Whitewater Valley’s safety culture at every level

At Whitewater Valley REMC, the commitment to safety starts with the CEO and permeates at every level of the organization.

“It has to come from the top, but it’s important everyone believes in it – both the inside and the outside because there are potential safety issues in both places,” said CEO Mary Jo Thomas.

In the summer of 2018, the cooperative asked its staff to participate in a survey about its safety culture. The valuable feedback provided a foundation from which to improve the cooperative’s safety culture. They implemented some new practices and reinforced some longstanding procedures.

Just prior to the survey, Thomas took the pledge to commit to zero contacts by signing the commitment form. Whitewater Valley REMC is now one of 20 Indiana electric cooperatives to do so. But, Thomas took this commitment one step further: she asked each and every one of the cooperative’s 24 employees to also make the pledge. If you take a walk around the cooperative’s office, you’ll see copies of the commitment displayed at work stations as a reminder.

To reinforce the full team’s dedication to a safe working environment, the cooperative hosts “Tailgate Tuesday” the first Tuesday of each month. The full workforce gathers in a room near the front counter for a brief meeting and the topic of safety is always on the agenda.

Thomas said industry-wide there’s still a trend for a greater incidence of injuries during after-hours projects. To help reduce this tendency, Thomas said she and her leadership team also encourage the use of a quick “tailgate” meeting before the team heads out or once on the scene and before work begins.

Whitewater Valley REMC also implemented the use of the S.A.F.E. job planning app, which is designed to direct line personnel’s attention to life-saving rules used to help build and reinforce safe habits. The app delivers a job briefing process that emphasizes engaging analytical thinking and reasoning in safety procedures. The app, designed by Federated Rural Electric Exchange and NRECA, has been updated based on user feedback since its introduction with additional features on the docket. Thomas says her team has used some of the safety videos released by NRECA and has given the operations team the Commitment to Zero Contacts coins to carry in their pockets as a subtle reminder. She encourages cooperatives considering making the pledge to a Commitment to Zero Contacts to look to their peers for ideas and borrow the most successful while making adjustments to meet local needs.