For Him, Safety Is Necessary
January 26, 2016
GIG HARBOR – Bryan Necessary is proactive when it comes to safety. He walks the grounds of the Washington Corrections Center for Women, WCCW, constantly on the lookout for anything that could potentially be unsafe – cracks in the sidewalk or uneven elevation of walking areas that could cause slips and falls. He also notes places that could compromise security, such as areas of the prison that aren’t easily visible that offenders could use to smuggle in contraband or attempt an escape.
As an occupational safety officer, Necessary is tasked with ensuring prisons are in compliance with state and federally mandated occupational safety laws, as well as taking preemptive steps to ensure that prisons are a safe place for offenders, staff and visitors.
“I love this job because I get to do so many things,’ Necessary said. “One day I may be investigating improper disposal of paint waste and the next I’ll be conducting fit-tests for respirators, or even going across the state for a safety audit at Airway Heights Corrections Center. Every day can be so very different than the last, and they all come with their own unique challenges.”
One of the challenges about maintaining safety in a prison setting is striking a balance between safety laws and the needs of a prison population. The various laws and codes designed to ensure safety are often complex, and complying with those regulations in a prison setting is not always easy, according to Necessary. But it’s a challenge he’s willing to accept because lives depend on it.
“It’s different in prisons when it comes to safety,” Necessary said. “They’re (offenders) wards of the state and we’re responsible for their well-being.”
Necessary has been an occupational safety officer for the Department of Corrections since April of 2013. He is responsible for investigating accidents and injuries that occur at DOC prisons and identifying hazards. When a hazard is identified he works with prison and Headquarters staff and members of the local safety committee to make recommendations on how to minimize safety risks at prisons.
On a recent safety inspection, for example, Necessary met with Steve Petermann, a correctional industries manager, inside the education building to examine a correctional officer’s station. An officer recently missed a step on the station and sustained a minor injury. He and Petermann discussed ways to make the station safer to prevent injuries from happening again. They discussed extending the bottom step, adding a hand rail and adding some more yellow cautionary paint.
Monthly inspections are routine for safety officers. But the most rewarding part of the job, according to Necessary, is working with staff to eliminate hazards once they’re identified. Necessary says lots of safety measures have been put in place since he became a safety officer at WCCW.
For example, a recent change that occurred last year was requiring all offenders who worked in the kitchen to wear rubber overshoes. Since offenders began wearing the shoes last February, injuries related to slips and falls were eliminated. Prior to this change, the prison saw an average of six injuries per year.
Sometimes ideas to improve safety come from the offenders themselves, Necessary said. For example, one of the offenders at the prison’s horticulture class noticed that some of the disposable materials weren’t being thrown away properly. The offender notified Necessary, which prompted staff training to dispose of the materials safely and correctly.
“The offender knew the proper way to dispose of it because they received the technical training to do so. Officers aren’t going to know about it if they haven’t had the training. Sometimes offenders are the best source of information about what it’s like to live in prison. They’re the best source for a fresh set of eyes that can spot things that we can’t,” he said.
In addition to being a member of the Local Security Advisory Committee, Necessary is also a member of the Department Incident Management Team, DIMT.
Necessary has a background in environmental safety, having worked for an educational program through the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department that offered consultation to businesses on reducing impacts on storm water systems. His background makes him a valuable part of the DIMT. He’s participated in regular drills to prepare for possible scenarios, such as how to respond to a water contamination incident at the prison by securing and managing wastewater sanitation. Additionally, Necessary has been nationally certified as a hazardous materials manager and as an associate safety professional. He says it’s all part of his mission to be prepared to keep safety a top priority if disaster should strike.
“There’s a lot going on when it comes to mitigating hazards,” Necessary said. “We’re looking at how people get hurt and where. We want to get the best bang for the buck on ways to improve the safety of our facility.