Orange County, Calif. Melds Technology and Safety

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

April 9, 2021

5 Min Read
Orange County Waste & Recycling

Orange County Waste & Recycling (OCWR) in California created an electronic safety management system to document and track practically all details related to safety, from inspections and audits to training and incidents, on down to daily vehicle inspections.  The module, which earned recognition from the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), has since been adopted by half the county’s agencies and is projected to be running in all 22 of them later in 2021.

“What we had in mind when we created OC SAFETY is to provide accountability, transparency, and to increase efficiency for our agency. We can store and access varied, important information, and in the case of reports we get timely information within a day of when they are created. Before it was scanned from paper documents and sent through email, which could take weeks,” says Jordan Young, safety culture manager for OC Waste & Recycling.

Now supervisors file digital reports from their desks that are uploaded direct to the electronic system.  They are routed to other required reviewers and they can be edited to incorporate feedback.

Supervisors run reports and trend analyses rather than manually enter data in spreadsheets, speeding up execution and tracking of corrective actions. This ability to track trends over time is enabling them to more readily key in on areas where there is opportunity for improvement.

OC SAFETY is leveraged to engage employees and encourage them to embrace a safety culture. One module that’s working well this way enables frontline workers to send anonymous feedback to management around safety concerns as well as suggestions.

A component that the agency calls a playbook has been instrumental on the county’s three landfills. Employees tap into the playbook while in the field for safety instructions and a list of personal protective equipment. It identifies hazards of every task and standard operating procedures to complete each of them safely.

“The playbook has been especially useful at tailgate meetings. Supervisors can lead the meetings where the work is happening. And they and their staff have all this information at their fingertips,” says Mario Almaraz, assistant Safety Culture manager for OC Waste & Recycling. Almaraz, working with the agency’s Information Technology team, designed OC SAFETY.

The IT department had coding experience and he had safety requirements experience. It took a couple of years to finetune the design largely because it entailed extensive research to be sure that it was set up to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reporting requirements at federal and state levels, Almaraz says.

“While a lot of the information that OC SAFETY is set up to report is required by law, the tool goes above and beyond. For instance, we can do a root cause analysis on each near miss, which is important as we see every near miss as an opportunity to fix a hazard and prevent injury before it happens,” Almaraz says.

Front line employees can report near misses anonymously on electronic tablets. Landfill managers and other key players get instant notifications, can track from occurrence of an incident through completion of corrective action, and can verify that the action was taken.

The outcome is significant, say Young and Almaraz, especially in how it’s changed the waste management operation’s safety culture.

“Before employees may have identified a hazard and brought that hazard or a near miss to their supervisor’s attention but they may not hear how it was handled. This system allows us to easily give feedback and close the loop, and they appreciate it. They see we are addressing the issues. And they are a part of this proactive approach,” Young says.

OCWR Director Tom Koutroulis is ultimately responsible for all that goes on in the waste management agency. 

“It was very meaningful to receive the national award from SWANA, but I have been even more proud to watch our team members enhance our safety culture day by day,” he says.

“The industry is built on people, so productivity and efficiency must never come at the expense of safety. We are not productive nor efficient if we are not safe.

The data from OC Safety helps tell the OCWR story that our people are engaged, and they care,” Koutroulis says.

OC Waste & Recycling has since handed off the tool to CEO Risk Management, who establishes and provides guidance on safety protocols for all Orange County agencies. CEO Risk Management is driving the roll out of the safety management system, countywide, with OC Waste & Recycling sharing lessons learned and helping to adapt the system to work for 18,000 employees across different agencies.

It will centralize recordkeeping for the county around incident reports, provide a centralized communication system to receive safety-protocol guidance whether from CEO Risk Management or a worker’s own employer. And it will house Cal/OSHA laws so they can be accessed by any agency.

“The OC safety system is a game changer in that it provides real-time data to quickly track down documents and do reporting, while ensuring we have compliant and uniform safety programs throughout the county,” says April Chase, assistant county safety manager, CEO Risk Management.

“We can address the reason for an injury and take corrective action faster than when we did it on paper. We can quickly call up documents during Cal/OSHA inspections, and have easy access to other relevant information to improve the effectiveness of our programs throughout Orange County.”

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

Stay in the Know - Subscribe to Our Newsletters
Join a network of more than 90,000 waste and recycling industry professionals. Get the latest news and insights straight to your inbox. Free.

You May Also Like