It’s Not Compliance, It’s “Science, Data and Big Hearts”

By Stephen Easley

As leader of PAE's Occupational Health and Safety team, I sometimes find myself correcting the impression that our work is mainly about compliance. True, there are rules and regulations for us to know and follow, but they are honestly the least of our concerns.

What we do, day in and day out, is constantly seek better ways to protect our workforce, our customers, and their environment. For us, it's not just "do no harm," but prevent harm whenever possible, learn from any incidents and continuously improve our preventive abilities.

We have a motto for our approach: science, data and big hearts. How does that work? Like this.

I start my work day before I'm up, grabbing my phone to scroll through alerts about any incidents that might have occurred overnight that didn't reach the level of severity to warrant a phone call. (And let's face it – a lot of calls come in the middle of the night because much of our most vulnerable workforce is on the other side of the globe.) I get called or alerted to anything that requires more than first aid. Typically, those alerts generate a series of phone calls and emails to others, especially the serious ones. And with 23,000 employees globally, often in high-risk areas and jobs, some of those are bound to be serious, like personal medical issues or occupational concerns in need of evacuation. We manage about roughly 50 medical assist air evacuations a year.

Then a short commute to my home office where I consult an automated incident report that is emailed to me daily. We use Riskonnect – a relational database built on a Salesforce platform that tracks every bit of data related to an incident – financial, insurance, investigations and root causes – from the time the incident is recorded until it is ultimately closed.

My team and I triage the incidents that happened overnight. And by "incident," I mean everything – not just major emergencies but anything injury that requires treatment beyond or creates a loss of work time or property damage. We use Riskonnect's workflows to drive our actions and manage the data as we work with the business unit teams involved and initiate whatever measures are appropriate for the situation, alerting people as needed and always prioritizing the health and safety of the workforce.

So, we start the day reactively, but by using Riskonnect's relational database capabilities, we quickly turn proactive. We can aggregate data to get a clear picture of where we can make improvements ahead of time. What types of incidents are occurring? Property losses? Injuries? Illnesses? Environmental damage? What types of employee roles are involved?

Then we can tightly target our actions to prevent them. We can document corrective actions, share lessons learned, enhance our knowledge management with the new insights, and develop training or new guidelines. We can give leaders and employees tools to address the issues ahead of time.

The COVID-19 pandemic was obviously a big deal for us, just as it was for everyone. But we had an advantage having already managed the 2015 Ebola outbreak, capturing a vast amount of knowledge about how to build hospitals quickly wherever needed, how to manage full-scale testing and analysis operations. So when the pandemic hit, we were able to share that knowledge with many governments and organizations and help curb the spread.

In fact, our COVID-19 experience is a microcosm of how OH&S+E works at PAE. As a team, we spend a tremendous amount of time looking for trends and issues developing so we can prepare to mitigate those risks. In 2019 that led us to take notice of a new illness developing in China, where we have significant operations, so we were immediately concerned for our employees there. We quickly consulted with scientists and our trusted occupational health partners to understand the science of the emerging outbreak. That persuaded us to realize the health risk was real, significant and likely to have global impact.

The next step was to form a COVID-19 Task Force charged with protecting our employees and mitigating our risk. This was still very early in the outbreak, so understandably our leadership had misgivings about our zealous approach and demands. In fact, later in 2020, one leader admitted that he thought I was "going all Chicken Little" about the threat, acknowledging that he had since changed his mind and that our "science, data and big hearts" approach had saved lives.

That spirit of inquiry and continuous improvement is a constant with OH&S+E. PAE is involved in an ever-expanding scope of projects, geographical regions and objectives. In OH&S+E, we thrive on the challenge of always learning about how we can better protect our workforce, our customers and their environment.

For the last five years, Stephen Easley has served as PAE's Director of Occupational Health & Safety, Environmental and Quality, focusing on continually improving the organization's ability to protect its workforce, even while the company tripled in size. In 2021 he was awarded the company's Values Champion Award in recognition of his prescient and diligent work during the COVID-19 pandemic.