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Expert Interviews

Chris McClain Discusses Leading with Safety on Projects around the World

Headshot of Chris McClain

Chris McClain, Tetra Tech’s vice president of Corporate Health & Safety, has 30 years of experience in safety and industrial hygiene.

She has spent the last 20 years managing health and safety programs at Tetra Tech. Ms. McClain maintains dual professional certifications as a Certified Safety Professional and a Certified Industrial Hygienist. She specializes in recognition and control of occupational hazards, focused on compliance and program development.

Ms. McClain joined Tetra Tech to manage an operational health and safety program when the company had just 500 employees. She has had progressive responsibilities working on projects and internal program structure and implementation and now leads the Corporate Health & Safety program for 28,000 associates in 550 offices and hundreds of field sites.

Before joining Tetra Tech, Ms. McClain worked in safety and industrial hygiene in markets including aerospace, oil and gas, construction, and pharmaceuticals, specializing in exposure assessments, program development, and training.

Ms. McClain received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Environmental and Occupational Health from California State University, Northridge.


What are your responsibilities as Tetra Tech’s vice president of Corporate Health & Safety?

At a company the size of Tetra Tech, each day brings a new challenge. I coordinate our strategic health and safety planning efforts and work with the Health & Safety team to develop and maintain our health and safety policies, programs, and safe work practices for the organization.  The Corporate Health & Safety office is also responsible for maintaining our performance metrics and communicating them to operations.

I lead Tetra Tech’s Safety Council, a network of nearly 50 health and safety representatives throughout the company. We look to make our program more efficient and effective, identify and communicate new initiatives and acceptable health and safety parameters, and monitor ongoing performance in our operations.

If a serious incident occurs that might require medical or security assistance worldwide, I am part of the corporate team that will respond to provide support. In this role I manage Tetra Tech’s international medical and security assistance contracted resources as well as several of our other corporate resources including medical surveillance, incident intervention services, and client required health and safety approval subscriptions. I am also the lead responder for health and safety regulatory inspections.

And at least once a year I get to work on a project!


What factors are critical to Tetra Tech’s safety culture?

Safety is integral to our operations and is a standing agenda item on our CEO’s monthly companywide operational meetings. A solid safety culture comes with employee ownership of the program. All of us—from the CEO to every field or office employee—take personal responsibility for our safety.

Recently one of our operations leaders said he knows safety is working when each employee becomes a safety representative on site. That statement captures the essence of our safety culture.


What metrics do you use to track safety performance?

We use generally accepted metrics in the industry that are an expression of injury and illness performance—total recordable incident rate (TRIR), lost workday incident rate (LWDIR), and days away restricted transfer rate (DART).  We use these rates to benchmark our performance internally and with others performing similar work.

We also look at other metrics to give us a complete picture of how we are performing. Some examples include project hazard assessment completion, near miss reporting, stop work incidents, vehicle accidents, and property damage.

We regularly evaluate all of these measures to identify continuous improvement and goal setting targets.


How does Tetra Tech keep projects safe in all the varied places we work?

Tetra Tech is committed to a set of basic safety management principles that apply wherever we perform work. Our management is accountable for program implementation and compliance. We dedicate adequate resources to support the program and have effective hazard assessment identification, evaluation, and control processes in place. And we measure performance with a focus on continual improvement.

We train employees to perform their work in a safe manner, and they take ownership and are involved in the program.

As long as we are performing our work in accordance with these principles, our projects will be safe places to work regardless of location.


How is our commitment to safety demonstrated at the group and project level?

Several of our groups have been recognized by the National Safety Council. Our Global Mining Practice received the Perfect Record Award for operating over five years—from 2008 to 2013—without an occupational injury involving days away from work. Our Remediation and Construction Management group received the Million Hours Award for operating over 1.3 million hours without an occupational injury or illness involving days away from work. And our Infrastructure group has received Occupational Excellence Awards, which are given to operations that have worked the calendar year without a lost workday case incident rate less than 50 percent of U.S. national averages.

Our commitment to safety excellence extends to our partnerships as well. For example, Tetra Tech and Tetra Tech joint venture companies received five U.S. Navy “Safety through Awards and Recognition” commendations for outstanding safety performance on several Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) project sites.

We also received client commendations for best safety practices on the Texas Brine Company sinkhole remediation project in Louisiana. In recognition of our safety performance, our team was asked to expand Tetra Tech’s health and safety program management to all subcontractors. We’re very proud of their work, and they received Tetra Tech’s 2013 Safety Achievement Award.


How does Tetra Tech keep employees motivated to focus on safety every day?

We really stress that safety is an integral part of how we work each and every day. We approach it just as we would address any other aspect of our operations. Our employees know if they perform their work well, we will recognize that. If they have a concern, we will address it.

Our Safety Council is always looking for innovative ways to move beyond compliance efforts and get our employees excited about the program. Every year we take a month to heighten general safety awareness. This year we asked employees to tell us why they work safe by posting messages to our Tetra Tech Facebook page. The responses have been amazing—tales and photos of family, friends, pets, and concern for the well-being of the people we work with every day.

This personal investment speaks to what motivates our employees to focus on safety every day.


What are some highlights of your time focusing on health and safety at Tetra Tech?

I was proud to be part of Tetra Tech’s initial Project Management Training Program development team and to craft the project safety management training component.

I coordinated the team that developed our current incident investigation and root cause analysis program and management system that addresses all unplanned events beyond injuries and illnesses. It includes near miss incidents, events involving property or equipment damage, fire or spills, and motor vehicle incidents.

As the company grew, I developed our global event response plan, international health and safety program, and international travel program.

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