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At Dominion Energy, our five core values lead off with safety, because we recognize that no other value can last long without it. We are zealous about maintaining the safety of our operations, our customers and our communities. Our chief and most fundamental workplace goal is to send every employee home safe and sound, every day. That is the only acceptable standard of performance.
More than a decade ago, we recognized that our safety performance did not match our expectations. So we launched a vigorous effort to instill safety awareness at every level of our organization. That same intense focus continues today, beginning at the very top. Safety plays a prominent role at our annual meetings for shareholders, for example, and our summary annual reports also emphasize the topic. Company meetings start with a safety message, company executives share personal messages about safety with all employees, and our leadership is directly engaged in reinforcing the safety culture.
In short, working safely is how we do business. The company expects employees and contractors to follow safe work practices and accept accountability for their actions. All levels of management and employees work together to foster this safety culture.
That culture is driven by four interdependent components:
- Management commitment and involvement at all levels;
- Employee commitment and involvement;
- Hazard analysis, prevention, and control; and
- Training and education.
Importantly, we expect our contractors to live up to the same standards we demand of our employees — especially in matters related to safety.
Strategy & Tactics
Our strategy focuses on improving safety performance continually. To do this, the company relies on several basic practices acting in concert. We want to make sure personal accountability for safety remains strong, situational awareness remains high, workplace hazards are minimized, regulatory compliance is achieved, and public safety is never compromised. An active and visible leadership commitment to safety serves as a constant reminder of the important role a strong safety culture plays in the company’s overall success.
The core of the safety program rests on a set of corporate policies that create clear expectations for safety excellence. For instance, supervisors and managers are expected to make sure that employees follow proper safety procedures, that hazards are addressed before work begins, that employees report workplace injuries, and that only trained, authorized employees are permitted to use or maintain machinery and equipment. Among other things, employees are expected to stop working if conditions are not safe, to report safety issues, and to refrain from horseplay or practical joking. The company’s extensive Safety Policy covers everything from asbestos handling to the use of personal space heaters.
Each business group tailors these policies to its specific work activities. We foster strong collaboration and share incident information and best practices — both within the company and outside it, through peer groups such as the Southeastern Electric Exchange and the Edison Electric Institute, the American Gas Association, the Southern Gas Association and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America.
Safety specialists from across the company meet regularly, and the company maintains standing safety committees that include employee members to highlight and reinforce heightened safety awareness both at work and at home.
When a significant safety incident occurs, we perform root-cause analysis to fully understand and address the factors that contributed to it. That analysis helps us apply effective measures to correct the contributing factors and develop preventive measures.
We reinforce safety expectations with employees and contractors through classroom and practical training on safe work practices, the use of personal protective equipment, and by stressing the importance of situational awareness. To make them effective, the lessons are tailored to specific jobs, and the company safety program is guided by the expertise of safety professionals with extensive education and experience.
Here are some of the methods we use to improve safety:
Augmented Reality. We use an augmented-reality (AR) application to teach workers the minimum distance they must maintain around equipment at a transmission substation when not wearing personal protective equipment. We use another AR application to train engineers and network linemen all the different cable layouts in underground vaults, so they can learn to build out systems correctly. Both of these applications allow us to instruct workers about dangerous locations in a safe environment. A third AR program teaches employees how to wire transformers properly — a critical element in protecting the safety of both our co-workers and the general public.
Drills. We drill for a variety of scenarios, from active-shooter situations to severe storms. Building evacuation drills are conducted in accordance with National Fire Protection Association standards. Locations that have on-site fire brigades conduct quarterly drills to ensure the readiness of our brigades and equipment. High-angle rescue drills are conducted for areas where colleagues are working aloft. We also run confined-space rescue drills, first-aid drills, and chemical-response drills at locations with rescue, medical, or chemical-spill response teams.
Our nuclear facilities conduct emergency-response exercises that include the use of offsite services and involve state and federal agencies. As part of the nuclear recertification process, training drills are conducted during various requalification sessions.
Lone worker. To ensure the well-being of employees when they are in the field solo, our gas operations have put in place a variety of safety measures, including personal GPS devices, GPS vehicle tracking, communications improvements such as satellite phones for remote areas, and personal security measures.
Slip simulator. Every year in the United States, hundreds of workers die and tens of thousands miss work because of slips, trips and falls in the workplace. To prevent such misfortunes at Dominion Energy, the company uses a slip simulator to teach employees how to navigate hazardous surfaces. Employees supported by a safety harness learn to walk safely on a tempered-glass surface made slick with soapy water.
In early 2018, our Millstone Power Station noted a trend involving slips. The slip simulator was brought in for five weeks, and employees were either required or strongly encouraged to attend training sessions. Natalie Yonker, an Organizational Effectiveness Manager at Millstone, was one of those who took part. “It has forever changed the way I walk on slippery surfaces,” she said some time later. “We have not had any slip near-misses or injuries [since then].”
Body Optimization. This voluntary program offers employees the opportunity to receive individualized coaching to reduce the chances of injury and increase their physical performance level. Sports-medicine trainers provide participants with tailored plans to protect them against the physical stresses of their jobs, whether those jobs entail climbing power poles or keyboarding at a computer workstation.
These efforts have produced a strong safety record that has received industry recognition. In May 2018, Dominion Energy Ohio received the American Gas Association’s Safety Achievement Award for excellence in employee safety for large local distribution companies. The company has won the award — the natural gas utility trade group’s highest employee safety honor — multiple times.
Human Performance. The Power Generation business group has improved safety and other metrics through a program called Human Performance, which uses a system of systemic defenses to reduce the likelihood of error. Those include a pre-job briefing in which colleagues identify hazards and error precursors and then discuss techniques to ensure tasks are injured without personal injury or property damage.
Employee and Contractor Oversight
As our many safety programs indicate, employee safety is a top priority. Dominion Energy also emphasizes the importance of safe work environments by maintaining extensive safety qualifications under Work Zone Traffic Control, OSHA, DMV, and other oversight controls and affiliations. The company also has implemented programs such as job safety assessments, root cause analyses, a quick-information database called The Source, and health and safety training plans to promote employee awareness.
Through these carefully crafted programs, we are relaying to all team members the central role they play in maintaining injury-free work environments.
The same commitment to safety extends to contractors. Here are a few measures we apply:
- Contractors are approved and tracked on safety statistics.
- Contractors are assigned on-site coordinators to monitor their safety performance.
- Dominion Energy conducts field audits to ensure our contractors meet all safety expectations.
- Contractors, like employees, must report all observed hazards and incidents. We believe the value of reporting and investigating all incidents outweighs simply tracking lost-time injury rates.
Our certified trainers offer eight-hour defensive-driving courses. More than 3,000 employees have completed this training (as well as DMV escort and CDL training) in the past two years alone.
The Dominion Energy Electric Safety and Training staff works diligently to review, develop and implement work procedures that are efficient and safe. This includes addressing new technologies, smart-grid advances, and distributed generation such as wind and solar.
Another component of work methods is to evaluate, test and implement new tools and equipment to enhance the safety and efficiency of our specialized work force, such as the lag stick (see sidebar).
We actively participate in industry working groups such as the Edison Electric Institute and the Southeastern Electric Exchange to stay abreast of new regulations, learn about new technologies, tools and equipment and collaborate on best practices used by Dominion Energy and peer companies.
Saving Thumbs With a Stick
You can bang your hand with a hammer only so many times before it starts to get old.
In 2013, Dominion Energy lineman Tim Sook had had enough. Thick gloves could not adequately protect his fingers and thumbs when he drove lag screws into utility poles.
So — borrowing an idea already in use with heavy staples — he invented a specialized stick that holds lag screws well away from the user’s hand, allowing the user to drive them into poles without risk of injury.
With a prototype made by his brother, he presented the idea to the company’s innovation team, which filed a patent application.
The patent was awarded, and today the device is sold commercially by Buckingham Manufacturing of Binghamton, New York.
These efforts have paid off. We’re proud of our performance and the progress it represents. But we are not satisfied. We won’t be until our incident rates read zero across the board. None of us wants to see anybody get hurt on the job, and all of us will keep striving for better until nobody is.
What is ‘Recordable’?
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers an injury recordable “if it results in any of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness,” or if it “involves a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional, even if it does not result in” any of those outcomes. (29 CFR 1904.7)