Powering Strong Communities

Consistent Tracking Improves Safety

If there’s one topic that is of utmost importance to every person working in an electric utility, it is safety. Public power utilities pride themselves on how firmly they emphasize safety as an imperative, making it a central part of the successes they report to their communities.

But measuring success requires having data and benchmarks. For years, safety-related data was largely collected individually by each utility using its own forms, processes, and definitions. Though standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the American Public Power Association’s Safety Manual gave some guidance, there was still limited uniformity across the industry.

Early in his career, Aaron Haderle, who is now manager of transmission and distribution operations at Kissimmee Utility Authority in Florida, was tasked with preparing KUA’s Reliable Public Power Provider, or RP3, application, and was surprised to fall short of the diamond designation.

“We looked into it and saw that it was partially because of the way job safety briefing documentation was scored at the time,” he said. “We were doing it, but we were tracking it in paper timesheets, not in the formal way required by RP3 best practices.”

Years later, in talking through this experience as a member of the RP3 Review Panel, he recounted having the idea that it would be good to have a central application where utilities could collect this documentation. This approach would help utilities know if they were meeting best practices, even if the practice wasn’t yet an industry standard.

Documenting safety briefings grazes the surface of what can be tracked. Other tracking can include documenting and reporting on safety events, such as accidents and injuries, and training.

“Looking at trends and getting an idea of where we are going helps us see our utility’s big picture, which is important for growth and improvements,” said Greg Labbé, electric operations manager at Lafayette Utilities System in Louisiana. “You need to know what certain types of incidents and accidents are happening, how often, and under what conditions.”

“We can use incident data to know what types of accidents are happening and tailor those tailgate meetings to address them,” added Tori Leger, employee development coordinator at LUS. “If you don’t know about it, you might never talk about it. This all just helps to create those conversations for foremen in the field. And managers can then follow up with them and know that they’re having those conversations, because that’s also tracked.”

While some utilities have been tracking this information in-depth for decades, there is inconsistency across the industry. With these considerations in mind, APPA released the first version of the eSafety Tracker in 2020. Building off the capabilities of that tracker and taking into account requests for enhancements to the system, this summer will see the launch of a new eSafety Tracker powered by the Enterprise Safety Applications Management System, or ESAMS. This new software will provide not just a standardized process by which utilities can track their briefings, incidents, and training, but will also allow for aggregate benchmarking that will promote a more comprehensive understanding of the greater trends and best practices across the users.

A handful of APPA member representatives tested the new system prior to its launch.

“I expect we at MMUA will track the incident data more than even our individual communities will because we want to be able to decipher trends so that we can maybe plan our training and focus it on what is actually happening and what is actually needed,” said Keith Byklum, now in his third year at Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association as a regional safety coordinator after more than 20 years as a lineman and safety officer for the city of Hawley, Minnesota.

Haderle is particularly excited about an incident dashboard feature that displays heat maps and trends in real time so that administrators can make immediate changes to improve safety.

“If you don’t pay attention to what is happening, you won’t know what improvements need to be made to better protect everyone,” he said. “Accessing trends, including specific incidents or accidents, gives you the ability to work from that in adjusting your safety protocols, and changing safety rules. This really gives you a path to do a root-causes analysis of these incidents.”

Organizations are eager to see how the new tracker will allow them to supercharge their training processes.

“On the training side, you can assign training, add videos, and run training meetings within the application,” Haderle added. “Some utilities that are larger like KUA might not need everything in there, but there are enough tools in the toolbox to have something that can be useful for almost every utility.”

Labbé pointed to a feature that allows managers to assign training and track progress. “When I go back and look at trends, I will be able see how those trainings are doing and make changes that might become apparent.”

Byklum and others noted the convenience of being able to access the tracking system in a mobile app from a phone or tablet, even when there is no data connection. Users will also have full, searchable access to the APPA Safety Manual and any utility-specific manuals and documents while in the field.

“Having this at your fingertips, especially the Safety Manual, is huge,” Haderle said. “Before you’d have a book or multiple books to carry around, but now everybody can pretty much get on their mobile device and access them at all times in the field.”

Ultimately, the update all comes back to that most important element: finding a way to increase safety for those working in the electric utility industry.

“This is all about making sure we are equipping our employees with everything we can give them to stay safe,” said Labbé. “We make sure we provide all the necessary safety equipment and all the right training. This is an expansion of that. They need to have all the tools necessary to perform their work safely from every minute going forward so that we can meet our goal that every employee gets home safely at the end of each day.”

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