February 2023 Vol. 78 No. 2


DCA President Kevin Parker Puts His Passion into Processes

Jeff Awalt | Executive Editor 

(UI) — “Trust the process.” 

That phrase has become commonplace in recent years among sports teams rebuilding under new coaching systems, but it’s a sentiment that Mears executive Kevin Parker has embraced throughout his career in infrastructure construction.

Kevin Parker

“I firmly believe in management systems,” said Parker, senior vice president of Health, Safety and Environment for Mears Holdings. “It’s definitely a passion of mine.” 

While management systems and operator qualification programs might seem like dull fare from a distance, these processes have proven essential to improving the safety, quality and consistency of construction projects. Parker’s passion and decades of experience at Mears made perfect timing for his term as president of the Distribution Contractors Association, whose safety management system template and operator qualification integrity process ranked among DCA’s top priorities in 2022. 

Spending the later years of his youth in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., Parker lived just a short drive south of Mears’ birthplace of Rosebush, Mich., and started working for the company as a construction laborer during his pre-engineering studies at Central Michigan University in 1984. After earning a bachelor’s degree in geological petroleum engineering from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in 1988, he returned to Mears as a project engineer and manager and eventually became director of its Construction Division. 

He later moved to the group level of Mears – now part of Houston-based Quanta Services – first as a director and then as vice president of Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) and finally to his current position, in which he oversees new program development and implementation, as well as strategic initiatives. 

Parker started attending DCA functions in 2008 and was awarded Safety Director of the Year in 2012. He’s played a key role in DCA’s spring Safety Congress and has been both a roundtable panelist and moderator at DCA’s annual April utility workshop with the American Gas Association (AGA). A member of the DCA board since 2017, he’s also past chair of the Safety/Risk Management Committee and a member of the Government Relations Committee and the Operator Qualification Integrity Process Task Force. 

Underground Infrastructure spoke with Parker in mid-December about DCA’s 2022 progress and its priorities for 2023 as the association prepared for its February annual convention in Miami. 

UI: You started out in the field doing pipeline construction. What kind of projects were you working on in those early days? 

Parker: I worked on a lot of smaller projects, but I’d say the first big one that people might know was the (1,700-mile) Kern River project for Line A, the first line that went in from Wyoming in the early ’90s. 

UI: So, you learned early on what it’s like to spend a lot of time on the road. 

Parker: I certainly did. I was on the road almost full-time. But that hasn’t changed a lot. I still travel about 40 to 45 weeks a year right now. 

UI: You rose to director of the Construction Division but eventually veered toward a primary focus on safety. Was that always an area of strong interest for you? 

Parker: I was always very interested in safety, as well as training. As part of the safety role, I was able to do a lot of training and I oversaw the OQ Program at the time. In the ’80s and early ’90s in the pipeline industry, there wasn’t as big a focus on safety as there is now, but our industry has improved dramatically over the last 20 years with safety and quality being a core value of our industry. 

UI: You’ve been very focused on safety and quality management systems. Before we get into details, could you provide a little context to explain what these are and why they matter? 

Parker: One management system I think most people have heard of would be ISO 9001, which is an internationally recognized quality management system used by the auto industry for many decades to improve quality and streamline processes. About seven years ago, API came out with API 1173, which is a safety management system for pipelines. It incorporates everything from worker and public safety to the integrity safety of the pipeline asset, from the planning stages of the project through construction and commissioning and maintaining the asset. 

I saw years ago that this was a path that the pipeline industry really should go. That’s the same time the DCA formed a committee and we put together the pipeline safety management systems (PSMS) template with the goal that DCA contractors who did not have management systems could use this template and build their own. It’s been very widely and positively received. 

This has been a five or six-year effort, and the DCA is leading the way on this from a pipeline contractors’ perspective. I’m really proud of the decision DCA made stepping forward years ago and our success with the PSMS template initiative. 

UI: Has this been a major focus for you as DCA president? 

Parker: Yes, really this year I focused a lot on PSMS. We’ve been working with other associations, and that’s really something that I started before I became the president. The DCA put together the PSMS template that we published two years ago, and that template has gained a lot of momentum. This year, as I mentioned, we’ve been working with API and the PSMS Industry Team on the API PSMS contractor guideline and are now starting to work on different tools that contractors can use to integrate PSMS systems into their companies. We’re essentially working toward the same goals with other associations to have a common focus on PSMS. 

We’ve been holding PSMS panel discussions jointly with AGA at the spring DCA/AGA Workshop for several years, which shows we’re all on the same journey. Earlier this year, API – which developed 1173 – drafted a contractor’s guideline for PSMS using the DCA template. They then approached the DCA and over the next couple of months we worked together to help finalize it. In November, API published the PSMS contractor guideline, which is available on their website. 

That was DCA’s first effort with API, and now we’ve started working together to develop a set of tools that contractors can use to help integrate and assess where they are on their PSMS journey. 

UI: What kind of tools? 

Parker: There are approximately 230 “shall” statements in the API 1173 which was written for the pipeline operating companies. But looking at the “shall” statements from a contractor’s perspective, the industry has determined there’s only about 56 that apply to contractors. 

The tools that we’re talking about developing are examples, guidance documents and templates that a contractor can use to help with their management systems based on those 56 shall statements, and then suggestions on how they can integrate them into their operations and ways that they can evaluate their progress on that journey. Suggestions on what they can do. Because you never get to the end. You’re continuously evaluating and improving. 

UI: What’s the timeline for this new effort with API? 

Parker: We officially started Dec. 12 with the first call. But we’ve set a very aggressive goal, and we’re hoping to present this in draft form at the DCA meeting in Miami. Then, we’re hoping to present it again at the DCA-AGA workshop in Chicago in April. There’s a lot to do. 

The DCA template was a much lengthier process. It took us three or four years, maybe longer, to develop that template. In the two years since we finished that, I’ve been spending time meeting with members of other associations and attending workshops to promote the DCA template and make sure that the other association members are considering contractors when they’re putting their pipeline safety management programs together. 

We want to make sure that all contractors working on pipelines in the United States and elsewhere have solid pipeline safety management systems in place. 

UI: It sounds like DCA is making a lot of progress on that front. Where are you facing the greatest challenges? 

Parker: I’d say the biggest challenge we may face is that some of us, as contractors, may work for say 50 different clients, which could mean 50 different PSMS plans with different PSMS requirements. Our goal by developing this DCA template and working with AGA, API and others is to have a PSMS program that aligns with the vast majority of our clients, if not all, so we don’t have 50 different programs. We can have just one program. 

UI: Along those lines, you’ve also been very involved in developing DCA’s Operator Qualification Integrity Process, or OQIP. 

Parker: Yes, that’s another committee that I’ve been involved in from the day it was started. Our goal is to have a kind of 80-20 rule for operator qualifications and improve the integrity of OQ along the way. We’ve spent the past six years or so working with other associations, as well as regulators, to develop our OQIP program, and that has reached a very exciting stage right now. We actually have three pilot programs going on in Michigan, in the state of Washington and with New Mexico. We’ve had the state regulators sitting at the table with us developing this, and we’re very close to that being wrapped up as well. 

UI: What do you mean by an 80/20 rule for operator qualifications? 

Parker: Similar to what we discussed on safety management systems, there are half a dozen or more OQ evaluation programs out there, and each pipeline company utilizes a different OQ program to evaluate its employees and its contractors. And so again, in a similar scenario, if I’ve got 50 clients and I want to work for them, I might need to use all six or eight of those OQ programs. When I switch from one client to the next, I’ve got to switch to another OQ program. Our employees get tested on the same tasks over and over. Some of our employees end up getting tested three or four times a year on how to fuse pipe, for example. 

The OQIP program was developed with the goal of having a common 80 percent set of tasks that most of the operators would accept, and then the 20 percent would be specific to that client company. OQIP is intended to make operator qualification better with more integrity while also reducing the amount of redundant testing our people have to do. 

UI: You’ve been involved from the beginning, and now the pilot programs have followed the same schedule as your presidential term. 

Parker: That’s purely coincidence, but, yes, it’s exciting to be a part of the pilots after we’ve been working toward them for so long. 

UI: Speaking of long waits, it seems DCA is finally out from under the pandemic shadow. You must be excited to start your first full year of normal, in-person activities since 2019. 

Parker: Absolutely. The pandemic created a lot of challenges for contractors, but as essential workers we had to continue to work. We’ve had so many reminders of the importance of bringing energy to the communities we live in and maintain the energy infrastructures, back to the days when we were designated as essential workers during COVID. Obviously, we’re not the doctors and nurses who were on the front lines taking care of very sick patients, but our employees have been out there working and providing a high-quality product safely, under sometimes difficult conditions. I think this is an industry that brings a lot to this country, providing the energy we need to keep our country going. And I think our DCA contractors and their employees should be proud of what they do every day. We look forward to continuing to partner with our clients, our labor partners, our workforce and the communities we work in to distribute energy to this great country.

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