Despite very challenging and potentially hazardous work environments, crews at Valley Electric Association ended the 2019 calendar year with an impeccable safety record, according to Joe Fieldsted, manager of Safety, Health, Environmental and Efficiency.
As noted in a news release, since July 2018, more than 400,000 hours have been worked without a reportable on-the-job injury.
A reportable injury is one that involves medical care beyond minor first aid.
Considered as a high-risk occupation, VEA crew members, including linemen, installers, groundskeepers, and warehouse workers, face precarious situations as they go about their duties, both day and night.
As such, safety is strongly emphasized by way of daily job briefings to help with focus and awareness.
Additionally, prior to each shift, line crews and broadband installers review each job, the risks workers might encounter and how to mitigate them.
“Everyone is involved,” Fieldsted said. “You can’t do this without everyone buying in.”
Fieldsted also noted that several different factors contributed to the safety milestone. “We’ve improved in several areas, including training, hiring practices, the expectations we set and our reporting processes,” he said. “We have a lot of momentum right now. It’s like we’re on a winning streak.”
For many years, VEA was strictly an electric co-op, serving more than 40,000 consumers across its 6,800-square-mile footprint, but things changed several years ago when the association also began offering high-speed internet.
The sheer complexity of that element of the business added to the daily safety challenges, as broadband installations often require multiple trips up and down ladders, walking on slick tile roofs or crawling in cramped, sweltering attics.
The approach stays the same, however.
“In the morning, we review the jobs for the day and what we might face,” says Matt King, manager of Broadband Installation and Repair.
At present, it has been roughly 18 months since the co-op experienced a reportable injury.
“VEA has had long periods without injuries before now, but it has been a decade since VEA workers went longer than a year,” Fieldsted noted. “Safety is something that must be top of mind all the time. We want our workers going home to their families each day in the same condition that they arrived.”
How long can it go?
Fieldsted says he knows of co-ops that have gone more than five years without any reported on-the-job injuries.
“So we have a ways to go,” he declared.
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @pvtimes