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As the Safety Program Manager for the San Bernardino, California Municipal Water Department, Jon Turnipseed is responsible for department risk management functions, including safety, health, homeland security, liability and property insurance, liability claims, loss prevention and litigation. He also ensures that the department complies with federal and state OSHA regulations. In this interview, Turnipseed explains how safety, health and environmental (SH&E) practices are successfully integrated into the Water Department's operations and training.

You recently testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee Subcomittee on Workforce Protections regarding two proposed bills in the Safety Advancement for Employees (SAFE) Act of 2004. These bills, which include the formation of a third-party independent audit program and an evaluation program that is separate from OSHA, hope to encourage employers to establish proactive safety and health measures.

If the bills are passed, how quickly will their provisions be implemented? Also, what is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) view of these bills?

The speed with which the bills' provisions will be implemented depends on the final version of the bills. Some bills take effect quickly while others take longer, but normally, bills that pass take effect within one year.

OSHA cannot comment on pending litigation, but I believe that the majority of the OSHA staff agrees with these bills.

On May 17, 2005, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) laid off 167 employees and eliminated its safety and health department.

How do you think this decision will affect safety and health departments at the national level?

Anytime we lose safety and health staff, it hurts overall. I feel that the AFL-CIO's decision to lay off its employees and to eliminate its safety and health department could potentially have a significant affect nationwide.

Why do you believe so many companies and organizations continue to cut back on SH&E programs?

I believe that two factors are involved. First, current corporate trends tend to favor leaner organizations. Second, changes in the SH&E career field lead to cutbacks. Many companies are reducing their full-time staff and training more employees to do safety as a part of their primary job. This is a difficult issue because companies at the same time must retain a few well-qualified and experienced full-time safety staff to train the part-time employees and to keep up with the constant regulatory changes.

The engineering and administrative staff at the San Bernardino Municipal Water Department recently completed several projects to further improve its Enhanced Reliability Plan. Please explain what the Enhanced Reliability Plan is and what these improvement projects included.

The Enhanced Reliability Plan involves updating water system infrastructure to keep up with the city's changing needs and technology. For example, old water mains and towers are replaced under the plan. We recently installed a new ten million-gallon water reservoir as well as 50 miles of new pipe in San Bernardino. We incorporate SH&E practices when planning these types of projects to address any safety concerns in the planning phase before beginning the work. We also factor procedures like trenching and staffing levels into the process to make sure that we have the necessary resources before we begin a particular project. Homeland security is included in the process as well to ensure that the drinking water supply is safe. Each water purveyor must complete a vulnerability assessment to determine if any security enhancements need to be made.

What do you believe motivates SH&E practices within the Water Department?

Personal responsibility motivates SH&E practices within our Water Department, and everyone here takes their job very seriously. We focus on educating our staff, not just training them, which also helps to motivate SH&E practices. We educate our staff so that they are able to make their own decisions on safety items and know to call for help when they find something unusual or questionable. They know that it is their right to go home safe at the end of the day.

How are SH&E practices maintained in each of the water utility departments?

Our online safety manual is updated regularly based on changing laws and technologies. An electronic document management system is installed on all of our computers, which allows us to easily make changes to the manual. Each utility division also retains its own hardcopy version of the manual for a backup reference. By keeping our safety manual current, consistent and accessible, we can ensure that SH&E practices are maintained in all areas of our Water Department.

What kinds of SH&E staffing and resources does the Water Department currently have?

I am the manager who keeps our SH&E program up-to-date . One staff member specializes in hazardous material and safety training, and the other two staff members focus on accident investigations and on keeping up with the “tons” of required paperwork . We also work with outside consultants and occasionally trainers for teaching specialty subjects to our employees.

How does the Water Department pass savings along to its customers without sacrificing water quality?

It is a concerted effort by our employees. They know that they are stewards of the public's money. When allocating funds for equipment or training, we always ask ourselves if our actions will enhance value for our customers. It is a balancing act between treating our employees and customers equitably and ethically and providing them both with the best resources. We feel that it is never a good idea to spend money just because you can or want to—you should spend money purposefully and with everyone's best interests in mind.

Our customers pay less for water because we do not import it. Southern California is very dry, and many cities import their water from other locations. San Bernardino, however, has many major faults in the earth that trap water from the mountains, so we do not need to rely on expensive imported water.

As Safety Program Manager, how do you ensure that the Water Department complies with state and federal OSHA regulations?

It can be challenging, but I make sure to stay abreast of the latest information and changes. I use the Internet as a resource, and I network with other ASSE members. Additionally, working closely with OSHA (both state and federal), the National Government Affairs Committee and the California Government Affairs Committee on pending legislation and regulations helps me to ensure that we are compliant with the changes. The Water Department's goal is to go beyond basic OSHA compliance to provide the best programs for our staff and customers.

What kinds of training programs does the Water Department use to train its employees?

We primarily use classroom and hands-on field training to train our employees. Our employees are not comfortable with online training, so we do not use that method . We have learned that they react more effectively with live instructors. For example, we offer a driver training course that teaches employees how to drive safely, yet defensively, in our department vehicles. After the classroom introduction, employees spend a few hours driving with the instructor to demonstrate that they understand how to properly operate and safely maneuver the vehicle.

As Safety Program Manager at the Water Department, you reduced workers' compensation losses by $540,000 over a four -year period. How did you accomplish this?

When I first joined the Water Department nine years ago, they offered minimal employee safety training. Also, if employees were sick or injured, they were automatically granted several days off. I felt that we needed an enhanced training program that reduced injuries, so I started a program that would assess employees' illnesses or injuries and then give them the chance to return to work in a temporary “light-duty” position. By bringing them back to a job that they could perform, we found that employees recovered much more quickly and were able to return to their customary positions in a shorter period of time. Their mobility and flexibility also increased.

This enhanced training program and light-duty program helped to reduce our workers' compensation losses because we did not have to pay out as much for lost time, medical expenses and disabilities. Mo st importantly, it improved the health and well-being of our employees.

You also work part-time as a safety consultant, and you assist clients with OSHA, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulatory program compliance. What is the most important piece of advice you give to your clients that may be helpful to our members?

I always tell my clients to respect their employees and staff, especially in larger organizations with a distinct hierarchy. I stress that everyone's job is important.

Clients should also make sure that employee training programs are not insulting. Most employees are intelligent working adults, and if you treat them like children, they will act like children.

Biography

Jon Turnipseed is the Safety Program Manager for the San Bernardino, California Municipal Water Department. He is responsible for department risk management functions, including safety, health, homeland security, liability and property insurance, liability claims, loss prevention and litigation. Turnipseed also ensures that the department complies with federal and state OSHA regulations for such programs as construction, confined space entry, hearing conservation, fall prevention, bloodborne pathogens, machine guarding, fire prevention and detection, emergency response teams, ergonomics, right to know/hazard communications program, audits and inspections and accident investigation. In addition, he manages property and liability insurance programs.

Turnipseed occasionally works part-time as a safety consultant, and he a dvises and assists clients with OSHA, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulatory program compliance.

He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), a certified safety supervisor, a certified occupational hearing conservationist, a professional member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and a member of the American Water Works Association. He is also a founding member of the City of San Bernardino Terrorism Task Force.

Turnipseed holds a bachelor of business administration degree with a major in industrial relations from the University of Iowa and a master of science degree in industrial safety from Central Missouri State University.