“Safety is as Safety Does” and “Ignoring a Warning Can Cause Much Mourning” are two of the more creative safety slogans I’ve heard. Such inventive catch phrases and workplace safety posters are just part of what helps us achieve our ultimate goal, which is to ensure our employees return to their homes and loved ones in the same condition they left.
Only a collaborative and concerted effort, coupled with individual responsibility, can help us safely manage our power industry environment, which is full of extremely high temperatures, high pressures, and, of course, electricity.
We are always learning and improving at NV Energy, and I felt it was important to share some of the values and methods we use to help keep each other safe.
Culture of Safety
One place within our fleet that stands out is at our natural gas–fueled Fort Churchill Generating Station, just north of Yerington, Nevada. Remarkably, this plant’s team of more than 30 employees crossed a silver-anniversary safety threshold last year. The vigilant personal responsibility and “watch-out-for-each-other” safety culture at Fort Churchill has resulted in more than 25 years of operation without experiencing a single lost-time accident. We’ve been told that is the best in the nation for a fossil-fueled plant, and we are very proud of our team and what they’ve accomplished. It’s even more amazing when you think about it this way: The last lost-time accident happened when Ronald Reagan was president and a gallon of gasoline sold for under $1.
No one effort or policy or program can take full credit for such an accomplishment, but we’ve discovered that one of the most important and successful approaches we use is unfiltered communications between our maintenance and operations crews and the executive level of our company.
Specifically, our executive team and safety leaders regularly visit power plants to directly talk to our employees about safety. To reduce normal employee inhibitions about communicating information and making suggestions, we excuse our power plant directors, leaders, and supervisors from these meetings. This enables the discussion to focus on safety solutions, without worry of unintended innuendo. Our role as executives is to understand the issues and work to remove any actual or perceived barriers to achieving a best-in-class safety experience.
Another best practice at NV Energy is freeing up time and resources to routinely allow small teams of power plant employees to audit other power plants or work environments. Too often safety-minded workers in a longstanding or comfortable environment are blind to some of the everyday little things that could turn into safety problems or injuries.
At the Fort Churchill Generating Station, we responded to more than 1,500 safety suggestions over the years, which combined to make the plant the safest in the nation. Those safety recommendations came from safety meetings, safety audits, individual suggestions, and the plant’s safety committee. Additionally, the safety culture of our Fort Churchill team benefits from the fact that our employees are part of a larger community, where children play sports together, spouses see each other at the local market, and employees socialize offsite. These interactions tend to strengthen our watch-out-for-each-other safety culture.
Timely, widespread employee communications about safety successes and failures are also part of our safety culture. Any time we have an injury, we require our safety teams to do a root-cause safety analysis. We want the lessons learned to be available to all team members as soon as possible. This helps to prevent similar situations and serves as a reminder of the importance of safety in our workplaces.
Everyone Goes Home, Every Day
All of this brings me back to this thought: I believe that the most important key to our success has been our dedication to value “safety over production—always.” Leaders have the opportunity to demonstrate this at all times, and employees know that they are expected to stop all work, including plant production, when safety could be compromised.
Our teams have established intentional slowdowns at the beginning and end of planned outages to purposely demonstrate this value. We have specific work tasks that are not permitted to be performed when an employee is solo, or when the site is in production mode with only two employees. We insist that deliveries be turned away when we do not have the proper after-hours staffing to accommodate unloading.
Everyone must own safety. We cannot be hampered by the potential of hurt feelings or myriad other factors that inadvertently creep into a safety culture that could compromise safety. Words cannot describe the hurt and loss to family members when loved ones are injured or killed. Similarly, I know how difficult it is for “company family members” when a fellow employee is hurt. No motto can fix those situations—only an ongoing collaborative effort that helps us keep up with an ever-changing safety environment.
We cannot compromise on our environmental integrity, and we cannot compromise our commitment to return our dedicated employees back to their loved ones each and every day.
— Dariusz Rekowski is NV Energy’s executive over power generation.