A creative new safety initiative at some of Louisiana’s electric cooperatives is reminding lineworkers and other operations personnel to think of their families and protect themselves at work.

During an NRECA Certified Loss Control Professional training conference last year, Ricky Melancon, safety coordinator for the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, was inspired to create the new program after Justin Snyder, the loss control and training director of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, showed him a photo.

“A lineworker’s gear bag had been decorated with messages from his children, so he saw those messages whenever he reached for his rubber gloves,” said Melancon.

“It really pulled on my heartstrings because it was a reminder to never turn a blind eye to actions that can help to keep crews safe,” he said. “That’s what we need crew leaders and every member of their team to think about every time they start a job.”

Melancon spent 14 years as a lineworker at Winnsboro-based Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative before taking a post with the statewide. He described the sketch to ALEC leadership and used it to push for a new initiative called the Color for Safety.

It began in April with a contest encouraging operations personnel to let loved ones decorate or post messages on the bags holding the employees’ personal protection gear, which is used when there is a risk of electrical contact.

“We had about 25 entries the first year, and three of the bags were selected as winners and their owners were honored at ALEC’s annual meeting in July,” said Melancon. “We’re still promoting the initiative and are hoping for more participation next year.”

ALEC managers are convinced that getting operations personnel to focus on family reinforces their individual commitments to get home safely, and the drawings, paintings and personal messages reinforce that theme.

“Your family cares about you, so you never want to let them down,” said Melancon. “When you show your workers that you really care, you give them value. They feel like their safety is important to management, and they don’t want to let them down either."

Cade Felps, a 10-year journeyman lineworker and a crew leader with Baton Rouge-based DEMCO, was the winner of the Color for Safety competition in 2023, with an illustration he drew of a crew member. It depicts the lineworker with his newborn child cradled at his waist in his glove bag.

“We're trained from the day we get hired that our lives depend on rubber gloves as our first line of defense against electrical contact injuries,” Melancon said. “None of us should ever start a job without reaching for our glove bags first.”

Melancon said ALEC and co-op managers embraced the initiative because they understand the harsh reality that electrical contacts can lead to permanent injuries or death. While quantifying the actual results of such efforts may be hard, ALEC’s safety team members are seeing more and more decorated bags when they meet with crews at jobsites for field inspections or conduct safety presentations at co-op offices.

“The payoff is when crews don't make contact injuring themselves and affecting their quality of life or possibly losing a life,” said Melancon. “Everybody out there is working for their families and loved ones because they value you and the choices you make at work affect them.”

“Crew leaders are accountable for safety and that’s a key metric of their overall performance,” he adds. “When we care about people, they work better and safer. That helps everybody head home safely at the end of a shift.”