Safety Above All Else

As part of their training, linemen practice the rescue of an injured co-worker.

Safety is a concern that touches every part of our lives. Families looking for a place to settle down want to live in safe communities, while companies across all industries want to provide a safe working environment for their employees. Even when we sit down to watch a sporting event, we hear conversations on how to protect athletes from serious injuries.

Unfortunately, conversation is often as far as the issue goes. When it counts, measures that could keep the public, workers, athletes or even our own loved ones safe tend to be ignored in favor of time or convenience.

That’s not a mistake we can afford to make at Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative. Working with electricity is an inherently hazardous job, and we go to great lengths to make sure our workers return home safely to their loved ones each day.

That’s why safety is always our top priority and more than just empty talk. In fact, at the time of writing, SVEC employees have worked over 1,300 consecutive days and 600,000 man-hours without a lost-time injury. Over time, SVEC has built a culture of safety by putting our employees and our community before anything else.

Safety in Numbers

The most important part of building that culture is being able to identify the cooperative’s safety risks and keeping up with the latest ways to address them. For that, SVEC established an employee safety committee that meets regularly to discuss any near-miss incidents, vehicle accidents or lessons learned that could help prevent injuries in the future.

The safety committee has members from each department at the cooperative, from line crews to office staff. If employees notice a potential safety issue, they can contact their representative on the committee who will bring it up for discussion at the next meeting.

“It’s a way to get together, discuss any safety issues, run them by the staff and decide on any changes that need to be made,” says Mark Mosley, SVEC’s safety director and head of the employee safety committee. “Issues can be brought up by any- one in the co-op, but changes are called for by the safety committee.”

School Electricity Safety Presentation
SVEC does electrical safety demonstrations for schools, senior organizations, first responders and other civic groups.

The committee usually meets once a quarter, but in 2015 it met every two weeks as the members worked on creating a new safety

manual for the cooperative. The manual acts as a comprehensive record for all of SVEC’s own safety processes and best practices, as well as those required by OSHA and the Department of Transportation.

The manual provides guidance for employees on everything from personal protective equipment to the safe operation of large vehicles like digger derrick trucks. In addition, the manual includes disciplinary actions that will be taken if safety procedures are not followed.

Personal Responsibility

All the safe procedures in the world count for nothing if SVEC employees don’t take personal responsibility for their own safety and that of their co-workers. To encourage vigilance on the job, the cooperative’s IT department developed a Speak Up, Listen Up mobile app.

The Speak Up, Listen Up program is used by cooperatives to help start constructive conversations among employees about safe behavior. The SVEC app streamlines that process, allowing employees to send anonymous messages about safety observations.

“It can be ‘Thank you for doing a good job; I saw you go the extra mile.’ It can say something needs improvement and maybe refer to the safety manual,” says Mosley.

“One of our safety improvement goals is to correct the little things, and we feel like if we can do that, it will pre- vent us from having a major injury. We don’t want any- thing to go unreported because we track all those items so we can make things better.”

— Mark Mosley, SVEC Safety Director

The app has been so successful in its first year that SVEC presented it at the Safety Leadership Summit for electric cooperatives in Atlanta last month. The Speak Up, Listen Up app even notifies Mosley when a new message is sent, helping him keep track of any potential problems that may need to be addressed.

Now that the cooperative has such a long-running safety record, keeping track of such information has become even more important. In order to maintain that high level of safety, Mosley says the cooperative is dedicated to targeting the small issues.

“One of our safety improvement goals is to correct the little things, and we feel like if we can do that, it will prevent us from having a major injury,” he says. “We don’t want anything to go unreported because we track all those items so we can make things better.”

That dedication extends to even the simplest day-to-day practices, such as how to enter and exit one of the utility’s vehicles without injury. Through the attention paid to all potential safety issues both big and small, Mosley has confidence that the cooperative’s employees are well-prepared for the challenges they face.

Safety Beyond the Job

As a cooperative, the safety of our members is critical at all times, not just during National Electrical Safety Month. SVEC employees often put on safety presentations and demonstrations at schools and organizations, reminding people of the simple electric safety habits that can protect themselves and their loved ones from harm.

SVEC also works with first responders on safe practices in situations involving downed power lines. One of the cooperative’s biggest concerns is safety when a car crashes into a power pole.

“We try to coach first responders to keep away from the lines and tell the occupants of the car to stay inside because that’s the safest place to be. Just stay inside until we get there and get it deenergized, and then the responders can go in and do their job.”

Safety demonstrations also cover the basics of how electricity works and what to do when members or their kids see a downed power line. The demonstrations make use of a model neighborhood to show kids how the electric system works.

If you would like to schedule a safety demonstration for your organization, call SVEC Member Services at (800) 446-4509 or (386) 362-2226.

What To Do If Your Car Crashes Into A Utility Pole

Accidents happen. Would you know what to do if your car crashed into an electric utility pole? Knowing what to do could be the difference between life and death.

Always consider power lines and other electrical equipment to be live and dangerous!

If You Crash Into a Pole and There is No Fire

Your safest option is to stay inside your vehicle until help arrives. The vehicle acts as a path for the electrical current to travel to reach the ground. You are safe inside the vehicle, but if you get out, you could be electrocuted.

Call 911 or your local electric utility for help.

If You Crash Into a Pole and There IS a Fire

Only attempt to leave your vehicle if it is on fire.

To exit safely:

  • Jump out of the vehicle, making sure NO part of your body or clothing touches the ground and vehicle at the same time.
  • Land with both feet together and in small, shuffling steps, move at least 40 feet away from the vehicle.
  • The ground could be energized. Shuffling away with both feet together decreases the risk of electrical shock.

Call 911 or your local electric utility for help.