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Safety Success Stories: Evolving Safety at a Midsize Electric Utility

Dec 18, 2023
Closeup of a solar and wind electrical utility

Utility companies play an essential role in supplying power to commercial and residential customers. To provide this service, they must continuously improve their safety management systems to ensure teams can complete tasks, processes and procedures safely.

Leslie Stockel, Ph.D., CSP, SMS, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University, had the experience of working with an electric utility company to develop a safety management system that went beyond regulatory compliance to achieve sustained safety excellence.

The Problem

A midsize electric utility company wanted to shift away from a reactive mindset and toward a more proactive safety management approach focused on leading indicators. Its incident rates were below the industry average but had plateaued, and the company was having difficulty reducing them further.

Traditional safety programs were in place, based around OSHA compliance. While there were procedures for field work, there were not sustainable, process-driven systems that could be continuously improved using a model like plan-do-check-act.

Organizational leaders were committed to implementing a formal safety management system using recognized standards and applying a more intentional, risk-based model.

The Solution

Working from safety management system standards, including ANSI/ASSP Z10, OHSAS 18001 and a draft of ISO 45001, the organization conducted an assessment to examine the different components of its management system.

“We decided we would pull the best things out of all those standards that fit in with our business, and develop our own model, which we called the ‘safety excellence’ model,” says Stockel.

They analyzed 15 management system elements, including leadership and culture, risk control, training, compliance assurance, and planning and administration. Then, they used the assessment to identify gaps and set priorities.

The organization identified 187 gaps in the existing safety management system. These ranged from simple things, such as having the safety policy printed and displayed, to more complex issues such as arc flash analysis and training.

The Outcome

Stockel and her team placed the gaps in a risk assessment matrix and rated the hazards according to consequences and likelihood. They assigned values to different risk levels and communicated their findings across the organization to help stakeholders understand priorities. In addition, they used a risk calculation to determine the cost and complexity of implementing solutions.

The organization developed a five-year strategic plan to address the gaps and implement improvements. This plan was integrated into leadership performance reviews and included accountability assignments and target implementation dates.

Safety leaders updated the plan quarterly to report on progress toward each goal. At the end of the initial five-year period and every five years afterward, they reassessed management systems to identify additional opportunities for improvement.


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