This month's question: What creative things is your co-op doing to address safety?

Answer: At Washington EMC, safety is a message shared at all levels of the organization, and the message starts at the top. I regularly visit crews in the field, and I don’t hesitate to express safety concerns if needed. Recently, when a hurricane left our system nearly 80% in the dark, I observed a visiting crew that was not following safety precautions. I sent them home. Getting the lights on really mattered in this situation, but I was not willing to do it at the expense of safety. To incentivize a commitment to safety, we implemented a safety holiday to reward employees for contributions in ensuring WEMC remains safety accredited. We created “Camp Co-op” where kids ages 8–13 are invited to participate in a day of learning about the fundamentals of an electric cooperative, with an emphasis on safety around power lines. I have a presentation titled “Why Safety Matters” that simply scrolls through photos of each employee’s family. Hardly a dry eye is left in the room. We ensure that all useful safety training and safety equipment is easily obtainable. We were among the first co-ops to adopt NRECA’s Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative and get 100% of our workforce onboard. We’re now part of the pilot program for phase two. My goal is to ensure that the culture of safety flows down to all employees, whether “safety” or “manager” is a part of their title or not.

Answer: When we were planning what to do for NRECA’s Commitment to Zero Contacts program, we decided to step outside the box and do something we’d never done before. We hosted an after-hours meal and safety meeting with our board of directors, supervisors and every single one of our employees and their significant others. We put together two different meetings: one for the inside and one for the union employees. All of our hourly employees were paid their overtime wages to attend. We brought in speakers who we believed would resonate with our people. We wanted our employees and their loved ones to know that we take their safety seriously and that employee safety drives the decision- making at the cooperative. Our message was not adversarial; it was supportive. We wanted their significant others to leave knowing we embrace a culture of safety. It didn’t move the needle as much as we hoped, but it did move it some. Culture change is slow … very slow. It is a steady push and takes an incredible amount of effort to affect culture in the long term. But we’re always up for trying new things. Ever-vigilant and relentless—that is how safety is done.

Answer: I believe that every employee has the right to come to work, do their job and return to their family in the same or better shape than when they left home. I also believe that member safety and education is paramount to our concern for community. For these reasons, I led an effort in 2015 to have our board of directors resolve the co-op’s commitment to safety. Since that resolution, we have commissioned a safety demonstration trailer for public education about electric generation, distribution and hazards; created an annual Safety Day where we close down our office and all employees and board members gather to enjoy a meal and celebrate achievements; started awarding Safety Challenge Coins to employees for good safety practices; built an off-site training facility for overhead and underground utility work; established lineworker and substation maintenance apprenticeship programs; created a “near miss” reporting program; launched our Commitment to Zero Incidents Program modeled on NRECA’s Commitment to Zero Contacts; began regular information-sharing meetings with contractors; and hired a contractor to staff a full-time security guard in our lobby. My safety philosophy is built on four pillars: leadership, commitment, accountability and training. To remind all employees of our safety commitment, we’ve framed several copies of that board resolution and hung them on the walls throughout our office.

Answer: Habersham EMC establishes annual key performance indicators, and each year, safety is a part of these in some way. Some years, it's been safety training, goals designed to reduce certain types of accidents (like backing accidents), etc. This year, the goal is safety accreditation. In addition, I have five key focus areas at HEMC. At the top of the list—not in the middle of it or just somewhere in the bullets—is safety. Every task. Every day. I challenge all employees to participate in open and honest discussions regarding safety. We arrange regular safety training with law enforcement or other public safety workers, educational opportunities for local media reporters to keep them safe when providing news coverage from the field, demonstrations to kids of all ages and regular communications during outages to make sure the public is aware of dangerous situations that occur during service interruptions. This year, we kicked off a new “100 Days of Summer" campaign. We brought in a Kona ice truck, and all employees were invited to enjoy a cold, frosty treat one hot afternoon. During this time, I personally visited with employees and emphasized our focus on safety. The campaign has continued with regular events to remind employees to keep safety a top priority. Watermelon and ice cream treats serve as “cool" reminders to stay focused. The campaign will go through Labor Day, and plans are underway for other initiatives. The message is clear: Safety does not stop when we go home for the day.