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AUSTIN, Texas—With the launch of the second phase of the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative, electric cooperative safety professionals are urging managers and staff across the co-op network to focus on communications and consistency to help reduce injuries and near-miss incidents on and off the job.
“Distractions, blind spots or drift from fundamental rules often play a part when issues arise,” Bud Branham, NRECA’s director of safety programs, said during a briefing to introduce C2Z Phase 2 at NRECA’s recent Safety Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas.
“Consistency is the key to a culture of safety,” said Branham. “When we follow the steps we know will reduce the chances of accidents or injury, we increase our chances of heading home safely at the end of every shift.”
The first phase of the safety initiative was launched by NRECA, Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange and statewide safety directors in 2018. In the second phase, co-ops are urged to encourage ongoing discussions among line and service technicians and other co-op employees on ways to avoid hazards encountered during both routine and unusual activities.
“Most accidents occur within a few miles of home,” said Corey Parr, Federated’s vice president of safety and loss prevention. “Applying the procedures that help avoid contact injuries reduces the chances of human error.”
While the first phase of C2Z was introduced with a focus on co-op directors and leadership, the second phase includes more direct input from operations personnel, including crew leaders, lineworkers and apprentices.
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“We want co-ops to have the flexibility to address their safety challenges based upon their individual experiences,” said Parr.
“Each individual co-op has different struggles that lead to situations that elevate risks,” said Parr. “Sometimes more resources might be needed, but other times, hazards might be avoided if more attention is directed toward the life-saving rules we all highlight during safety meetings, tailgate briefings and day-to-day operations.”
Changes in the program stem in part from the results of a survey circulated among the operations staff of more than 30 co-ops during the pilot phase. The group included some co-ops and public power districts that did not participate in the first phase of C2Z.
“This is more of a grassroots approach,” said Branham. “When we can get regular staff, including people in field operations to take ownership of the program, they are more likely to express their concerns. That gives managers more opportunities to listen and learn firsthand how time and production concerns, shortcuts or errors can lead to tragedy or injury.”
The C2Z Phase 2 approach uses a 13-question survey with participating co-ops, collects data on what field employees actually see during work, and forms the basis for a two-way discussion with co-op crew leaders. Then, individualized action plans are created with agreement from the crew leaders that participating co-ops can use to improve.
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The program is designed to include on-site visits to assess worksite risks and candid interviews with staff to discuss their experiences during routine field operations or outage restoration periods.
“We’re trying to make sure that the fundamental life-saving rules we all know, like wearing personal protection equipment, holding adequate job briefings before work begins, and having designated qualified observers onsite, are consistently followed,” said Branham.
Co-ops that commit to C2Z Phase 2 will receive confidential summaries based upon the surveys and the site visit assessments.
“This approach should help to produce more two-way dialogue and honest feedback from crew leaders and selected service personnel,” said Parr.
Customized summaries will be produced for senior management of each participating co-op, which could be discussed with crew leaders. But nothing will be shared outside of their operations without the express permission of the individual co-op involved.
“When we encourage honest discussion and get workers actively engaged in ways to reduce risks and improve safety, it becomes easier to make progress toward reducing electrical contacts,” said Branham. “The goal here is making improvements in safety. People have the opportunity to openly say exactly what they see when they work in the field. If people are speaking up, it’s easier to see those areas where improvements are needed.”
“You don’t need to have ever been involved in Phase 1 to benefit,” said Parr. “C2Z Phase 2 gives co-ops an opportunity to approach safety improvements with solutions drawn directly from staff experiences. When ideas and observations come directly from people who are doing the work, they are more likely to buy in to making real improvements.”
For more information on C2Z Phase 2, contact Bud Branham at Bud.Branham@nreca.coop or Corey Parr at firstname.lastname@example.org.