COVID-19 Adds to Safety Focus for OWASA’s Tyrus Johnson

Tiffanie Hawley and Tyrus Johnson at University Lake in 2019.

Safety has been the focus of Tyrus Johnson’s professional career, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new challenge of how to keep Orange Water and Sewer Authority employees safe while on the job.

Tyrus came to OWASA to serve as the Safety and Risk Manager in March 2019, after working in various safety roles in the United States Navy and in manufacturing settings. He said this role at OWASA allows him to interact with every department as part of his normal day-to-day tasks, finding ways to increase safety in different situations. Part of that safety improvement begins with seeing how things are done in the field.

“How can we make this better from a safety perspective,” is Tyrus’ mindset when he is observing any OWASA activities. “What can we do? What can we put in place? Do we need additional [Personal Protective Equipment]? Do we need different types of barriers, warning signs?

“So, we look at the aspects of an individual’s job and try to determine what’s the safest way possible for us to move forward and be proactive and prevent any types of accidents or injuries.”

These updates are then rolled into safety procedures that are also incorporating changes from outside regulatory agencies.

But the COVID-19 pandemic broadened that focus from the normal daily OWASA-related activities, to include constantly changing public health guidelines as well to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

“When COVID happened, it magnified my job by two or three,” Tyrus said. “It took the world by storm….and added a whole other level of responsibilities.”

Other OWASA Team members have also stepped up to help, Tyrus added. He works closely with OWASA’s entire Incident Management Team, which has been meeting regularly since the beginning of the pandemic, and multiple safety committees.

A major part of Tyrus’ role involves carrying out safety trainings for employees, which have been forced into the virtual classroom since mid-March.

“That was one of the huge challenges, the training aspect of things, as well as getting the correct information out to employees so they could feel safe, which allows them to perform their job in a better head space when they know that they’re doing it in a safe way.”

Tyrus is originally from Mt. Pleasant, Texas, which he describes as a “small, tight-knit” East Texas community.

Outside of work, Tyrus’ focus shifts to another time-intensive role as a husband and a father of three.

“After I leave the office, I completely switch over to family mode and dad mode.”