Employee Safety Top Priority for CREA and Member Co-ops

By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director

“Mayday! Mayday! Lineman down!”

This is a radio call we never want to hear in the electric utility world. That’s because in many cases, this call for help means that a lineworker made contact with an energized line and needs immediate medical assistance. Sometimes lives are changed forever, sometimes lives are lost.

Unfortunately, every year this call goes out too often across the country. Despite the extensive safety training that is undertaken by electric lineworkers and the attention to safety given by their employers, electric contacts are still happening in the utility business. It’s a persistent problem that all of us in this business are concerned about and trying to address.

The safety of electric co-op lineworkers is up to many people: the lineworkers themselves, their fellow crew members, their supervisors, the general manager of the co-op and also the co-op board of directors. Everyone in the chain of command has a role in creating a culture of safety at the co-op and placing a premium on safety. As our lineworkers go about the often-dangerous job of keeping our lights on, we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep them safe.

The Colorado Rural Electric Association also has a role in keeping lineworkers out of harm’s way. Of CREA’s 12 full-time staff, four are dedicated to helping train our members with respect to workplace safety and regulatory compliance. CREA staff regularly travels throughout the entire state to provide instruction on topics ranging from electric theory to line construction. The number one priority of our program is to support member co-ops’ efforts to see that every employee goes home to his or her family each night.

To that end, our safety professionals either completed or are in the process of completing a training program our national trade association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, created some 20 years ago. This program consists of a series of workshops, lectures, directed study and independent projects that take place over a two-year period. Individuals who complete the program and develop a final course module that others can use attain the status of Certified Loss Control Professional.

While the day-to-day management of this national program is handled by a dedicated team of NRECA employees, that staff reports to a group of co-op volunteers from around the country who help oversee the program. I was asked about a year ago to participate on this task force as the representative of the statewide co-op organizations. In this role, I gained a whole new level of respect for all of the people who complete the program and take the expertise they gained back to their states.

In 2017, CREA’s safety professionals are adjusting their schedules slightly to provide adequate time to keep up with their training. With the new calendar of visits to member co-ops, the job safety and training instructors will be able to provide the needed courses and updates for co-op employees while maintaining their own course work and training and helping keep everyone safer.

We are also in the process of selecting a new director of safety and loss control for CREA. This is a key position for this organization, and I’m confident we will find an energetic and innovative leader who will continue CREA’s strong commitment to safety for all the employees of our member co-ops. Our co-ops depend on CREA to support their safety efforts, and we are committed to providing best-in-class services.

Our safety staff is also rolling out a new program in 2017 called Speak Up, Listen Up. The objective of this program is to make sure that all co-op employees, regardless of seniority or tenure, are comfortable talking to their supervisors about any concerns they have regarding workplace safety. The ability of co-workers, particularly those who work on energized facilities, to communicate freely and openly is critical to the safe completion of their duties.

In the last couple years, there were several electrical contacts involving Colorado co-op linemen, with one resulting in a fatality. This is a heartbreaking event in the life of not only the family of the worker, but also for his friends and colleagues. We want to make sure we are doing everything possible to eliminate these incidents and take care of those folks who literally energize our lives.