KANSAS CITY, Mo.—When electric cooperatives sign on to Phase 2 of the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative, one of the questions on the 13-part questionnaire asks: “Over the last 12 to 18 months, after normal working hours, how often does the line supervisor conduct job site observations on jobs you’re working on?” 

KAMO Power did some soul-searching and took that question a step further. “Are we being as safe at night as we are during the day? We thought we were, but we couldn’t say for sure,” recalled Ken Macken, the Vinita, Oklahoma-based transmission co-op’s former safety director.  

That discovery was the co-op’s wake-up call to sharpen its focus on protecting workers during nighttime calls, when risk and stress levels are higher, Macken told attendees during a May 1 breakout session at the NRECA Safety Leadership Summit.  

“Everything changes when it’s dark,” said Macken, the incoming NRECA safety director. “Whether it’s an appropriate expectation or not, there’s pressure to get the lights back on as quickly as we can. And then maybe you’ve just been woken up from four hours of sleep, and then you have to travel to the site when you’re sleepy. And you just had a storm blow through, and there’s damage. All those things make it difficult.” 

To build better connections with nighttime crews, Macken began nighttime visits at work sites to see whether crews were following safe work practices, including “effective tailgates at each job, great communication and appropriate grounding procedures.”  

The co-op developed more qualified observers by “training up” certain other supervisors who familiarized themselves with Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange’s safety app.  

Observers are valuable, Macken said, because they can facilitate on-the-spot “conversation right there and give great, honest feedback.” Smaller distribution co-ops can “multiply a one-man safety force,” he added, by training line superintendents, substation superintendents or operations managers to fill that role.  

While tempting to skip them in the middle of the night, tailgate sessions can confirm on-site hazards and verify that crews are clear on procedures, such as de-energizing lines.  

“At tailgates, you can slow down a bit, engage your right brain and really think through a little bit better and talk things through with the other guys,” Macken said.  

Today, the nighttime protocols, and other practices from the C2Z survey, are part of the co-op’s new safety improvement plan, which it calls “Ten Life-Saving Practices.”  

Macken credits C2Z Phase 2 and a willingness among crews to implement the changes—which have continued even after his departure from KAMO Power—for contributing to “a sense of involvement with our guys during after-hours operations. Folks are encouraged to have tailgates, no matter what, so they can review the work being done and the hazards that are present, so we go into it eyes wide open, even at night.”