The Districtâ€™s Health and Safety Team Is Watching Your Back
(As well as your eyes, heads, feet and arms) This team promotes the Caltrans Program to reduce on-the-job accidents, injuries, illness and absenteeism.
The District 7 Health and Safety team is fully staffed with veterans – civil service veterans, that is, with 101 years of combined state service.
Staffed with four Health and Safety Specialists: Junius Pierson, Linda Caldwell, Rick Harrison and Don Snowden, who together are responsible for the on-the-job health and safety issues of nearly 2,650 employees in District 7, which has the second largest workforce of Caltrans’ 12 districts statewide.
Caltrans District 7 is fortunate to have this dedicated team watching our backs. Their job – in a nutshell—is to raise the employee’s level of safety awareness so that they will maintain a safe and hazard-free workplace.
Their biggest customers are the district’s four maintenance regions, plus special crews. A checklist of some safety concerns include traffic control and flagging operations, personal protection and protective clothing, equipment and vehicle safety, and precautions in confined spaces. In maintenance field lingo, a ‘confined space’ is one where breathing, air and circulation may be restricted, such as in bridge cells, inspection portals, storm drains and pump houses. The Maintenance Division receives safety inspections most often and that takes up 70 percent to 80 percent of the team’s time in the field which is where, unfortunately, most employee accidents and injuries occur.
“The Department is concerned about you as a person. Our responsibility is the health and safety of our employees in and out of the office, says the Office of Safety and Health chief, Junius Pierson. The office is part of the Administration Division and business services unit. “We can accomplish this in many ways: with our district’s Wellness Center; by offering flu shots; blood drives and other health checks; crime prevention seminars; health walks; and emergency fire drills and evacuation plans.”
With 27 years of state service --10 with Caltrans -- Pierson’s previous background includes substance abuse rehabilitation programs, the Governor’s Department of Emergency Services and the Department of Housing and Community Development. In addition to overseeing staff work responsibilities, he also focuses on the importance of health and wellness for district employees. He has a special interest in helping promote the personal health and morale of employees, which, he says, reduces absenteeism. Pierson enjoys organizing in-house health seminars and guest speakers on various topics.
In 2004, the Department set a goal of reducing job injuries by 10 percent by the end of fiscal year 2008; the goal was exceeded by 1.76 percent. In 2008, District 7 showed the largest reduction in the state in the number of on-the-job injuries and incident rates: 37 percent decrease with 116 on-the-job injuries and incidents amongst its employees. Overall in 2008, there was a 7.7 percent decrease in the number of on-the-job injuries as compared to 2007.
Pierson says that this achievement can be attributed to a number of factors including increased field visits and reviews by the Health and Safety Specialists and a constant emphasis on safety training and work practices.
“Achieving this goal was a team effort between our health and safety officers and field staff, along with a conscientious commitment to apply safety standards and measures at the right moment while on the job,” says Pierson.
Linda Caldwell’s area of responsibility includes the north and south maintenance regions, as well as the Construction Division. Her 30 years of state service has been entirely with Caltrans: 11 years in the Office of Safety and Health; 11 years in maintenance and eight years in personnel. Of Caldwell’s many special projects, a favorite is to help organize the district’s community presence at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona. For several years, except in 2009 due to budget constraints, District 7 has staffed a booth and supplied hand-outs and information to people who visit the Caltrans display during the six-week event.
“Caltrans “Slow for the Cone Zone” message is strong and familiar and our work impacts the motoring public. The maintenance crews are Caltrans’ most visible asset and so it is important that they can talk to the visitors who stop by the booth and explain what they do,” says Caldwell. “Almost two million people attend the fair, so the public contact is invaluable. It’s good for employee morale and the public’s perception of Caltrans.”
Most recently, during October, a rash of fire storms broke out in two regions within the district. Caldwell, Harrison and Snowden all have been working on health and safety issues related to the recent fires around the district’s jurisdiction of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Maintenance crews work around the clock in many instances to close roads, clean debris, set up concrete barriers and assist other agencies such as fire departments, sheriff and forest rangers. In addition to clean up efforts, crews took precautions for forecasted rain which can initiate another problem of mudslides. These weather conditions are when safety specialists are assets to the worksite to ensure that staff is reminded that safety comes first.
In Harrison’s area of responsibility, the Ventura County fires that occurred last month mostly abutted State Route 23 in Fillmore and Moorpark. In the Angeles National Forest, Harrison, whose area includes the west maintenance region, and Snowden (east maintenance region and field surveyors) worked with crews during the aftermath of the Station Fire that caused damage to State Route 2 and Route 39.
“District 7 has all the weather elements and conditions that other Caltrans districts may have and more,” says Harrison. “Desert, forest, beaches, canyons, mountains and coastline. This district includes 42 freeways and highways, with two world-class ports and four major airports. We may not get a lot of snow, but we do have snow at a most critical point for interstate travel and commerce. District 7 has it all.”
Snowden knows first-hand that safety is Caltrans’ number one priority, as he personally was injured on-the job years ago while working in a maintenance roadside closure. A motorist smashed through two barriers, hitting a Caltrans vehicle and Caltrans workers, among them, Snowden.
“We want everyone to take the time to be safe,” he says. “We want you to go home in the same condition that you came to work.”