“Think safety. Work safely” is a motto often repeated by the SFPUC’s Health and Safety Program.
Meet Judith Neidorff, an SFPUC Safety Analyst. Normally, she provides safety support to the SFPUC overall and the Wastewater Enterprise by developing programs, training staff, providing guidance, and visiting worksites. Lately, she and her manager Laura O’Heir have turned their health and safety expertise from supporting typical operations to a critical need – supporting the SFPUC’s COVID-19 response efforts.
Neidorff and O’Heir share the role of Safety Officer at the SFPUC’s Department Operations Center (DOC) where their focus is on developing internal safety guidance that can be applied at SFPUC facilities and work locations.
“The health and safety challenges with a novel virus are unique in that guidance might not exist or it doesn’t fully fit the situation at hand,” says Neidorff. “Guidance also continually changes as more about the virus is discovered. I check local, state, and federal guidance almost every day to see what has changed overnight. Some days it might be only one or two things, but quite often it is a lot.”
Neidorff says knowing the latest information helps her and O’Heir respond to questions from the SFPUC’s leadership and employees. Because the situation does not come with fully developed and time-tested solutions, Neidorff says she and O’Heir have had to determine a framework of safe response parameters that worksites can then use to develop internal procedures.
For Neidorff, the biggest challenge by far has been trying to keep on top of the evolving guidance across the various health and safety authorities. “At the start of the pandemic, a lot was still unknown about the virus and guidance was either based on how similar viruses behaved, or how stronger viruses behaved,” she says. “Because of this, the recommendations that we develop and provide may wind up outdated before they even have the final approval to be distributed.”
Neidorff says she has experienced glimpses of hope throughout the City’s and the SFPUC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are staying home when they don’t need to be out. Employees who need to come in are maintaining social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and, importantly, stopping and asking why and how to do so safely in instances where they might need to break social distancing guidance,” she shares. “San Francisco is a major international hub and yet we remained under 1,000 positive cases until last week. I know, just as everybody does, that a second wave of cases is anticipated to come later, but the fact that we appear to have flattened the curve as much as we have is amazing!”
For Neidorff, the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped her views about public service and how early interventions can be so critical – each day and action makes a difference.
“Local leadership matters. Mayor Breed activated the City’s Emergency Operations Center and the SFPUC activated its DOC weeks before we had any cases in San Francisco because everyone knew it was only a matter of time,” she shares. “Social distancing guidance was issued early on, and stay-at-home orders came out within weeks of the first cases. I come from the east coast, and comparing the delayed response in my home state to the proactive response here and the results of those responses has really hammered home just how important strong, proactive leadership can be.”