Ensuring that safety remains top of mind for all utility workers is a collaborative effort, said Michael Gremling, senior contractor safety specialist at Atlantic City Electric Co., an electric utility in Mays Landing, N.J.
Although Gremling works in the Atlantic City Electric service area, the utility’s contract safety group is managed from the level of parent company Pepco Holdings, which includes Atlantic City Electric in New Jersey, Delmarva Power in Delaware and parts of Maryland and Pepco in Washington, D.C., and areas in Maryland.
You are known for a contract management approach to engaging with contractors, building relationships and sharing best practices. Why is this approach the best way to handle safety?
Atlantic City Electric, Delmarva Power and Pepco maintain long-standing relationships with many contractors across our service areas. We believe that when it comes to safety in the energy industry, a cooperative joint approach is the most productive relationship that can exist between the entities, and we appreciate their contribution to the company’s success.
By creating an environment where there is open dialogue and collaborative discussion of concepts and ideas, a diverse, equitable and inclusive approach is achieved, which offers mutual agreement from the onset of developing safety culture.
For us, diversity, equity and inclusion are core foundational values—both in the workplace and in our engagement with the communities we serve.
Tell us about the monthly safety meetings—the Safety Alliance—and how you partner with contractors to improve safety.
By having everyone align their thoughts and follow-up actions, we all maintain a similar approach and experience the safety process together. The mission is then performed through a few steps created by layers of involvement.
The first group is made up of our senior leadership, which is aligned to provide guidance from the corporate perspective. The next group is comprised of our project and safety leadership, who meet with contractor senior leadership to discuss challenges realized by each entity and then define high-level guidance for the alliance. These two groups advise on an as-needed basis.
The final group includes safety professionals and field leadership, responsible for taking leadership guidance and creating the actual content for the meeting. This guidance can be reactive in resolving emerging events, but the overall strategy is to maintain a proactive approach, which is believed to yield sustainable solutions to ongoing issues. Human performance is a very important discussion component at this level. This keeps it fresh and personal and removes it from being “just another safety topic.”
The content is then delivered in a way that allows everyone to openly share their opinions and experience, facilitated by the presenters. It’s not a delivery of material by a single person, but a conversation that includes everyone. This approach is designed to avoid “presentation paralysis.” The Safety Alliance also reaches out to vendors to present the latest solutions, which tends to pique the audience’s interest.
What are some of the most challenging safety issues?
The overall understanding of how the human performance factor affects each entity differently is the top challenge. There are several factors that influence how a company can manage safety issue guidance, including resource availability, training and skill at communication.
The second challenge is optimizing safety communication to and from the field. Each contractor is encouraged to invite field leadership and their workers to the monthly Safety Alliance meeting, and this has provided extreme benefit not only to the discussions with their feedback, but it also acts as a form of communication to the field through trusted team members back to the rest of their crews.
What are some effective ways to instill a safety culture?
The transition from safety rules and penalties being the message to topics more relatable to our contractors has contributed to the program’s overall success. Including a human performance spin to an age-old topic allows the evolving workforce a more personal discussion in resolving issues.
What other advice do you have for contractors?
Leadership should visit the field and attend safety meetings on a more regular basis—and remove the stigma that continues to exist. It’s important to realize that regardless of the varying roles we all have in the organization, we still need to connect on a personal level and remove the assumptions created by not communicating at all.