Joe Slater, CEO of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, was recently honored by the National Safety Council for his commitment to safety. (Photo By: SMECO)
Now as CEO of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, it never leaves his mind. That commitment has earned him a spot among the National Safety Council's
2017 CEOs Who 'Get It.'
"Safety has and will always be my top priority," said Slater, recalling how an incident that occurred three months into his first job at the co-op has dogged his memories for nearly 38 years.
SMECO lineworkers were electrocuted while attempting to restore power following an early season snow storm in October 1979.
"That preventable loss was due to failure to wear personal protection equipment and not following established work practices," Slater said. "Those shortcuts cost two men their lives. For me, it was an experience that forged a 'never again' promise and mindset."
Since taking over as CEO in 2002, Slater has made getting the best training, tools and equipment for SMECO's 530 employees a prime objective, as the National Safety Council noted.
The results include a state-of-the-art technical training facility and analytics-based safety incident reviews. He also personally tries on safety gear used by the co-op's operations personnel.
"Stressing safety for all of our employees has to be an inclusive process to ensure that it's part of our culture and not just something that is talked about at monthly meetings and forgotten," said Slater.
The co-op manager is among seven top executives honored in 2017 for their commitment to safety, including Maj. Gen. Andrew Mueller, chief safety officer of the United States Air Force, and Raymond Brown, CEO of the environmental systems construction firm, ESCO Group.
"Doing a job right means doing it safely—every time—and safety starts at the top," said Deborah A. P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. These leaders "know deep down that safety is paramount for their employees, their clients and their families."