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Culture drives safety record

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​by Leah Shapiro

Desert Southwest reached a milestone Oct. 27, as it celebrated four years with no lost-time accidents. That translates to 1,461 days without a lost workday. At the time this story went to press, the record was continuing. Director of Safety Kevin Jensen shared, “This achievement is impressive not only among federal agencies, but especially in our industry. For the overhead utility industry—and for trade, construction and maintenance workers—going four years without a lost-time incident is exceptional and indicative of a high-reliability organization.”

Headquarters-based Safety and Occupational Health Manager Patrick Nies added, “It clearly shows the success of the incident-prevention program. The leadership at all levels in DSW goes above and beyond what is expected, and it shows.”

Safety begins with SafeStart

After interviewing more than 10 employees for this story, one thing became clear: How the SafeStart program is implemented and carried out by employees is what is making the difference in DSW. Nies stated, “SafeStart is not a token gesture. They live it and breathe it; they promote it all the time. Every meeting I have ever attended in the region begins with SafeStart.”

Nies told a story of a “SafeStart minute,” where an employee saw another employee walking down a flight of stairs while texting. He pulled the employee aside, talked about why the at-risk behavior was unsafe, and used SafeStart principles to analyze the situation. The texting-andwalking employee thanked their coworker for bringing the hazard to their attention. Nies explained, “That is evidence of a successful program. Employees are comfortable to offer suggestions about a behavior change, and not only do they do it, but it is well received. You don’t see that very often.”

The partnership between DSW Safety and Occupational Health Manager Troy Henry and Vice President of Transmission System Asset Management for DSW Rick Hillis is also said to be a driving force behind the region’s culture of safety. Jensen shared, “Troy and Rick work as a team. They voice the same concerns and they identify and solve hazards. The culture of working safely expands out from them.”

Nies added, “They put together a leadership team that goes on annual trips to all facilities and substations, where they review safety concerns and management needs. They talk about incidents and ask for staff input and suggestions. It’s a true team effort—between each member of the Maintenance organization—to identify hazards and promote safety.”

People make difference

Although management models and supports the focus on safety, it is the DSW employees who carry out the effort day in and day out. DSW Customer Service Liaison Chris Lyles shared, “Over the years, I’ve seen a subtle shift in the culture around speaking up and reporting unsafe behaviors and practices. There is no fear and no shame when talking about near misses.”

Before that, there was one lost work day in 2008, which happened as an employee was changing a blown-out tire. After removing the stopper from the front right passenger tire, he stood up and cut his head on some low razor wire.

Construction Control Representative Lawrence Merchant explained, “If someone sees another person doing something unsafe, it is their obligation to stop them, speak up and discuss what happened. You won’t find that in all industries, but it is what happens here in DSW and on every single one of my projects.”

The Safety Committee, which has representation from numerous craft and office employees, also reinforces the culture. Electrician Foreman II Randy Strand, who serves as the Safety Committee chairperson, said, “The safety culture in DSW is alive and flourishing. The Safety Committee facilitates lessons learned discussions where we all learn from one another. Craft employees in the field can learn from office staff, and vice versa, on all safety matters.”

After having some motor vehicle incidents over the years, the team sought a solution. The DSW Safety Committee developed a Motor Vehicle Backing Policy to enforce pull-through parking, a vehicle walk around and use of a spotter. Whenever someone will be putting a vehicle in reverse, the passenger gets out of the vehicle and helps guide the driver. Nies shared, “They do it everywhere they go.”

Proactive approach, vision

Henry has served as the region’s Safety and Occupational Health Manager for about 13 years. Although he is proud of the recent four-year record, he is transparent about the fact that the achievement has not come without any challenges: “A record like this doesn’t just happen; it isn’t luck. We are committed to improving even more. There is still work to be done. New initiatives, competing priorities and increased workloads are to be expected as Western evolves. But we’re doing so much at once; it needs to be managed from a safety perspective. SafeStart teaches us that when our eyes and mind are not on task, incidents happen.”

Henry has a simple vision for safety in DSW: To strengthen the safety climate and continue to integrate safety management throughout Western. Here is the plan to achieve this vision:

  • Demonstrate management commitment—keep workers safe through words and actions

  • Align and integrate safety as a value—never compromise safety for the sake of productivity

  • Ensure accountability at all levels—hold employees accountable for safety, including management, safety personnel, supervisors and workers

  • Improve supervisory leadership—make sure they have the authority and ability to make changes and correct hazards on the job site

  • Empower workers—involve employees in safety-related planning and decision making and encourage them to speak up when they identify hazards

  • Bridge the communication gap between workers and management—build mutual trust and promote a shared belief that a positive safety climate is integral to getting the job done

  • Improve communication/messaging—highlight not only the importance of safety, but its alignment with production and other organizational goals and objectives

  • Training at all levels—provide ongoing, effective training tailored to the specific roles and responsibilities at each level of the organization

  • Encourage owner/customer involvement—develop and issue project policies, shape bidding practices and ultimately approve budgets, which can drive a strong project safety climate

With employees driving the culture and choosing safe practices, DSW will likely continue its lost-time incidents record. However, people make mistakes every day. When the next incident does happen in DSW, the focus will be on learning from it so employees can be safer moving forward.

Hillis shared, “Having zero lost-time accidents in four years keeps employees productive, but more importantly it keeps them healthy, safe and going home each night to their families and friends.”

In an email to the region, Administrator and CEO Mark Gabriel wrote, “Thank you for doing your part to safely and reliably power the energy frontier. This achievement is more than just a safety record and recognition. Your actions and practices exemplify the cornerstone of Western’s safety culture.”

What is a SafeStart minute? 

At the beginning of a meeting, an employee volunteers to talk about an incident or a near miss. The example can come from on or off the job. They address the incident using critical error reduction techniques, discuss contributing factors and what could have happened if SafeStart principles had been followed.
Page Last Updated: 7/14/2015 6:56 AM