At OPPD, safety extends beyond power lines

OPPD was honored May 15 as one Nebraska’s Safest Companies with Distinction by the National Safety Council – Nebraska.

The award recognizes and celebrates companies that make safety a priority, have a commendable safety program and impeccable safety records based on their industry and size.

Companies recognized “with Distinction” have a safety record that is at least 50% better than the average in their industry.

“While receiving awards like this is a nice honor and a recognition of our safety culture, the most important thing is for all of us to remain committed to keeping ourselves and each other safe, every day,” said Kevin McCormick, senior director of Safety and Technical Training.

Earlier this year, OPPD was awarded the Safety Award of Excellence – second place, for meritorious achievement in attaining a low incident rate in 2018 by the American Public Power Association.

Safety is of highest importance at the utility.

While some OPPD employees work around dangerous equipment on a daily basis, others may be giving a presentation on a new transmission line in a conference room.

But there is one thing all of these employees will do before they begin these tasks: have a safety briefing.

Depending on their location, a safety briefing can be different things for different employees. It can be the location of the AED and fire extinguisher, or it’s the potentially dangerous work awaiting them at a work site. No matter what form it takes, the focus on safety is a pillar of working at OPPD.

The mission of OPPD’s Safety department is that “safety matters” at work, at home and on the road for all employees, McCormick said.

To accomplish that goal, McCormick said it’s important to give employees the right tools and mindset to safely do their jobs. The Safety team works with OPPD’s 10 apprenticeship programs to ensure safety is intertwined throughout the programs.

“It’s about starting people off in their careers right,” he said. “There is general safety training for all new hires, so they spend time with us fairly quickly. It lets them know OPPD is serious about safety and points out many of the hazards.”

All employees have to take safety seriously, especially those whose work includes any of the life-saving rules. For them, having a safety mindset can be the difference between life and death.

The OPPD crews who work in the field or the plants have an extra layer of safety that starts before they get to their job site. They start with a pre-job briefing, which discusses the conditions and tasks before they get to the location. Then, once they arrive, they survey the area to see if anything is different than the pre-job brief, paying special attention to hazards. At OPPD, this is called a two-minute drill. If a situation is especially different, the crew will get their supervisor involved.

The safety culture has definitely changed over the last 10 years since the Safety and Technical Training division was created. Instance reporting is up and employees are also reporting “good catches” of hazards that could have led to injuries or equipment damage if not caught early.

“That’s really about trust,” McCormick said. “Trust that management will use that information to do something and not use it against them.”

The good catch program began in October 2017 and the number of catches reported has doubled in that time, he said.

Members of OPPD management are also getting a first-hand look at employees working in the field during safety observations. These activities give senior management a better idea of the work being done and a sense of how well employees are following expectations.

But being safe also applies to employees working in office settings. For those employees, precautions like the pre-meeting safety briefings and 360 walk-arounds are important.

SAF_OPPD Safety Culture_at center

The pre-meeting briefings are so employees keep information like the fire extinguisher location, emergency exits and active shooter measures top-of-mind.

“It allows you to have a plan if something happens,” McCormick said. “Human nature is to freeze, so you want some qualified people so you have half a chance someone will react.”

McCormick added that the safety culture of OPPD is in line with the utility’s core values of caring for one another, honoring the community and having a passion to serve.

“We truly care about our employees. We want them to go home the same way they came and maybe learn tricks they can bring home with them so they don’t get hurt around the house, either.”


Laura King-Homan

About Laura King-Homan

Laura King-Homan is a contributor to the Storm & Outage Center and a communications specialist at OPPD. She has nearly 20 years of print journalism and design experience, which lets her tell the stories of OPPD and its employees both graphically and through her writing.

Jason Kuiper

About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He formerly worked as a staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald.