City is SHARP on safety

City employees were honored with SHARP recognition, given for excelling in safety, at the Keizer City Council meeting October 7.

When Keizer’s director of human resources, Machell DePina, called OSHA – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – to find out if the city might qualify as a Safety Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) honoree, OSHA administrators were skeptical. 

No city had ever managed to pull off such a feat, some didn’t even get past signing off on an attempt. DePina said … bring it on. 

“OSHA had certified departments of some cities, but never a whole municipality. As soon as they understood that we were already under the averages for workplace injuries, OSHA started taking us more seriously,” DePina said. 

At the Keizer City Council meeting Monday, Oct. 7, the city received its official certification as a SHARP organization. In addition, city staff received a League of Oregon Cities award recognizing that no Keizer employee had lost work as the result of a workplace injury in the previous year. 

Keizer had a couple of other things working in its favor. Some of the jobs considered to be the most potentially hazardous, like sewer maintenance and firefighting, are not part of the city’s services. The Keizer Fire District is a separate entity and Keizer pays Salem to maintain sewers. 

Those unique aspects of the city helped, but qualifying for the SHARP designation required throwing open the doors of the city to OSHA inspectors looking at everything health- and safety-related. That included all property owned by the city from the Keizer Civic Center to the Keizer Police Station to water pump houses and parks located throughout the city. 

“We had to be okay with them to come and look at everything, and also to talk to anybody they want to talk to as they’re walking around,” DePina said. 

After the safety inspection, DePina and a throng of city employees working on specific committees got back to work. 

On the city side of things, the inspection resulted in a variety of small improvements, such as signs warning against opening doors too quickly. Others required breaking out tools. 

“We had to anchor a lot of shelving throughout the civic center to protect in case of an earthquake. We had a few containers that needed better labeling. I also assisted the park guys with a couple of things,” said Dan Collingham, maintenance manager for the Keizer Civic Center. 

The city had to install eyewash stations in several pump houses and replace others in the Keizer Police Department (KPD). 

Lt. Trevor Wenning oversees safety at KPD and already knew the eyewash stations were a problem. 

“We had to use an additive in the old wash stations and it reacted with some of the other things we already knew were in Keizer water. After 30 days or so, you could shine a light down the nozzle and it looked like someone had blown their nose into it,” Wenning said. 

After clearing the safety hurdles, a health inspector judged the city on a different set of criteria. In both the police and city services, the largest hurdle was getting anyone who uses a respirator certified to do so. 

“Whenever you have to wear a full respirator, you have to be certified by a doctor because there are elements in the cartridges that can cause allergic reactions,” said Pat Taylor, public works water division manager. 

That was a smaller task for public works as only a few employees need to use respirators as part of their duties, but it meant nearly every Keizer police officer had to complete a questionnaire that was then reviewed by a doctor. 

“It’s smell-related with the police, it has to do with when we encounter dead bodies,” said Wenning. 

In the end, the punch-list was so small that OSHA couldn’t deny Keizer was a SHARP city. 

“I’d say one of the bigger challenges was translating OSHA-speak to our operations. It required knowing when we were required to do something it might affect several different types of employees,” said Tammie Harms, Keizer legal assistant. Harms spearheaded updating policy and procedure manuals.

What DePina still doesn’t know is if the extra effort will translate into insurance cost savings in addition to bragging rights. 

“Because we’re the first city to be certified, we don’t know how it will affect insurance. But that’s going to be interesting,” DePina said. 

It could also make Keizer city jobs more appealing to those looking for the safest possible environment. 

Even if bragging rights are the main pay-off in the short-term, DePina said the effort was a demonstration of city employees being willing to work together to achieve a common goal. 

“I don’t know if this would have been possible if we hadn’t had the assistance of all the employees and the management and everybody being so cooperative, willing to fix things and implement changes,” DePina said.