Hoosier Energy's Merom Generating Station built a good safety track record over the years with a few lost-time accidents. But there was room for improvement, said Karl Back, who manages the plant for the Bloomington, Indiana-based G&T.

"The approach to our safety program at the station had been more of a traditional program. We did a lot of good things for safety, ran our program by procedures, and we simply reacted to issues when we had them," said Back.

"We would react and safety performance would improve for a while, and then we'd have setbacks. We did not have a system in place to continuously improve our safety."

"We did a lot of things such as safety meetings…setting up policies and rules and conducting accident investigations," Back told attendees at the NRECA 2018 Safety Leadership Summit last month.

"However, we were not making safety first in everything we do, we were more focused on execution of work first, then safety was next," said Back. "We did not have a culture of safety."

A Safety Transformation

A movement to a proactive safety culture at Merom Generating Station required nothing less than "a radical change," said Back.

With assistance from NRECA, Hoosier Energy targeted several items as vital to the success of a new safety initiative: top leadership engagement, a new formal organizational structure and employee engagement and involvement.

The complex process meant that safety department staff and plant management had to redefine roles and responsibilities. The initiative began in 2015, and Back acknowledged it's been "a difficult change that we are still battling."

For example, safety department staff transformed from a leadership to a support role as "subject matter experts," said Kyle Foli, Hoosier Energy's safety and training programs team leader.

"Each safety person has a different level of expertise and training. Some are highly skilled in emergency response and accident investigations, where others are trained process safety management and radiation safety," Foli said. "All work well together and complement each other."

And now if a workplace injury happens, plant management takes accountability for investigations, while safety staff ensures regulatory reports are completed and submitted in a timely manner and to keep abreast of new rules.

Since the power plant has "embarked on our journey to a culture of safety," said Back, results are encouraging: no lost-time injuries during the first full year and fewer injuries.

"The safety initiative has forced us to focus on safety first, in everything we do."