Investing in Employee Safety Should Pay Dividends

Col. Chad Caldwell accepts that the business of building and operating massive infrastructure projects is inherently hazardous. He doesn’t accept that all work-related injuries are inevitable.

With a greater emphasis on safety across the organization and support from leaders up to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, it was an easy decision for the Sacramento District commander to invest $57,000 into an extra measure of safety for his team.

Forty-two worksite head injuries causing missed work time were reported across USACE between October 2023 and January 2024.

Display of the front, two sides, and back of the new tech advanced helmets being implemented across USACE. PHOTO BY LAUREN WOUGK

Caldwell believes many injuries could be prevented in the future.

While announcing the mandate for use of the new helmet at a recent town hall meeting with district staff, Caldwell said the purchase of 600 safety helmets aligns with USACE priorities, as well as his safety goals and objectives for the district.

“I’m committed to getting every Sacramento District teammate who regularly visits our field sites transitioned into the new safety helmet by the end of the calendar year,” said Caldwell.

Col. Chad Caldwell, second from right, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, speaks with Col. James Handura, commander of the USACE South Pacific Division, during Col. Handura’s visit to the VA Stockton Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Stockton, California, with other USACE employees and service members February 1, 2024. Handura is seen wearing the new safety helmet that all USACE employees who frequent field sites are required to wear by the end of 2024. USACE PHOTO BY JEREMY CROFT

The new safety helmet provides added protection for the side of the user’s head, as well as a chin strap that helps keep the helmet fastened to the head in case of slips, trips, falls or falling debris.  The helmet’s ergonomic design “reduces peak force to the wearer’s neck and transmits less force to the head providing additional protection to the user’s brain,” according to the manufacturer.

The Sacramento District anticipates executing $1.5 billion of work this year and there are no signs of slowing down the next few years with major construction work happening throughout the district’s area of responsibility. A good sign for business but also an increased risk to safety.

Caldwell said about 200 district employees who regularly work at construction or operations sites will be the first to be issued the new helmet, likely before the start of the construction season in mid-April. Then about 250 more employees will have their hard hats replaced later this spring and 150 more by the end of the year.

“Lt. Gen. Spellmon defines winning in USACE as ‘safely delivering quality projects on time and within budget,’” Caldwell told the audience. “The Sacramento District cannot deliver without our people, and we cannot keep our people if we don’t care about their safety.”

Sacramento District chief safety officer Curtis Morris sees the investment as an example of leaders backing up words with deeds.

“It’s not enough just to talk about safety each day, we need to act when we see opportunities to keep each other safe. Proactive steps like this show that USACE is both a great place and a safe place to work.”

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