safety representative or a supervisor, someone goes out to the field and documents that is has been effectively implemented.”

GETTING FAMILIAR

Since its launch in 2020, OC Safety has been adopted by half of the county’s agencies and is projected to be running in all 22 of them later this year. To facilitate the widespread rollout, OCWR developed a class for supervisors to help transition them from paper reporting to utilizing the web platform.

“Each field supervisor goes through a class called Supervisor Safety Training. So, essentially whenever someone is promoted to a new supervisory position, we walk them through traditional safety training to help them understand and become familiar with their new roles and responsibilities with regards to safety,” says Young. “We also cover documentation and record-keeping practices, and that’s where we give them an introduction into the system, how it works and how to utilize that.”

In addition, the agency uses a process where they will partner a newer employee with a more experienced employee to practice performing facility safety inspections.

By automating the documentation of OCWR’s safety-related inspections, Koutroulis says the agency has seen a decrease in incidents. However, he notes the most important area of improvement has been in overall safety culture.

“Our industry is driven by its people,” he says. “You can have the best piece of equipment; you can have a state-of-the-art facility, but if you don’t have the right mindset and the right people in place, you’re going to be faced with these challenges. So, what we’ve tried to do is identify our opportunities with our team so they can use these tools to further improve upon our safety culture and demonstrate that we care enough to invest in this.

“Their use and efforts of following the process and implementing the near-miss program demonstrates their level of care and engagement. For us, it’s sort of a way of identifying the benefit of having that level of engagement and empowering your employees to take control and ownership of their own safety.”

The author is the assistant editor of Waste Today and can be reached at hrischar@gie.net.