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Public Works wins first place Safety Award

Public WorksHOLLYWOOD — Most people don’t give too much thought to how clean water enters and exits their homes. Fortunately, employees in the Public Works Department think about nothing else – except safety – while accomplishing that formidable task for the Seminole Tribe.

About a year ago, the department initiated improved safety standards at all its water and wastewater treatment plants with the goal of preventing injury and incidences. The department found numerous sources for safety training and implemented a comprehensive plan.

This year, Public Works won the 2013 Florida Water Environment Association’s (FWEA) first place Safety Award for Class C Wastewater Treatment Plants. The award will be presented at the FWEA Awards Banquet on April 30 in Orlando. The four classes in the FWEA Safety Award are based on the size of the municipality and the amount of water processed daily. Class C plants process about 1 million gallons per day.

“We never had any incidences, but we realized we could always do better,” said Anthony Osceola, Public Works director. “While we were creating the safety plan, we realized there are a lot of procedures and protocols that follow industry and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards, and we are framing them to use for the Tribe.”

The competition was the first the department entered.

“We set a goal to compete with other municipalities, and this is the result of the new initiative,” said Derek Koger, assistant director of Operations.

“We want the Tribe’s public water to be at the level of Fort Lauderdale or better. Our goal was to identify things that could be improved and we accomplished it.”

Public Works handles water and wastewater treatment, distribution and collection (pipelines), solid waste, recycling and road maintenance. Part of the initiative includes creating uniform procedures within the department Tribalwide, including the uniforms employees wear. Every employee is licensed by the state for water and wastewater, which isn’t the case in most municipalities. This makes for well-rounded employees, and their flexibility within the department boosts morale.

“We utilize their knowledge and experience,” supervisor John Holdman said. “When you are just a shift operator with a large municipality, it is the same thing every day. Here, they do many different things, which makes the job more interesting. If you are motivated, you can make a difference here.”

That attitude comes from the top; Osceola encourages a round-table approach to decision making within the department.

“We’re a strong team and we let people in the field have a say in decisions,” said Osceola, who has worked in Public Works for six years and has been director about a year and a half. “We believe in empowering people and giving them responsibility.”

Hilberto Pacheco, who studied wastewater and environmental engineering in college, moved from New York a year ago to work with the Tribe.

“It’s been a great ride,” said Pacheco, a Distribution and Collections operator. “I started at the basic level, but the Tribe moves people up from the bottom. I’m learning everything, and there is a lot of room for advancement.”

Public Works does its best to promote from within; most of the key managers came from the department. Monthly training courses and an open-door policy encourage people to advance their careers.

“We try to recruit the best and the brightest,” Koger said. “But we also train and retain our own people.”

The philosophy behind the year-old safety program is that nothing is worth someone’s life or limb. Employees learn to step back, take a breath, think about the situation and do things the right way.

The FWEA competition was the first, but not the last, the Public Works Department will enter. There are numerous other state-wide competitions and the department is enthusiastic about entering as many as possible.

“We want to let the community know what we do,” Koger said. “The health and safety of the community is the most important thing. Winning this award gives the community a chance to know what we do. That’s our reward as a result of the award.”

 

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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