August 9, 2023

LWCC Safest 70 Star: Chennault International Airport

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LWCC’s Safest 70 Awards celebrate policyholders who share our commitment to workplace safety. Our Safest 70 Stars go above and beyond in their safety efforts and lead the way in employee health and wellness. For information about the Safest 70 Award program, click here.

Nestled along the Interstate 10 corridor in Lake Charles, Chennault International Airport has stood as a beacon of aerospace excellence since 1986, boasting a two-mile runway and a host of cutting-edge facilities. For over 30 years, this aviation hub has played a pivotal role in servicing both civilian and military aircraft, serving as a site for world-class aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul, manufacturing, and general aviation ventures.  

“Chennault is a hidden jewel both economically and locally,” notes Executive Director, Kevin Melton. “Our primary focus is on safety and teamwork as we work diligently to grow airport operations and grow jobs for our community and region.  Our safety culture also permeates throughout our various tenants across the airport.”

However, to the community of Lake Charles, Chennault International Airport’s impact is even more significant. It’s a vital economic engine, generating an impressive $410 million annual economic impact and creating countless job opportunities in Southwest Louisiana. It’s a corporation that prides itself not only on the work it does but where it does it and the people it does it for and with. And at the very heart of it all is an overwhelming desire and sense of responsibility to keep those people safe.

From the moment one sets foot on the premises, it becomes abundantly clear that Chennault International Airport places safety at the very core of its operations and expects the same level of commitment of their tenants and contractors. The airport commences each Monday with a devoted safety meeting and training session, ensuring that every employee is well-prepared for their daily tasks and goals for the week ahead. On top of that, they conduct annual trainings, as well as special onsite trainings on topics ranging from the very complex all the way down to how to work safely around airplanes. They utilize a mix of resources, including LWCC and OSHA training tools, while also drawing on their own, expansive safety experiences that are unique to performing work at a busy airport.

What truly sets Chennault apart, however, is their unique extension of safety to every aspect of their employees' lives, fostering a culture where safety isn’t simply a buzzword, it’s second nature. Just like a pilot maneuvering through the skies with seamless precision, every individual on the premises of Chennault glides through their work with the intimate knowledge and skill of how to perform that work safely. Then, as Chennault encourages them all to do, they carry that same safety commitment outside of their work and into their personal lives.

At the helm of Chennault International Airport is retired Air Force colonel Kevin Melton, an Executive Director whose military past serves him well in upholding the utmost dedication to procedures, processes, and safety. His right-hand man, John McMullen, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, hails from a background with Conoco/P66 in operations, heavy industrial and commercial construction. His thirty-plus year career in heavy industrial and commercial construction safety perfectly complements Kevin's style and philosophy, making them a formidable team that leaves no room for compromise in their pursuit of safety excellence.

“All told, there are 1,000 people who work on Chennault property,” points out John. “They’re not all Chennault employees, but a part of the team. On a daily basis, work ranges from performing extensive repairs to the largest planes in the world, to post hurricane repairs to our buildings and hangars, to everyday preventative maintenance to facilities and equipment. But regardless of the job or task, safety is valued and extended to each employee, and we feel strongly about that.”

Over the years, Chennault has weathered significant challenges with resolute determination. Major adversities that have tested their mettle include two powerful hurricanes and an ice storm. Yet, fueled by teamwork and their unwavering focus on safety, Chennault's employees have never missed a day without completing their jobs in a safe manner, a feat in which LWCC is proud to play a major role.

LWCC Safety Services Consultant Jason Hazelton has spent the past two years working alongside Chennault, serving as a partner in their pursuit of safety excellence. From discussions on fall protection when working from scissor lifts, safety protocols for grounds keeping equipment, and advisement on professional development opportunities for the Safety Coordinator, LWCC and Jason have been an unwavering support for Chennault's safety endeavors.

“Chennault is a model example of what we hope to achieve with all our accounts that we service with regards to Safety Services,” says Jason. “They’re proactive. They’ve really worked to build their own safety culture up so that it is self-sustaining.”

Not just in Lake Charles, and not just in Louisiana, but across the nation and their industry, Chennault International Airport stands tall as a paragon of safety excellence and dedication. With precision, preparedness, and an unwavering commitment to safety that extends beyond their own perimeter, Chennault has built a strong and self-sustaining safety culture that permeates every aspect of their operations. A recipient more worthy of Safest 70 recognition is hard to imagine.

Lessons learned from this LWCC Safest 70 Star:
  • Instill a safety-first mindset that permeates every aspect of your organization.
  • Encourage employees to carry safety practices into their personal lives to help ensure a holistic approach to safety.
  • Invest in leadership who believes in the power of process and procedure and its direct impact on safety.
  • Safety is a collective effort that should include everyone in your organization or on your premises.

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