Public power making strides in setting safety standards, practices

A Q&A with Jon Beasley, vice president for safety and training at Electric Cities of Georgia, and Michael Willetts, director of training and safety at the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association.

Beasley has worked on the American Public Power Association’s safety manual for more than 25 years and serves as vice chairman of the Association’s Safety Manual Revision Task Force. Willetts has been involved with the Association’s safety manual development process from 1996 to the present and has served as chairman of the task force since its inception.


Can you discuss the progress that public power utilities have made in recent years when it comes to safety?

Michael Willetts: Public power is considered one of the leaders in the industry when it comes to safety training and employee development. 

It is common for very small utilities and cities to take advantage of high-level training and development, which was not taking place 20 years ago. Not only has progress been made when it comes to safety within electric utilities, there has also been a huge increase and response within all city operations and related functions.

Users of [the safety manual] are able to not only find the most up to date [National Electric Safety Code] and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards and regulations, they are also able to find best practices illustrating the best application of the standard. It’s the only document that I know of that blends all the pieces that we need to work with as electric utilities.

Jon Beasley: The public power community has made great strides when it comes to safety, with a big focus on the safety manual, which is the best I’ve ever seen or know of.


How has your organization fostered a culture of safety, and what role do you play on a day-to-day basis to ensure that safety remains front of mind at your utility?

Beasley: ECG holds safety meetings throughout each year. ECG deploys staff to various member cities to conduct safety and training meetings and utilize the safety manual, which is an integral part of those meetings.

It’s common to find the safety manuals in any number of locations out in the field, whether it is on a truck dashboard or a vehicle seat. The safety manual is part of one of ECG’s books in its apprenticeship program. Each ECG apprentice gets a copy of the safety manual.

Typically, whenever there is a safety manual update, we will try to buy enough for every one of our participants to give out to each person. Every lineman should have a safety manual in their hand.

Willetts: The safety manual is the backbone of the MMUA safety system within a long list of safety reference tools.

The MMUA safety team visits the membership and other related safety accounts monthly, focusing on safety, training and employee development, and helping them understand the rules and regulations, including the proper application of best practices, many of which are included in the Association’s safety manual.

The MMUA safety team works diligently to ensure that work practices and safety rules match up in the field.


Can you provide real-world examples of how the safety manual could be beneficial to public power utilities and their workers?

Willetts: The one rule in the safety manual that stands out as being particularly effective is the “Use and Care of Rubber Gloves” (Cradle to Cradle and Lock to Lock rule). It’s a best practice for a lot of utilities. It is the safest way.

When looking at incidents that can be classified as accidents over the past 20 years, most of them have to do with lack of or no personal protective equipment or rubber gloves or rubber sleeves.

In the development of the 15th edition of the safety manual, the task force added this new rule, which will help to avoid many contact mishaps today and into the future.       

Beasley: A lot of utilities will conduct Monday morning safety meetings, and at these meetings, foremen will review a section of the safety manual. The following Monday they’ll have their safety manual and they’ll sit there and go through the next section, and that’s where some of the questions come from in terms of interpreting something in the manual.


Is there anything else you’d like to add in regards to the safety manual or how the task force makes sure it meets today’s safety challenges in the power sector?

Willetts: Mike Hyland [the Association’s senior vice president, engineering services] takes ownership of everything he gets involved with. The safety manual task force wouldn’t be as organized today without his leadership. Hyland brought the structure we needed to improve the revision process of updating the safety manual.

Beasley: I’ve never had to worry about his focus, his core, and I think you see that in a lot of the programs he’s started up. He’ll kick them off and get them going, and he’ll put the right people in place and let it go, and that’s where a good leader should be. I think he’s been a tremendous safety leader for the linemen.