Choosing Safety

Posted: January 14, 2019

How SVEC builds a safe work culture

Lineworker practices a rescue exercise with a dummy
SVEC lineman James Humphrey performs a safety exercise where he learns to rescue an injured coworker.

Whether we think about it or not, most of us have safety procedures we follow daily. We practice safe driving in hopes of avoiding accidents, wash our hands to stay safe from disease and take any number of other day-to-day precautions.

For many Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative employees, electrical safety can become as second nature as any of these daily habits. However, because the consequences of making a mistake when working with electricity can be so severe, relying on habit isn’t enough.

That’s why SVEC constantly works to train employees in safe practices and to find new ways of keeping our employees accident free. Achieving those goals requires a commitment to safety from each person at the cooperative, from the CEO down to the most recent hire.

“We’ve been able to keep the door open so everyone feels free to ask questions at any time,” Training & Safety Loss Control Director Mark Mosley says. “If someone has a near miss or comes close to having an accident, it’s not held against them when they report it. We need a team effort to keep everyone safe.”

That dedication to safety has paid off in a tangible way at SVEC. The cooperative has gone over four years with only one lost-time injury, meaning an injury that requires employees to miss work.

“I think that shows that our employees have bought in on what we’re trying to do and the direction we’re trying to go in,” says Mosley.

Team Mentality

Regular training is a key factor in keeping an injury-free workplace. One way SVEC keeps safety at the front of employees’ minds is with monthly reminders and drills that cover procedures ranging from how to safely enter and exit a vehicle to what to do in the event of a bomb threat or building evacuation.

In order to determine the training employees need most and where accidents are most likely to happen, SVEC established an employee safety committee that meets regularly. Discussions can include near-miss incidents, vehicle accidents or any lessons learned that could help prevent injuries in the future.

Each department at the cooperative, from office staff to linemen, is represented on the safety committee. When an employee notices a potential safety hazard in the workplace, they can let their representative know, and they will bring it up at the next meeting.

The committee also works to update an employee safety manual every five years. In addition to the cooperative’s own safety procedures, the manual covers those required by OSHA and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“When a new rule requires us to make changes, the safety committee determines the best way we can comply while doing our jobs. Then we update the manual,” says Mosley.

The manual is a comprehensive source for employees, including guidance on everything from personal protective equipment to the safe operation of large vehicles like digger derrick trucks. All manuals at SVEC are also available digitally, so finding information and answers to questions is fast and easy.

Aiming Higher

As much as SVEC employees are encouraged to stay vigilant about safety at all times, it would be impossible for anyone to spot every potential hazard on their own. That’s why the cooperative encourages employees to work together by using the Speak Up, Listen Up mobile app.

Developed by SVEC’s own IT department, the goal of the Speak Up, Listen Up app is to help start constructive conversations among employees about safe behavior. The app removes some of the inherent awkwardness of correcting a co-worker’s mistake by allowing employees to send anonymous messages about safety observations.

“It’s not just unsafe acts. If they see someone doing something the right way, they can offer praise for that,” says Mosley. “We use it in both directions, and it works well.”

But for all of the cooperative’s safety accomplishments, there is always more that can be done. Each year, SVEC puts together a Safety Improvement Plan that highlights the most important ways to build on our safety measures.

This year’s improvement plan is focused on optimizing performance while highlighting the importance of accountability for each employee. The more each person at SVEC can take responsibility for their own safety, the closer the cooperative gets to its ultimate goal of being injury free.

“We’re really just trying to do better with the little things,” says Mosley. “We want to have everyone come to work, do their job and go home safe and healthy.”

What is PPE?

In the electric industry, the abbreviation PPE stands for “personal protective equipment.” These can range from rubber gloves and hard hats to hot sticks for maintaining energized lines and equipment. The section below shows some of the tools SVEC linemen use to stay safe on the job.

Safety Glasses

Plastic frame and lenses worn to protect eyes and block UV rays.

Hearing Protection

Mounts into hardhat slots and has replaceable foam cushions. Different types have different noise reduction ratings.

Safety Harness

Full-body harness for working in aerial lift. Harness attaches to truck boom with lanyard and locking snap hook.

Rubber Gloves

Dielectric-tested, rubber-insulated gloves for electrical protection. Glove class dictates the level of voltage line personnel may work.

Rubber Glove Protectors

Leather gloves with orange vinyl cuff. Worn over insulated rubber gloves to reduce chance of puncturing or tearing from sharp objects.

Work Boots

Lace-to-toe leather boots with toe-protection materials and extra arch support for pole climbing.

Hard Hat

Made from hard plastic with inner web suspension system; has universal slots to attach accessories such as hearing protection. Factory-tested for dielectric strength.

Rubber Sleeves

Dielectric-tested, insulated rubber sleeves for added protection of upper arms and shoulders.

Shirt

Flame-resistant fabric and stitching with nonmetallic buttons.

Lanyard

Nylon strap with locking snap hooks connects to lineman’s safety harness to truck boom to prevent falling.

Hot Stick

Insulated, dielectric-tested fiberglass tool for maintaining energized lines and equipment.

Jeans

Fire-resistant with flame-resistant stitching.