In an industry that regularly ranks in the most dangerous jobs category, safety is a major consideration for Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative employees. A recent site inspection in conjunction with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program showed that TVEC’s safety culture is working.
“As part of RESAP, safety experts come in and interview employees and conduct inspections of 15 different aspects of work,” said TVEC director of corporate services Donna Hindman. “In those 15 areas, we earned 11 strong performance ratings and four satisfactory performance ratings, which are the two highest ratings. The observers were highly complimentary of our programs and facilities, but most importantly they were impressed with our employees.”
Categories of inspection included safety programs and safety improvement plan, environmental and hazardous materials handling, vehicle maintenance, personal protective equipment, substations, administration, and specialty protective equipment.
As if to prove the inspectors’ grading correct, TVEC employees marked two major milestones in safety as well, with three years and more than 1 million hours worked with no lost-time accidents.
“These are accomplishments we haven’t reached before and show how, from leadership out to every employee, there is buy-in on a proactive safety culture here,” said Chad Marshall, CLCP, manager of safety and loss control. “For a co-op of this size, 184 employees, the number of miles driven and doing this much work day to day, it is really impressive.”
That’s not to say that there have been no incidents or accidents. Marshall noted that the safety culture within the co-op has been shifted to make sure that any incident is treated as a learning opportunity to be shared in order to protect others and find solutions.
“What is remarkable is the number of incident reports that we get turned in—we want more of those, not less,” he said. “The philosophy is not about being held accountable for a misstep or mistake but being mindful that every incident can make a difference for the other men and women out working with you every day. In this kind of environment, everyone benefits by having open and honest communication.”
While lineworkers face the most obvious safety challenges as they go about their daily tasks and storm work, the overall culture of safe work practices is present throughout the co-op. Every employee performs tasks that are necessary for keeping the lights on. But at the end of the day, working safely is about keeping each person at their best both at work and at home.
“It can be called heroic work, but what I tell everybody here is that heroes are needed at home,” Marshall said. “Our motto is safety first, all day every day. I’m a firm believer that if we concentrate on one task at a time, one mile at a time and one day at a time, that is what makes a difference. And that is what gets you back to the most important thing, which is getting home to the people you love.”