American States Utility Services, Inc. (ASUS) supports military installations across the nation with efficient water and wastewater management. Across the nation, ASUS works with the United States military to bring outdated or failing infrastructure into modern usage and compliance. This means repairing, replacing or building new systems the military needs and in many cases applying innovative solutions to make these utilities functional and acting as a leader to set the example in the utilities industry.
ASUS operates each location with a 50-year contract, which means there are deep relationships with the military and regulatory partners at each site. The company is constantly communicating its message of safety because not only does the nature of its work demand a culture of safety, but the company also feels a strong sense of responsibility to continue building upon the strength of its military partners as safely and effectively as possible.
Travis Adams, the Environmental Health and Safety Manager for ASUS, summed up the overarching safety challenge with one simple concept: microwave society.
“A lot of people don’t like to wait,” he explained. “We live in what I call a microwave society – we want it now. It takes an extra effort by leadership to take a step back and thoughtfully evaluate long- and short-term safety planning.”
Safety is the foundation for all of ASUS’ work, down to the smallest details. Travis said even the smallest safety issue failing can cause an entire operation to crumble. As the construction industry continues to grow at an exponential rate, hazards have also increased considerably.
In 2018, ASUS was growing quickly and needed safety protocols to keep its teams consistent and compliant. Safety inspections were being documented by hand, which meant there was no way to evaluate trends or reports over a period of time to identify any systemic issues or opportunities for improvement across the company. And with more than a quarter of a million observations logged each year, it was difficult to ensure safety issues were documented and addressed properly and effectively.
Fortunately, the leadership team recognized the need to buy into a company-wide culture of safety and compliance and empowered Travis to implement Safety Reports.
“We had a close call in 2018 and it was eye-opening,” he recalled. “I told my boss, ‘I’m going to find a safety inspection tool that we can get into the hands of our team members in the field.’ And that’s how I found Safety Reports.”
Travis said a huge part of the company’s culture shift was the leadership leaning into the concept and committing to implement real change.
“I remember saying, ‘We’re going to change the safety culture of this company.” And we did that together as we listened to employees and we used the Safety Reports apps and these programs,” he said. “We were able to get data back so we could determine what’s going on and where we actually needed to make tweaks to change that culture.”
To streamline their safety process, ASUS started with the basics — creating pre and post inspection checklists with Safety Reports.
“We begin the day with safety and we end the day with safety,” said Randy Keys, ASUS’ Capital Construction Manager.
Randy and his team rely heavily on the pre-inspection reports. When regulating authorities like OSHA show up for a site visit, site supervisors are able to pull up their pre-inspection checklist and show inspectors what they’re evaluating each day on the job.
“We’ve used that tool to show not only our team that we’re taking care of them, but also to demonstrate our culture of safety to OSHA officials and other regulators,” he said. “I want to go home every night knowing our crews are working safely. We can go back through any incident and look at what happened. If we have a weakness, we can address it.“
The post-inspection checklists also give Randy the peace of mind knowing they have left each site safely every day.
“We know without even being there, that site is safe and we haven’t left an unsafe situation for anybody to encounter at the end of the day,” he said.
ASUS uses the Safety Reports apps every day, but the inspection app is the cornerstone of the company’s safety program. It links the entire company, from its construction teams running the water and wastewater operations to its leadership team at each project level, all the way up to corporate headquarters where employees monitor safety environments in real time.
“As an Environmental Health and Safety Manager, it’s important that we have a safety inspection program so we can understand what’s going on in the field,” Travis explained. “I’m always asking myself ‘are we doing it right? Are we getting our employees the right tools? Do they have the right information? Are they informed properly?’
The Safety Reports reporting app provides immediate feedback from the field with pictures and updates so Travis and his team can monitor situations and corrective actions. ASUS handles very unique jobs and no two sites are the same, so having the ability to quickly assess different situations and create specific safety plans is critical to keeping job sites operating smoothly and safely. The app also allows the company to send out real-time updates to its team members and track who has received them through toolbox talks. These updates can range from incidents on other job sites to important safety information. Having the ability to push information out quickly to all team members helps the company communicate its commitment to safety from the leadership level down.
One such example is the company’s targeted approach to eliminate heat-related illness incidents on job sites. ASUS conducts more than 10,000 inspections each year, which allows the company to evaluate data trends and focus on specific compliance issues. Since 2019, the company has had zero heat-related illnesses reported, which is significant because many of the company’s job sites are in extreme climates with temperatures often climbing above 100 degrees.
“With these tools, heat-related illnesses have become a non-issue for us,” said Travis. “When you see how many inspections we do, how many different times we are actually looking at something, the repetition builds muscle memory for a culture of safety. We’re very proud of that and we’re grateful for what the tool has provided to us.”
It’s not a stretch to say ASUS – like virtually every other company – was not prepared for the COVID pandemic. However, because of the full integration of the Safety Reports apps and software, it was very simple for the company to get information into the hands of its employees quickly. The results included custom safety inspection checklists, which eventually became part of the daily safety checklists. These protocols ensured the COVID procedures are now being followed every day on every job site.
Travis said Safety Reports was critical in moving quickly to respond to the pandemic.