KANSAS CITY, Mo.—When Adams Rural Electric Cooperative’s Erika Ackley took over as CEO, one of her first orders of business was to get a read on safe work practices. She gradually discovered gaps in terms of clear policies and procedures.

At a May 2 breakout session at NRECA’s Safety Leadership Summit, Ackley described a fruitless search for an updated safety manual, only to learn there was not one readily available. Among other things, none of the co-op’s journeyman linemen had attended training at Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives’ Central Ohio Lineworker Training Program. And the co-op was the state's lone holdout in joining the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program (RESAP).

“When I took over as general manager, I didn’t realize how far behind we were,” said Ackley, a panelist at a session on implementing Phase 2 of the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative.

The West Union-based co-op now has a renewed focus on safety that’s gradually changing attitudes among its line crews, thanks to C2Z Phase 2 and guidance from Ohio REC, which has helped other co-ops in the state execute safety improvements. Ackley says expectations are becoming clear and more consistent, and she strives to provide crews the tools, equipment and training to do their jobs better.

“They know safety is my priority and that it’s expected of them. I tell them, ‘Take your time, do it right, and go home to your loved ones,’” Ackley said, adding, “I see change in the crew, and it makes me proud.”

It’s been two years since NRECA, Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange and statewide safety professionals rolled out the second phase of the national initiative. It’s designed to provide co-op CEOs, senior leaders and line crews with resources to help discuss their current safety practices and make improvements, if necessary, to reduce the chance of serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) due to electrical contact.

C2Z Phase 2 was launched to address SIF trends, which had improved somewhat in recent years but “continued with regular persistence, requiring us to commit to taking a hard look in the mirror, to understand the real state of our work practices and performance,” said NRECA Director of Safety Programs Bud Branham.

Some 230 co-ops have participated in C2Z Phase 2 so far, and more are signing up, according to Branham. Line personnel at participating co-ops take a 13-question survey—responses are anonymous to encourage candor—assessing operational and safety practices. A summary report of findings is issued, and a safety leader, usually from the statewide association, helps and monitors implementation and provides follow-up guidance.

In several breakouts and safety improvement talks during the NRECA summit, speakers described hurdles and successes in implementing the initiative. A common obstacle: line crew defensiveness over survey results.

“Our crews are daggum proud of their work,” Branham said. “I don’t care which co-op…they are proud of what they do, and they should be. We have to try and build on this pride and involve them in trying to shift their behaviors where shortcuts may be occurring.”

Co-op leaders said C2Z Phase 2 survey findings opened the door to consistent, clear communication between crews and leaders that, in turn, led to behavior shifts that help build a stronger safety culture.

Crews at Petit Jean Electric Cooperative, based in Clinton, Arkansas, engaged in C2Z Phase 2 activities amid an intense fiber broadband rollout. While the co-op had a strong safety culture, crews’ commitment to the process led to improvements in clearance and grounding.

“I love saying, ‘yes’ to any opportunity to get better,” said the co-op’s general manager and CEO, Michael Kirkland, during the May 2 breakout. “One of the most important things of Phase 2 is that we’re always learning how to get a little bit better and become the best version of ourselves.”