Safety Is A Two-Way Street

Maybe some of you are old enough to remember the days when there were no car seats. Certainly no booster seats. You could just free-wheel it in the trunk of your parents’ Volkswagen with your siblings and make faces at the cars behind you. It’s not that your parents didn’t want what’s best for you—I mean, they did make you wear a seatbelt (sometimes). They were just doing whatever everyone else in the country was doing, because, back then, it wasn’t even state law for children to ride in a car seat. All states didn’t adopt that law until 1985. But now, as experts learn more about automobile safety, requirements are increasing across the country.

Twenty-one years ago, when Dan Hughes, one of our Federal Solutions safety directors, first started with Parsons, things were a little looser here too. Safety wasn’t a core value—our core values weren’t even a “thing” back then—and all that was required of companies like ours was that we be in compliance with OSHA. Of course we made sure we followed those guidelines to the letter, but compliance meant something different on every project.

The first big shift occurred when Jim McNulty was CEO. Tragically, we had a significant incident at a facility project that resulted in a loss of life. After that incident, Dan says, “Jim said he didn’t care what the contract called for, he wanted a safety manager at each of the six construction sites across the country where we were doing these web-hosting facilities.” Thus began our people-first safety culture that drew Dan in, that emphasis we still have today on “Hey, you’re important. I want to make sure you don’t get hurt today. Please watch out for me too.”

Our next big milestone was the introduction of SHARP—our Safety, Health, and Risk Program (which evolved into ESHARP, to include “environment”). This document standardized our safety approach across all projects, and with it, a new standard was set that pushed back at the industry’s status quo, putting Parsons on the map as a world leader in safety. Now, not only was our culture about people first from a leadership perspective, but it became about every employee embracing safety as a core value, a shared commitment to safety both at work and at home.

Dan says our insistence on holding everyone accountable for following the principles outlined in ESHARP has led to some of our biggest successes, like being the first company to earn OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) status—not once, but twice. VPP status is reserved for employers with effective safety and health management systems that maintain injury and illness rates below national averages for their industry.

Shockingly, in our industry, fatalities have often been built into a project’s budget. Death is an accepted part of the job. But we decided that was unacceptable.

So in 2017, we implemented our OWN ZERO program to further protect the quality of life for all stakeholders, drive employee safety ownership, and strengthen our risk-exposure controls. Our goal is to embed an OWN ZERO philosophy in everything we do. As part of our commitment to OWN ZERO, we introduced an improved life-changing event (LCE) review system to better analyze incidents that either actually cause or have the potential to cause a serious work-related injury or illness.

Dan talks about a project called Home Station Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), for which he was the safety manager, as one of the highlights of his career. Parsons delivered 32 construction projects on military bases along the East and West coasts, Hawaii, and Okinawa for the Marine Corps over a period of five-and-a-half years without a lost-time injury. The work required the use of dangerous machinery—from heavy equipment to cranes to front-end loaders to dump trucks—resulting in a challenging safety environment. We even built a MOUT facility inside a 55,000-square-foot warehouse completely enclosed at Camp Lejeune. To control safety on the project, the project team, with Dan’s guidance, wrote a comprehensive safety plan for all project sites. We had a safety and health officer stationed at every site. All contractors were vetted. We had daily meetings and tailgate meetings. We implemented the Take 5 process on every task, which is a checklist and Q&A that all staff working on a project site must answer before beginning work to ensure that they are prepared to work safely. We had quality control working alongside us, and Dan was only a phone call away, if he wasn’t already on-site.

It’s these kind of practices, along with our OWN ZERO safety culture, that earned us the Robert W. Campbell Award from the National Safety Council in 2019—one of fewer than 20 companies in the country to win the award. The international award honors companies that achieve business excellence through the integration of environment, health, and safety management as a key business value. Dan says it’s wins like these that “tell our competitors if we want to emulate someone, we want to emulate Parsons; we want to do what they’re doing.”

Dan, who’s retiring this month, says what he’ll miss most about Parsons is that we’re one big family and that, as a family, we’ve committed to keeping each other safe at work, at home, and in our communities. We’re not the kids in the trunk of the Volkswagen anymore, goofing around. We’ve not only evolved with the times, but we’ve taken the driver’s seat—going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to safety. With Parsons at the wheel, you’re wearing a seatbelt, a helmet, and you’ll be in that booster seat until your braces come off.

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