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Code of Character: Field Report #1

Applied Learning Science is working with the utility industry to draft the Electric Utility Code of Character to reduce fatalities.

We’re happy to report that the inaugural effort to begin drafting an Electric Utility Code of Character at the 2019 NERC HP Conference was successful.

We extended an invitation to participate in separate workshops during the general session by sharing our reason for taking on the task—we don’t want to see another fatality in our industry.  We believe fatalities are preventable and that our current mix of safety and HP principles still fall short. 

We have decided to turn inward and create a day-to-day work equivalent to the mindsets and attitudes inherent in defensive driving. We’re calling this Workplace Character.  In the end, it is the worker who gets injured or dies and remains the last and best line of defense against severe injuries and workplace fatalities.  We say this with great care, making sure to not excuse the environment or situation as one of the primary drivers of unsafe behavior, but rather, we say this in the interest of worker self-protection and self-preservation.

In our opening speech, Jeff White and I shared two personal examples where we couldn’t explain to ourselves at the time why we took unsafe, rather than safe, steps in our respective work situations.  Understanding this problematic dynamic holds our attention, motivates our investigation and drives our mission.  To advance the discussion, we reviewed the importance of the Five Principles of HP in the DOE handbook and the role our quick, emotionally driven System 1 thinking and decision-making process plays each day in safety vigilance.  Next, we took a close look at the beneficial impact of striving for both personal and team workplace mastery. 

We shared how strengthening our character—the deliberately cultivated essential habits and ways of thinking—ensures that our level of training will be enough for any occasion, especially those that are new, pressure-filled or disorienting.

Next, we briefly examined the character development practices used in other industries, including the military, the aviation community and in large health-care environments.  Using the Hippocratic Oath and The Navy Seal Ethos and Code as clear examples, we punctuated the point that our industry—while societally critical and dangerous—still does not have a single, unifying code of character. 

We believe that it is possible to write a code that speaks to both our hearts and our intellect, and one that can receive the full-throated support of investor-owned utilities, Public Power, the IBEW and IEEE.  In fact, we welcome their participation and support.  This is particularly the case because the code needs to coalesce on worker safety, operating more fundamentally than the political and economic aims of unionism or capitalism.  To be clear, worker rights and shareholder return are critical concerns and require constant attention. However, just as the Hippocratic Oath spans the entire medical industry, including both for-profit and non-profit entities, and those with and without a represented workforce, our Electric Utility Code can as well.  

Our invitation was well-received, and more than 70 of our peers fully participated in two separate workshops two days later. The design and results of these sessions will be shared in our next article.  Thank you for staying connected and we look forward to your thoughts and perspectives.  You can either comment publicly at the bottom of this article or send me a private email to [email protected].

We will be issuing additional reports through T&D World’s Etrain newsletter. It is our collective hope—Applied Learning Science and T&D World—to ultimately publish an Electric Utility Code of Character, but we believe this requires genuine industry-wide participation.  Once this code has been established, we can determine the best methodology for deploying and reinforcing its essential guidance.  Thank you for your ongoing support.

Take care,

Tom Cohenno, EdD and Anna Campbell, MA

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