By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — Before COVID-19 unleashed malady into the world, the city of Memphis had already in place an initiative to keep the city’s 8,300 employees safe from a wide array of safety hazards.
The initiative was actualized July 16 at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, where more than 1,800 citizens – including 700 city employees, more than 350 youth, and 65 vendors – gathered under a glistening sun for the City of Memphis Workplace Safety & Compliance Safety Fair.
“The main purpose of it [safety fair] is to make sure that we’re providing up-to-date information to our employees,” Alex
Smith, the city’s chief Human Resources officer, said by phone prior to the event.
“Whether you’re talking about, you know, driving or how people are handling certain materials, safety is always important,” she said.
While the pandemic has heightened one’s awareness, Smith said being safe at every level of government and throughout the community is critical for the well-being of individuals and their families.
The educational component of the safety fair included information on fire safety, active shooter, driver safety, disaster preparedness, and COVID-19, which included free vaccinations.
“We wanna make sure as an entity that we are providing the best resources and information to everyone,” said Smith, touting the work of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and the city’s annual safety fair to keep its citizenry safe.
“Mayor Strickland’s cornerstone, purpose statement, mission statement,” she explained, “has centered around being ‘brilliant at the basics’ and making sure that we are making life better for Memphians every day.”
“Safety is not an option. Safety is the way we live,” added Dr. Sharli K. Adair, manager of Workplace Safety and
Compliance, a division of Human Resources for the city of Memphis.
“I’ve been here three years, and so this is my third safety fair with the city of Memphis. But this is the very first that we’ve engaged the community,” Adair said by phone. “Knowledge is power. If people are aware, then people understand [that] people would do better.”
Adair’s declaration that “people would do better” if they are aware was affirmed by Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, who veered from his talking points to share with the audience a couple of incidences he witnessed that could have been fatal.
He beseeched the audience to move out of harm’s way, for example, if they’re involved in an accident in high-traffic areas – which wasn’t the case, he pointed out, when the occupants of a wrecked vehicle in traffic remained inside even though the vehicle was still operable.
The scene was ripe for injury, or death, as cars whisked by at great speed, he explained. He further underscored the need to be vigilant about safety hazards after witnessing an accident in the making at a construction site.
A man working in a ditch in tandem with a backhoe operator, McGowen noted, was unmindful that his head was in close proximity to the bucket on the arm of the heavy-duty machinery.
What if the operator had sneezed, he asked, or had made the wrong move? The swiveling bucket could easily sever the man. As gruesome as it sounds, Adair said unequivocally, “It is our duty as safety professionals to bring awareness.”
With all city departments represented – police, fire, public works, etc. – she said providing information and imploring the citizenry to be conscientious of safety hazards was, and has been, the crux of the safety fair.
However, she added: “There is so much information out there, it’s kind of hard to get to the real good stuff. So what we’re trying to do is bring the realness and the truth and the facts and the data, and make sure that people are understanding the science.”