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Creating a culture of safety

Of all the resources your electric cooperative has, the most important are the people who work so hard to bring you electricity. That’s why from the early days, your electric cooperative has put so much emphasis on ensuring safety.

In fact, the first department organized at the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives was the one that today is known as the Risk Management and Training Department. The goal was — and still is — to ensure employees go home to their families at the end of the day, safe and sound. They also are devoted to keeping the general public safe around power lines.

There are 11 people in the department, and they are dedicated to creating a culture of safety across the state while also training the next generation of lineworkers who must deal with technology their predecessors never knew.

They work with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to improve and implement the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program. They perform inspections that show a cooperative how well it is doing in meeting the safe work standards set by the program.

Over the years, the department has built a state-of-the-art training center that includes just about everything a lineworker would see on the electric cooperative grid. This includes a substation, underground lines, all types of pole construction and a classroom where a variety of hands-on classes are taught.

Every year, a new class of apprentices decides whether they have the mettle to work high above the ground from bucket trucks or the old-fashioned way, hanging from sharpened metal hooks on a tall pole. It’s not unusual for at least one person each year to decide the work is not for them.

In 1993, the department was enhanced when all of Missouri’s electric cooperatives agreed to join the Missouri Electric Cooperative Insurance Plan, or MECIP, which was organized as an answer to the problem of rapidly rising costs for workers’ compensation insurance.

The plan was formed after careful study showed it would save the cooperatives millions of dollars in expense. This savings is now funneled back to Missouri’s electric cooperatives to the tune of $9.4 million, to date.

The program also benefits from money given back by Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, which recognizes that our emphasis on safety keeps insurance rates low for all.

The latest emphasis for our safety department is a program called “Speak Up, Listen Up.” It encourages every employee, regardless of seniority, to speak up if they see an unsafe action take place. It also creates an environment where management truly listens to these warnings and takes appropriate action.

Recognizing that this emphasis on safety would fall short if the equipment fails, the department also tests vehicles and the rubber goods that insulate lineworkers from live lines. Their work finds any fault long before it can become a life-threatening issue.

Last year, they tested 821 trucks, 10,900 pieces of cover-up material, 3,341 live-line tools and 4,332 grounds, along with conducting 29 schools and conferences.

Another important activity the department is in charge of is our Emergency Assistance program. Because of this program, a manager or line superintendent faced with a major outage can make one phone call that results in assistance coming in from unaffected areas. A new addition to this effort is a statewide outage map that shows by county or co-op where trouble spots are located.

This year, the department will extend its assistance across borders as it leads a group of Missouri lineworkers to Bolivia. Together with their counterparts from Oklahoma, they will extend electricity where none was before.

We hope you will keep this focus on electrical safety in mind whenever you are near power lines and other electrical equipment. You can find more electric safety tips at www.SafeElectricity.org.

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