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Kentucky co-ops insist on safety

Warren RECC Apprentice Lineman Jake Hall, with the co-op for four years, is shown at the 2018 Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo with his personal protective equipment, which is critical for a lineworker’s job. Photo: Thom Whittinghill

Zero contacts goal and slowing the brain from “fast response” to “slow brain” response are two ways to improve safety

Ever found yourself arriving at your destination without remembering your drive? If so, then you understand how easily your brain can become disengaged while performing routine tasks.

Two areas of our brain are constantly competing to control our behaviors. The “fast brain” controls our automatic actions and reactions while the “slow brain” controls our analytic thinking and reasoning.

Kentucky’s electric cooperatives are making a conscious effort to intentionally engage our “slow brain” when working with electricity.

A study by NRECA and Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, with support of statewide safety professionals, reveals that while co-op safety programs have greatly reduced days lost to workplace injuries, the record of serious on-the job-injuries has not improved. The majority of these serious accidents involve human contact with an energized power line or equipment.

That’s why the managers and safety leaders at electric cooperatives across Kentucky are intensifying their efforts to keep line technicians safe. Co-ops have signed on to two major safety pledges, one committed to improving specific safety metrics in Kentucky, and another national Commitment to Zero Contacts campaign.

“I am very proud that all the CEOs in Kentucky have made the commitment to the statewide goals,” says Carol Wright, president and CEO of Jackson Energy, based in McKee. “It is imperative that we set the expectations of the safety culture in the cooperative. Safety is a personal choice as each employee makes the conscious decision daily to follow the safety procedures or not. Every employee needs to know that the CEO expects them to make the right choices by following the safety rules and wearing the proper safety equipment. The commitment form is just another way that message can be relayed to all employees.”

Each day, the employees of an electric cooperative have both regular tasks and unique challenges depending on many factors. 

Before line technicians at your local co-op begin any job assigned that day, they first assess the staffing and equipment needs. The job briefing discusses the objective, location of the worksite, potential hazards, nearest emergency help and if anyone besides the co-op needs to be involved.

“Safety isn’t just the responsibility of the safety director, it is the responsibility of each individual employee,” says Charlie Lewis, Safety and Loss Prevention instructor at Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “We teach safe work procedures daily, but it cannot end at the conclusion of the safety meeting. Each employee, from the newest apprentice lineworkers to the most seasoned journeyman lineworker must be vigilant in following the practices and procedures in place at their electric co-op.”

The national electric co-op safety study revealed that a majority of electrical contacts occurred during small restoration efforts with downed power lines and were deemed “completely preventable.”

The Zero Contacts campaign uses brain science and cognitive psychology to show that people undertake repetitive and routine tasks through the “fast response” center of the brain, action taken without conscious thought. While many of the procedures taken by line technicians may become routine, intentional effort must be made to engage the “slow response” part of the brain to consciously think about each step in a work situation where safety procedures must be followed.

“I remind lineworkers to approach the job in the safest way even if it takes longer, so they can return home to their family and loved ones every day,” says Clarence Greene, director of Safety and Loss Prevention at Kentucky Electric Cooperatives. “The Zero Contacts campaign and Kentucky CEO’s campaign remind employees that co-ops prioritize employee and public safety first and no shortcuts should be taken to increase productivity.”

There is little room for error around electricity, and Kentucky co-ops are insisting on safety.

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