Optimism bias is the belief that bad things won’t happen to you.

“It’s one of the problems in our industry,” said Dwight Miller, director of safety, training and loss prevention for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives.

And it’s one of the key things that NRECA and Federated Rural Insurance Exchange were targeting when they launched the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative nearly two years ago.

“If we can get them to believe it could actually happen to them, that is a major accomplishment,” Miller said. “Maybe the most important one that we could ever achieve.”

Since launching Commitment to Zero Contacts at the NRECA Safety Leadership Summit in April 2018, more than 570 managers of electric co-ops and public power districts have formally endorsed the program, and many statewide associations have made it a major focus of their safety education work.

The program’s creators say the response from co-ops has been extremely positive, and that it’s beginning to show on-the-ground results.

“We’ve seen the average number of contacts reduced more than 25% annually and serious injury numbers reduced significantly,” said Corey Parr, Federated’s vice president for safety and loss prevention. “The results to this point are good, but we have to be focused on zero contacts year after year.”

NRECA and Federated worked closely with statewides in designing the program and in developing its suite of tools and materials.

Farris Leonard, manager of job training and safety field services for North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, said his trainers have incorporated Commitment to Zero Contacts into their presentations with a goal of promoting candid and open dialogue about safety concerns.

“I'm seeing job briefings that promote safety conversations, and they also promote training opportunities, especially for the new personnel on the crew,” he said. “It’s an effective tool for reinforcing our overall safety commitment, and it gives seasoned lineworkers opportunities to promote safety and provide leadership.”

Parr said one facet of the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative that’s been a particular success is the Stop and Focus Every Day (S.A.F.E.) app, a smartphone/tablet program that walks crews through job site briefings and safety reporting.

“There are more than 250 electric co-op and public power district systems using the S.A.F.E. app, submitting an average of 15,500 job briefings and 500 job site observations each,” he said. “This will definitely help mitigate future risk.”

Leonard said co-op crews in North Carolina are responding well to the app’s emphasis on teamwork.

“Individuals are inspecting their own personal protection equipment, but because they're doing it as a group, they see their peers doing the inspection,” said Leonard. “It encourages crew members to be thorough.”

Another popular tool of the Commitment to Zero Contacts program is challenge coins, which co-ops can customize with safety messages and hand out to crews.

The Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives ordered about 1,800 coins and has distributed them widely among operations personnel at its 46 member co-ops.

“One side says, ‘Committed to Zero Contacts,’ and the other side says, ‘Committed for the Ones I Love,’” said Allan Branstetter, AMEC’s director of risk management and training.

“Everybody wants to go home at night, but this kind of shows you why you want to take the extra time to be safe,” said AMEC safety instructor Bruce Stumpe. “And the coins are constant reminders. When you reach in your pocket, you feel that.”

For Bud Branham, NRECA’s director of safety programs, the ultimate goal of the program is for co-op employees to adopt safe practices not just on the job but throughout their lives.

“When people make a voluntary commitment to consistently apply life-saving rules, they begin to take personal ownership,” he said. “When you get folks to talk about safety on the job, at home and in life, that means the message is getting through.”

The 2020 Safety Leadership Summit, NRECA’s premier industry educational and networking event for co-op staffers responsible for safety practices, is happening April 15-17 in Orlando, Florida. Learn more and register.