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Electric cooperative employees across Iowa participate in numerous meetings each year to work on one of their most significant challenges – staying safe as a lineworker.

“Anyone involved in working with electricity knows it has the potential to be dangerous and life-threatening,” says John Dvorak, director of safety and loss control for the Iowa Association Electric Cooperatives (IAEC). “Lineworkers are handling 7,200-volt and 14,400-volt power lines daily, and while that can become routine, we work hard to ensure the hazards of the work should never be taken for granted.”

Commitment to Zero Contacts

That’s why the Commitment to Zero Contacts program has become a central component of safety training for electric co-ops throughout Iowa and the country. Developed as a joint initiative by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and Federated Rural Electric Insurance Cooperative, it was introduced to electric co-ops in spring 2018 as a major focus of safety awareness.

“Since April of 2018, more than 570 CEOs of electric co-ops have personally endorsed the goals of the program,” says Bud Branham, NRECA’s director of safety programs. “These commitments are centered on reviewing current safety efforts against the initiative findings and adjusting where possible to mitigate risk. It is not meant to be a top-down initiative, and the real value comes through involving employees as part of the commitment.”

“One of our greatest challenges is making sure that routine familiarity with the work, complacency and overconfidence don’t erode overall safety awareness,” Dvorak says. “We strive to instill the philosophy of never letting your guard down and knowing that if you lose focus – even for a second – it could result in a serious injury or fatality.”

Reinforcing safety fundamentals

The consequences of an incident in this industry are so high and getting that critical “buy-in” requires much more than lectures, memos and discussions. IAEC’s safety instructors use a variety of techniques to make safety awareness personal and encourage lineworkers and other employees to discuss safety concerns.  

In the breakrooms and gear rooms of several co-ops, the family connection to safety is a regular reminder for co-op employees, with family photos hanging on the walls to remind crews that one mistake can be fatal.

Reinforcing safety fundamentals is critical, and IAEC’s safety instructors always look for ways to interject the Commitment to Zero Contacts into their regular discussions and training lessons.

“We encourage conversations about safety during job briefings, and that includes a thorough inspection of personal protection equipment before work gets underway,” Dvorak says. “Our cooperative commitment to safety never stops. Every day, our goal remains the same – for linemen to go home safely to their families.”

When co-op crews are protected and ready to get the job done, members can count on the safe, reliable power they depend on day in and day out.  

Ann Thelen is the editor of Living with Energy in Iowa.

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