Cultivating a Culture of Safety
Through everything we do for our members, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are focused on safetyBy Dirk Burleson
Electric cooperatives were built on supporting principles, which have created a culture that is the foundation of how we operate today. Business and strategic decisions made by our boards of directors and management staff are based on reliability, member satisfaction and good sound economics.
Through everything we do in “keeping the lights on” for our members, North Carolina’s electric cooperatives are also focused on safety. Electricity is inherently dangerous. It is absolutely critical that the cooperative work environment, where expectations are high, integrates safety as a function so that safety performance is a way of work shared by employees. Safety is more than a priority for us — it is a part of our culture.
Managers set the tone for safety at each co-op. A truly safe workplace is best accomplished through engagement at all levels. Continuous engagement allows the manager to gauge the safety pulse of the organization, but most importantly, it demonstrates a commitment to safety that will permeate to all. Building trust and transparency will allow for continuous growth and improvement in safety.
The greatest measure of safety are the accidents and injuries that never happen.
Through leadership, continuous evaluation and setting the bar high, the safety culture of an organization will be evident. This is even more important today, as a younger work force is developed and new leaders emerge at cooperatives across the state. To maintain a consistent culture of safety, it is important to demonstrate expectations to new employees, as well as training new leaders and future managers. The greatest value here is helping employees integrate into a work environment where safety is a top priority, where decisions are made with safety being the driving influence, and where it’s made clear that individual actions can and do make a difference.
Without individual ownership in safety, there will be gaps and even misalignments, which will allow for subtle shifts away from expected and learned best practices. All employees are responsible for themselves and their actions first. The importance of this behavior was highlighted with the 8 Promises of “I WILL,” which was a safety initiative promoted in 2017. This safety initiative was not based on rules or compliance, but on individual promises that encompass safety responsibility. Each promise begins with the words of commitment “I WILL.” Safety starts with the individual, and actions result from personal commitment.
With leadership, individual commitment to a safe culture becomes embedded in how we do our jobs each day. It permeates everything we do, creating a safe environment for our employees, and ensuring we provide safe, reliable service to our members.
The rewards of an organization with a strong safety culture can be hard to measure. We have developed metrics and milestones to measure safety, but the greatest measure of safety are the accidents and injuries that never happen.
About the AuthorDirk Burleson is general manger for Forest City-based Rutherford EMC.