Europe District claims 2012 division safety award

Published April 5, 2013
WIESBADEN, Germany – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District boasted the top safety record, practices and procedures in all of North Atlantic Division last year.

The district was recognized for its “creative, effective and tireless efforts” to save lives and families within a broad and varied area of responsibility, according to a citation received in the fiscal year 2012 USACE Chief of Engineers Awards for Safe Performance. Brig. Gen. Kent Savre, the division commander, is expected to present the award during his visit here in mid-April.

Col. Peter Helmlinger, the Europe District commander, credits a proactive emphasis on training, inspections and management for building a workforce that’s among the safest and highest-performing in USACE. The district wrapped up a fourth straight year with no contractor fatalities or permanent disabilities.

“Safety is integral to taking care of people, partners and projects,” Helmlinger wrote in the nomination packet, referring to his three command priorities. “Whether educating and motivating our own, or guiding construction contractors in diverse nations, we strive to fulfill the mission with an attitude of Safety Always. … We strongly encourage our construction contractors to report all accidents, large or small, so that lessons learned can immediately be put in place.”

A “5th year of life,” as the citation reads – with zero fatalities, team accidents and recordable property losses – is even more remarkable considering it happened during construction of the new U.S. Army Europe headquarters complex at Wiesbaden’s Clay Kaserne, said Jonathan Bach, the district safety manager and industrial hygienist. It’s one of the largest facilities ever built by USACE in theater.

With 30 contractors and 300 workers on any given day, the intensely time-compressed project was managed by a safety-conscious team that reported every minor accident and near-miss, and it never had anything beyond that threshold, he added.

“I am glad that our hardworking team over here gets the recognition,” Bach said. “We have many examples of people who take safety seriously over here, but I especially think of the field office personnel. … It is an incredibly diverse and challenging place to build things -- so many nations with so many different cultures, and safety cultures. Some places have the same safety culture of the 1950s that my father worked in when he was a construction contractor. And then there are places far less advanced than that.

“Central Europe is quite advanced … but even they have some different ways of thinking in certain areas of safety. It's a different approach, not less protective, but different. There is no (standardized) safety list out there for the dozens of countries we work in. Our personnel simply adapt as we go to ensure equivalent protection.”

Europe District was lauded for a program known as the “3 Keys to the U.K. Toolbox,” which North Atlantic Division officials called a “practical and focused tool with proven lifesaving results.” After the 2008 death of a worker in Belgium, Bach said the district added three stipulations to USACE contracts: requiring a site safety and health officer with proper training, experience and results; enforcing a district-specified safety plan; and conducting routine task hazard analyses.

“The U.K. saves three times as many lives in construction as the United States or continental Europe,” he said. “The reason is that there is a very strong emphasis on leadership commitment, great worker training and effective project inspection. That became the basis for our three keys to safety.”

Division officials also praised Europe District for improvements in occupational safety and health for government employees, customers and the public in environmental, living and working conditions.

The district was active in awareness activities, which included widespread safety messages, campaigns, published articles in professional journals, conference speeches and community outreach programs, Bach said. Messages are routinely aimed at promoting best practices on the home front while preventing behavior such as drunken driving, cellphone use behind the wheel and not wearing seat belts.

Bach was 11 when his father died on a job site from chemical toxicity exposure, he said. In speaking engagements around Europe, the district safety manager shares the story of the workplace hazard that led to the death.

“I show some photos of my father up on a roof without fall protection, a photo with a happy family and a photo with a big red ‘X’ across my dad’s chest when I say that he died from a construction hazard. I then discuss a dozen deaths from Europe District’s work,” he said. “It hits home, and some of the students actually do change their attitude and perspectives about construction safety and health. So, my dad is actually still helping the Europe District construction mission today, alongside his son, to save lives.”

Because of the district’s consistent efforts and commitment by so many key players to safety and health, the citation stated, the productivity and well being of every individual working in its operational area was strongly enhanced. The agency’s positive impact on America’s overseas partners is substantial – “as teammates, business partners and ambassadors for peace,” it continued.

“Our extremely diverse footprint, with dozens of unique cultures and approaches to safety, requires every one of our experts in the field to live and breathe the motto on our hardhats, Safety equals Quality,” Helmlinger wrote. “It is not exaggerating to say that working with Europe District in such places can save a worker’s life and family, and play a real part in helping our nation’s partners emerge as world-class business leaders.”

Europe District is now up for an award at the USACE headquarters level.

No matter what happens there, Bach said, the North Atlantic Division accolades should stand as a reminder for district personnel to stay the course on safety.

“The award is an encouragement for our team, but it’s also a challenge for us to keep it up and keep working at it as new situations constantly present themselves,” he added.