Tribe establishes Tribal Occupational Safety & Health Department (TOSH)

Director Kimberly Turnipseed and Administrative Assistant Edmond “Skip” Laugharn head up the TOSH team. Photo by Matt Nagle

Over this past summer, the Puyallup Tribal Council authorized a Tribal Occupational Safety & Health Department (TOSH) to be established on the reservation. The department continues to grow and strengthen these seven months later, led by Director Kimberly Turnipseed and Administrative Assistant Edmond “Skip” Laugharn. They are the perfect choice to run the department given their decades of combined experience in all aspects of the construction industry.

TOSH is offering classes in OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 certification, and various tribal departments have already taken advantage of the opportunity. The Tribe’s Information Technology (I.T.) department attended a training because they know they’ll be up in boom lifts and such and they want to do it safely. TERO Compliance Officer Justin Satiacum attended TOSH’s very first training and TERO promotes it to the clientele that are in and out daily.

All tribal employees are encouraged to sign up for the classes, which is easy to do. Just stop by the TOSH office at the Tribe’s Small Business Incubator building on East 29th Street, Suite 233. Next to the office door is a calendar of when classes will be offered, along with registration sheets and a box to put them in. Or, call Kimberly Turnipseed at (253) 778-3696 or Skip Laugharn at (253) 328-3205. Class dates will also be announced in the Puyallup Tribal News. “We provide all the OSHA 10 and OSHA 30 trainings here in-house for TERO clients, for the workers that work for the Tribe and any contractors that want to send their people,” Kimberly said.

Other tribal nations are invited to take part in the trainings as well. “The other tribes pay for our services so we’re also helping to develop revenue for the Tribe,” Kimberly said. “We’ll be bringing in considerable revenue once the code is passed and citations are taken out of the hands of the state and put into our hands.”

Developing the TOSH code is a top priority. “We’re working with the tribal law office on developing the code so that it becomes our law, our enforcement, our citations. Tribal Council has faith in me and Skip in the vision of TOSH on the reservation. They decided that we’re going to take our sovereignty and our jurisdiction, take the federal and state government out of it, and we’re going to develop our own.”

The Puyallup TOSH code will be more thorough than the state’s, Kimberly said, to make sure everything is covered. This will include working one-on-one with the various tribal entities to hear directly from workers about what’s important for their workplace safety. “We’re going to be meeting with the diving crews and stuff like that and talk to them about what they’ve experienced on the boats and in diving that they feel needs included in that code. They’re the ones that are out there.”

The Puyallup TOSH code will be an improvement on the state’s in some ways, such as regarding highway work at nighttime. Both the federal and Washington state standard allows road crews to wear red, orange or yellow vests at nighttime. The problem with this is that

red can’t be seen at night, reflective or not, and the orange vest blends in with the orange construction zone barrels so workers are put at undue risk of being hit by a vehicle. The Puyallup TOSH code will require only wearing the bright neon green color because that stands out. Roofing work is another example. While Washington state currently allows for a spotter on the roof to keep an eye on workers that are at risk of falling from such a high place, “We’re not going to allow for spotters,” Kimberly said. “You must be tied off. Period.” TOSH will be preventative in nature, not reactive and come in after something goes wrong.

Every Puyallup tribal entity will fall under the code, meaning that if, for example, TOSH inspectors visit the Health Authority to do a safety inspection, TOSH will have that jurisdiction and that authority. Both Kimberly and Skip emphasized that they are not out to write citations left and right.

“We have to explain all the time that it’s not about having authority over everybody. It’s just about the safety. That’s all we care about,” Skip said, and Kimberly agreed. “Honestly, we hope its zero (citations) because I don’t want to write citations. Writing citations means there’s a safety violation, which also means someone was put at risk. I would rather be bringing in zero money on citations because that means everyone is safe. That’s my goal and that’s Skip’s goal.”

“For Tribal Council, the safety of their people and the safety of this community is first and foremost,” Kimberly said. “They agree with us that everybody goes home at night safe and unharmed.”

Once the code is in place, tribal employees will be given a grace period to take the OSHA certification class. “There will be no expiration date on the card, but we’re going to make our code with an expiration date so that once a year or two years you need to come back in and re-audit the class,” Skip said. “Over time, doing the same thing over and over every day, you start to get complacent and that’s when mistakes happen.”

“You will need to have at least your OSHA 10 card to work on any of the projects, anywhere on the reservation,” he continued. “We want that from inline workers all the way to upper management because as a manager, you may not be the one out there working in it but you are the one that is supposed to be watching your workers and making sure they’re safe. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be watching for, how do you keep them safe?”

Any employee of the tribe that has access to a job site will be required to attend OSHA training, and with Tribal Councils support and buy in, I am sure this will include them. Skip said, “If they want to go visit job sites, they need to go through this so they know how to recognize dangers and hazards.”  Recognition of hazards is the first step in preventing an accident, and it would be a tragedy if any one of our people, employees, or community were hurt.

The Puyallup Tribe is on the forefront in establishing its own TOSH department, as most tribal nations do not have their own TOSH code. Kimberly Turnipseed is one of approximately six Native American OSHA trainers in the country. She has a strong background in construction – her father owned a construction company her whole life – so she is well versed in the management end of the field. Having put in a good number of years working with the Tribe’s Project Management Group and with TERO, it was a natural move for her to head up the TOSH department. She earned her trainers certification from the University of Washington OSHA Education Center.

Skip Laugharn’s experience complements Kimberly’s in that he is seasoned in jobsite experience, doing construction work for 22 years and having been involved in a wealth of Project Management Group enterprises on and off the reservation – from remodeling the casinos to 32nd Street bridge and road improvements and much more.

“I’ve seen it all, done it all, been through it all and that’s the reason why I’m her right hand man because I know what goes on out there,” he said. During trainings, he gives real-life scenarios of things that he’s seen or been through and shows classes how to properly use safety equipment like harnesses and tethers. Kimberly presents statistics concerning workplace injuries and fatalities and shows training videos, some of which are graphic in nature, to impress upon the students the seriousness of what can happen at a jobsite if all safety measures aren’t respected. Kimberly said that even experienced contractors who have been doing the work for years can have an accident with deadly consequences if he or she doesn’t pay attention to what they’re doing and do it by the book.

“A lot of times it’s due to that thought of, ‘I can cut this corner just one more time’…” We teach them that safety is first and foremost on any job site. We want everyone to go home to their families at the end of the day. We don’t care what color your skin is, it has nothing to do with tribal or non-tribal, we want everybody home at the end of the day,” she said.

Puyallup TOSH aims to be an influence on other tribes as well. “We want to help other tribal nations set up their own departments so they can all be internalized and handle things within their own ranks, just like we want to do here as we slowly take away the laws from the feds and make our own,” Kimberly said. “We are our own government and we are taking back our jurisdiction and our sovereignty.”