Safety is a key concern for irrigation districts all over the world. With employees working outdoors near swift water and with large equipment, a number of things could go wrong. Delyce Maciel has been serving Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) as the human resources and safety director for 91/2 years and has been successful in reducing the number of serious injuries. In a recent interview, Ms. Maciel discussed EBID’s approach to safety and how it strives to improve year over year.
Kris Polly: Please tell our readers about yourself.
Delyce Maciel: I have been involved with human resources and safety for over 25 years. These two areas seem to go hand in hand with smaller organizations. I previously worked with ConAgra Foods, the red chile plant here in Las Cruces for 4 years, and prior to moving to Las Cruces in 2000, I worked with Bechtel, Inc., a worldwide construction company; Wouldenberg Enterprises, Inc., a construction barricade company; and Motorola in Phoenix.
On a personal level, I have lived all over the Southwest: Arizona, California, Texas, and now New Mexico. I graduated high school in San Antonio, Texas; finished my bachelor’s degree at the University of Phoenix; and am currently working on my MBA at New Mexico State University. I have a 14-year-old son getting ready to start high school next year, and he likes to tease me about being in college again! We enjoy hanging out together; watching movies; camping; and traveling with our border collie/blue heeler mix, Rex.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about your responsibilities for EBID.
Delyce Maciel: I am the human resources and safety director for EBID, and my role as safety director allows me to work with our management team and employees to make our workplace safe. One of the areas I have been working with our managers on is the security of our facilities. After several thefts, we realized we need better security. We have installed cameras and proxy access to buildings, and we will be looking to add security to our outlying facilities. Managing our facilities after hours is important, and we constantly look for areas of improvement. Whenever I get called out, my trusty canine partner, Rex, and I join forces to check out the facilities.
During orientation with new employees, I focus on the safety aspect of their jobs. Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and the managers work with me to make sure sites, facilities, and equipment are all in safe working order. I also manage the workers’ compensation, safety training, and safety manual, and I ensure we are compliant with all OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] safety regulations. I’m constantly working with managers because they are the ones out in the field on a regular basis. The human resources side of my role keeps me in the office sometimes more than in the field. When I get out to thefield to job sites, I do not police the employees. I prefer to make recommendations to and ask questions of the employees onsite to ensure they are thinking about safety instead of depending on someone to do it for them.
Delyce Maciel: Yes, we have a standard equipment list that employees are issued once they are hired. Any time they need other items, their respective manager will work to obtain additional equipment. Any personal protective equipment they need is available to them. Once irrigation season starts, we are operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so during that time we have a night shift. Those workers are issued flashlights and lamps for their trucks. One of the employees came in and said, “It would be nice to have a headlamp so I do not have to hold the light.” I love when employees come in and make recommendations that benefit everyone. I try to emphasize that safety is everyone’s responsibility. If employees see something that may not be right, we want them to speak up, double check everything, and assess the situation.
I was recently at a job site during a concrete pour with a pumper truck. It was amazing to watch how all our employees worked together to make this process seamless. As I watched this process, one of the things that I didn’t understand was how the employees communicate with each other and the concrete pumper truck. I took this opportunity to ask how the employees communicate if there was an emergency situation. The manager onsite came over and explained they have a whistle system and hand signals to communicate over the noise of the equipment. Once he showed me how they did it, we were able to make some corrections and suggestions to help the employees and manager. Improvements like these are what I strive for at a job site when I visit. I always want to first understand a situation before I make any recommendations. Additionally, at this concrete pour, I noticed how incredibly hard it is to do a concrete pour with a hard hat on. The employees were holding on to their hat with one hand and finishing the concrete with the other. Sometimes there is a little frustration over the required safety equipment. That being said, we continue to look to make these situations easier while ensuring everyone’s safety.
Kris Polly: Please tell us about the New Mexico Self-Insured Fund.
Delyce Maciel: The New Mexico Self-Insured Fund is an organization of smaller government municipalities that came together as a self-insured group fund. Through this program, they provide safety training that we schedule each month with our employees. We can request more if we feel it is necessary. The trainings are 2 to 4 hours on a subject of our choosing. We put together an annual list of required trainings for our employees so that we can ensure the training is pertinent to our organization.
The fund requires our employees to have 16 hours of safety training each year. The fund also is our workers’ compensation insurance, which provides us a rating each year based on the number and severity of our injuries. We strive to keep this score as low as possible. The fund looks at a rolling 3 years to determine our score. Long-term injuries can affect the rating. The higher the rating, the higher the rates. If the rating gets above a certain level, OSHA will come in to assess the facilities and make recommendations.
We do annual reporting to OSHA and remain in contact with our insurance administrator to maintain proper information about any occurrence. Our rating has been improving over the past 2 years, and we are always looking for ways to keep our employees safe. The rating is reassessed each year based on an annual audit report that walks through all the trainings and safety changes we do on a yearly basis.
Apart from the trainings that are provided through the fund, we also bring in other trainers to keep the employees up-to-date on subjects like sexual harassment, CPR, first aid, and swift water trainings. We have had Philip Ball of the Situational Awareness Institute come in and do active-shooter and situational-awareness trainings also. He was a great asset, walking us through a safety threat earlier this year.
Kris Polly: If other irrigation districts do not have a safety officer or safety program, could they contact you for information?
Delyce Maciel: Oh yes, even on the human resources side! A lot of smaller irrigation districts may not have the ability to fund a safety director position, or the responsibilities may be added to other positions. It’s important to stay on top of safety issues and regulations. At the end of the day, our goal is to ensure that employees stay safe and go home to their families.