Mike Couick, President and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, focused his contribution to the June 2014 edition of South Carolina Living magazine on the safety success of co-ops in South Carolina.
The lineworkers who keep your electric cooperative humming 24 hours a day, seven days a week are special breed.
On good days, they face the risk of serious injury and even death from energized power lines, heavy equipment and careless motorists. On bad days, such as those following major storms, they also battle the elements and the fatigue of extended shifts as crews work round-the-clock to restore electric service to co-op members.
Keeping lineworkers safe has been a priority for South Carolina’s electric co-ops since the first crews began stringing lines across rural South Carolina some 75 years ago. After all, your employees have never been a nameless, faceless workforce—they have always been your friends, neighbors and relatives. They are, in every sense of the word, family.
A little more than a year ago, we issued a challenge to our co-ops: To mark the 75th anniversary of cooperatives in South Carolina, could they reduce loss-time accidents among employees by 75 percent at 75 percent of our co-ops.
To say this goal was ambitious would be an understatement, but our co-ops all embraced this renewed emphasis on safety. One year later, I am pleased to report that as of May 1, 2014, we achieved our goal, reducing the number of loss-time accidents from 28 the previous year to just seven.
This unprecedented safety drive was spearheaded by Todd Carter, vice president of loss control and training at The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, but the credit for the results goes to every co-op employee who went the extra mile to ensure safer working conditions.
“Reducing the number of accidents by this magnitude tells us something important: Co-op employees committed themselves to this program 100 percent,” Carter says. “There’s no way we would have reached this goal unless every co-op made safety its top priority. This was a total team effort across the state.”
Prospects for a successful “75 by 75 for 75” campaign faced a serious obstacle in the immediate aftermath of February’s devastating winter storm. Some service areas endured historic damage, more than the destruction caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and South Carolina co-op crews logged more than 500,000 work-hours in extremely dangerous conditions. Another 300,000 work-hours were logged by out‑of-state crews.
“To maintain the safety goal after one of the most destructive storms in a generation is amazing to me,” Carter says. “So many things can go wrong in those situations. The fact that the safety goal survived the storm is a testament to the dedication of our employees.”
While the year-long challenge period is up, the heightened culture of safety it inspired will continue among cooperatives as we work to maintain and improve 70,000 miles of distribution line running through all 46 counties of the state. Our mission has always been to provide affordable, reliable electricity to members, but as we’ve reminded ourselves during this campaign, the most important way we serve our communities is making sure our employees get home safe at the end of every workday.