Improved safety training and heightened emphasis on work safety are significantly reducing the number of employee injuries at Puget Sound Energy (Washington), with numerous teams of workers in higher-risk jobs posting years without a single lost-time accident. And the training is paying off for the public. Lessons learned are applied in the field and shared with local fire and police departments to coordinate first response efforts.
“Employee and public safety is our mantra,” said Bob Keys, manager of safety and operations training at PSE. “Being safe and healthy is the best way our employees can perform their duties to provide reliable and safe natural gas and electric service to our customers.”
Some of the highest-risk jobs at PSE involve the construction, maintenance, and repair of the utility’s power-generation and energy-delivery systems. The people performing this work include “first responders” – the men and women who respond on a moment’s notice to assess and repair downed power lines or damaged natural gas mains.
Across the company, an increasing number of these and other PSE work groups are experiencing fewer and fewer injuries. The electric and natural gas first-response teams at PSE’s Olympia service center, for example, recently recorded their third consecutive year without a lost-time injury. Earlier this year, PSE’s operations and maintenance personnel at the Baker River Hydroelectric Project also posted a three-year stretch with no lost-time injuries, while the electric first-response team in South King County recorded its second straight year with no lost-time injuries. Many other PSE employee groups this year have recorded one or two years without a lost-time injury.
Keys said the utility’s natural gas first-response teams, as a whole, are indicative of the enormous strides PSE has made to reduce injuries. The division has gone from 28 recordable injuries in 2005 to only 3 so far in 2007. Increased training, field spot checks and testing of tools and equipment have contributed to the improved performance. As of mid-August, the division’s workers had missed 47 work days for the year from injuries, compared to 841 lost days in 2005.
“Through continued awareness our employees are able to identify safety hazards in the field, not only to our personnel but to the general public and other employees working near our facilities,” Keys said. “We’ve been able to use our safety skills to save customer lives.”
Much of the improvement can be traced to a cooperative safety program developed jointly by PSE and local unions. The program was initially designed a decade ago, but recent investment and support by PSE, Keys said, has transformed it into the extremely effective, PSE-exclusive system it is today.
Throughout the year, PSE and local unions representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 77, and United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 26 and Local 32, work together to improve safety for all employees and customers. Each first-response division has its own safety committee that meets once a month to discuss program effectiveness and develop new safety procedures. The committees are made up of union members and PSE. On average, about 12 different safety meetings are held in the field each month within PSE’s 11-county service area.
A highlight of the utility’s safety program is its annual “Safety Days” – all-day training events focused on improving safety in all aspects of first response. Twenty-two individual Safety Days sessions are held across PSE’s service area to accommodate employee schedules.
“First responders are able to receive safety training in everything from safe job-site procedures to proper driving techniques when heading to a scene,” Keys said. “People would be amazed at the level of time, effort and creativity put into Safety Days. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In addition to safety training for employees, PSE reaches out to public safety personnel by providing up to 14 yearly workshops for emergency responders at the utility’s training facilities in Seattle and Tacoma on how to manage natural gas and electric incidents. The utility supplements this training with more than 40 presentations each year at fire and police stations in 11 counties. This month, PSE is conducting four sessions. They include programs at PSE’s Seattle and Tacoma operations bases as well as on-site at the SeaTac Fire Department.