After the tragic death of an Ohio electric cooperative line apprentice during winter storm restorations in late December, lineworkers in more than a dozen states honored their fallen colleague with coordinated moments of silence and frank discussions on safety.

“He was working in rugged terrain and the temperatures were brutal,” said Dwight Miller, director of safety, training and loss prevention for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives. “He made contact with an energized 7,200-volt line.”

Rodgers came into the electric power industry two years ago and spent about five months as a supervised apprentice with the Rio Grande, Ohio-based co-op. He was among the many co-op operations personnel mobilized to restore power during and after severe winter storms pushed across much of the nation just before Christmas.

Miller and his staff at the statewide decided to commemorate Rodgers’ death with a safety stand-down for employees at Ohio’s 24 electric cooperatives and Harrison Rural Electrification Association, a distribution co-op headquartered in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Each event was to open with five minutes of silence on Dec. 30, timed to coincide with the beginning of Rodgers’ memorial service, followed by a commitment from workers to one another and then two hours of safety discussions among co-op staffs with a focus on procedures developed to help reduce the risks of line-of-duty injuries.

“We encouraged everyone to talk about the lifesaving procedures, their co-op’s Commitment to Zero Contacts program and the shared expectations vital to the industry that established safe work practices are never negotiable,” said Miller. “That’s crucial if we are going to reduce risks and avoid serious injuries that can occur at any time.”

“We received photos from at least 60 utilities and contractors in 14 states that formally participated in stand-downs," said Shelby Moore, communications program manager for the Ohio statewide, who spearheaded social media outreach for the safety initiative. “Using this tragedy to help improve safety is a message many of us wanted to carry into the new year," said Moore, adding that at least 35 electric cooperatives participated.

Work temporarily ceased at jobsites and in power plants and warehouses at many locations that Friday afternoon.

In Rochester, Indiana, crews parked their trucks at Fulton County REMC's headquarters, gathering in the co-op's warehouse.

“All our linemen met in the shop and had a discussion with our line superintendent about the tragedy that happened and then as a group talked about safety," said Carissa Ziemek, Fulton County REMC's marketing and communications specialist. The crews also took time out to pray for Rodgers' family, friends and the staff and members of Buckeye REC, she said.

“We conducted a moment of silence along with a safety moment at each of our four district offices," said Kari Cook Crouse, vice president of communication and business strategy at South Pittsburg, Tennessee-based Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative. “Even our crews in the field took part. They honored his memory with the recognized symbols of a fallen lineworker."

Climbing gear, a tool belt and an SVEC hardhat labeled with Rodgers' name were suspended just above ground level on a freshly set pole.

Miller urged co-op managers to regularly spend time with staff to reinforce their commitment to safety as a top priority.

“Ask how things are going, including issues that they might be facing and barriers to safety. Ask if they're taking time to do effective job briefings. Ask if they're making sure to do the job right every time no matter the situation, especially grounding, rubber gloves and sleeves, and cover-up. If you want safety to stay at the forefront of the crew, then it has to stay at the forefront of senior leadership. But they have to know that," said Miller.

“Open communication is key because it's the only way we will discover our blind spots, and that only comes in an environment of trust. We must learn to build a culture of care that invites open and honest conversation where workers feel it's safe to discuss everything, even failures. Open communication will help save lives and increase our accountability for ourselves, to our families and to every member on our team."