Safety Legacy

Wiregrass Electric Cooperative's people are its greatest asset

Charlie Daugherty, a WEC Storekeeper/Warehouse worker, moves material out of the Hartford office.

Hard-working and knowledgeable employees focus on the cooperative’s mission of providing a reliable, quality electric utility service to members.

However, working closely with high-voltage electricity and heavy equipment is an inherently risky endeavor. Through consistent training, education and communication, WEC makes protecting the cooperative family — including workers and members — a top goal.

WEC provides employees with procedures, equipment and resources to create a safe working environment and eliminate risk of serious injury. That’s the legacy Wiregrass Electric wants to build upon.

Spotlight on Safety

Incorporating the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative, WEC is kicking off its new Safety Legacy campaign to keep employees, members and the community informed about the many ways the cooperative is working to maintain a safe workplace and what steps they can take to keep others safe on the job.

“With this new safety legacy campaign, we want our employees to think about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” says Bethany Retherford, WEC’s human resources and compliance manager. “The apprentices, the new guys, look up to the linemen and servicemen who have been here a long time. What is it they’re going to be remembered for? We really want our employees to take a look at themselves and think about what kind of legacy they’re leaving for future generations.”

The Safety Legacy campaign builds on the success of WEC’s past safety campaigns that garnered national recognition, including:

  • The Just Enough Isn’t Enough tagline, which encourages employees to have a positive and proactive mindset about safety.
  • Efficiency on the job is important, especially during outages, but safety always comes first. WEC’s Always and Never campaign reminds workers of the significance of that attitude and taking specific precautions on the job.
  • The This Is My Why safety campaign features family members of WEC linemen to put each person’s responsibility to safety into perspective.

“Safety is our commitment, but it’s everyone’s responsibility,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC’s chief operating officer. “We want our employees to be leaders in safety.”

Cooperative Approach

WEC Working Foreman Dexter Tolbert watches as his crew works on a utility pole.

WEC’s approach to safety compliance is different from many other electric utility providers. Many years ago, the board of trustees decided to not fill the safety director position. Instead, it formed a safety committee of 12 staff members representing disciplines across the cooperative.

“We’re always looking for innovative ways to make processes safer,” Retherford says. “That’s where our committee approach is so valuable. We’re taking input from the guys out there working in it every day who have firsthand, personal experience on what is working and what’s not.”

While contact with high-voltage electricity is perhaps the most obvious risk to linemen and servicemen, there are many dangers in the field — severe temperatures, unpredictable traffic hazards and dangerous wildlife, to name just a few.

“A part of our job is to look over Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules and regulations as they change and implement them,” says Johnny Hudson, a WEC foreman who has volunteered on the safety committee for four years. “The safety committee discusses them and how to apply them in certain situations. Everyone has an input.” The committee tracks measurable objectives like lost-time accidents and workers’ compensation claims to gauge how well the co-op is meeting its safety goals.

“Particularly for this new safety campaign, we really took a deep dive into some of those safety practices,” Retherford says. “There’s always going to be things we can look to improve upon to make these practices better and safer so that our employees go back home to their families at the end of the day.”

Safety also plays a factor into the cooperative’s top priority of providing reliable and affordable electric service to its members.

“We don’t want anyone to be harmed on the job because we care about our people and want to keep them safe and healthy,” Kimbro says. “Another thing to look at is if a worker is out of work due to an injury on the job, it affects our ability to provide timely service to our members. It also costs the co-op money via workers’ comp, time lost and ancillary benefits we provide.

“Efficient reliable service is a goal of this safety program, but our chief focus is always protecting our employees so they go home when the job is done. It’s in everyone’s best interest that we all take safety seriously and we have a great safety record that shows that we do,” Kimbro says.

Commitment to Community

In addition to the safety committee that governs in-house safety practices, Wiregrass Electric also reaches out to the community through its Safety City and Education Power Station programs. Qualified WEC employees use visual aids to teach students how to protect themselves from electrical-related injuries, in part by demonstrating how electricity is generated and distributed, and how it can travel through people and objects.

WEC also partners with the local One Call Center so all members can call 811 before landscaping or other outdoor home improvement projects. Operators ask for the location of your job and route it to local utility companies, including WEC, to send representatives to mark underground electrical lines so members or contractors know which areas to avoid. This service is free to members.

There are many other safety resources on the Wiregrass Safety page available to members and the general public. WEC’s new Safety Legacy campaign will help spotlight these programs and more.