2019 CEOs Who "Get It"
Anthony "Tony" Campbell
President and CEO
East Kentucky Power Cooperative
- Deployed a safety culture survey with a 99 percent participation rate. Read every comment from employees about what needed fixing.
- Created and chairs a safety committee made up of the entire executive staff, plant managers and other key personnel, including employee representatives.
- Created a safety coin and carries gift cards to present when talking with employees about safety and to encourage safe behaviors.
- Drove down total recordable incident rate to 0.56 from 7.0.
East Kentucky Power Cooperative is a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative providing wholesale electricity to 16 owner-member distribution cooperatives that serve 1.1 million Kentucky residents. EKPC owns and operates power plants and high-voltage transmission facilities, generating energy with coal- and natural gas-fueled power plants, as well as one of Kentucky’s largest solar farms, delivering energy via more than 2,800 miles of transmission lines. The company employs 691 workers.
Describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.” What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are today?
When I came to EKPC in 2009, the organization faced a number of formidable challenges, including a lackluster safety culture. We committed to putting more emphasis on safety. Initially, I used my position as CEO to let employees know that they would be punished for safety violations. I was pleased to see an immediate drop in reported incidents. About a year into this effort, an employee bluntly told me safety incidents were still occurring, but they were not being reported because workers feared the consequences. I knew he was right. Unless I changed my approach, EKPC and its employees faced tremendous risk.
This idea was cemented for me when I attended a safety roundtable and asked peers why they had sought help for their safety programs. Their answers all included fatalities as their catalyst. We became determined to transform EKPC’s safety culture before catastrophe struck. EKPC engaged a safety consulting firm and surveyed all of the employees. We were astounded when 99 percent of employees participated in this voluntary survey and nearly half wrote comments. Clearly, employees valued safety and wanted to provide feedback. Survey results clearly showed employees indeed were not reporting incidents, and they believed safety took a back seat to affordability and reliability. EKPC had to transform its safety culture.
After reading all the survey results, I traveled to every EKPC location. I told employees I heard them, I had been wrong in my approach and I needed their help changing the culture. EKPC immediately formed a Central Safety Committee, consisting of my executive staff and other key personnel. Next, we formed five safety process improvement teams, directly engaging about 60 employees from across the organization. One team created a template for safety observations or conversations. These positive interactions between employees and managers let employees see safety as a priority for management. Employees were encouraged to report near misses and suggest improvements. We started sending employees a daily safety email and beginning every meeting with a safety moment. Safety messages were incorporated into signage, uniforms and vehicles. A short time later, Safety Week became an annual event each January, featuring programs and interactive events designed to focus employees squarely on safety.
Initially, because of the new trust level, reported incidents jumped. Then, the numbers leveled out and dropped dramatically as the new culture took hold. Just as we felt we were making real headway, a potentially fatal near miss occurred. This led to EKPC’s first-ever safety stand-down for all employees, where we discussed exactly what happened, why it happened and how to avoid it in the future. And later, when a serious injury did occur, it brought home to me the human impact. Besides the pain and suffering of the victim, these incidents directly impact co-workers, family and friends. Safety is about people, not numbers – a point we have emphasized many, many times to our workforce and to other groups.
Why is safety a core value at your organization?
EKPC’s most valuable resource is our people. The safety of these people and their families is our most important objective. If we meet all of our business goals but people are injured along the way, then we have not been successful. The only truly acceptable number of employee injuries is zero.
As a bonus, safety is simply good business. Many executives fail to recognize the tremendous [return on investment] associated with a robust safety program. Employees who are focused on safety are also focused on the details of their jobs. They are thinking about how to do their jobs better and more efficiently. I truly believe that our focus on safety has led directly to a workforce that is not only safer and more content, but more productive and engaged as well.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?
Our biggest obstacle is complacency. No matter how few incidents EKPC has had in the past, we’re just one misstep away from an incident that can change lives forever. It is a never-ending challenge to maintain the enthusiasm and vigilance all the time. We work hard at that. We incorporate numerous communications and events to raise and maintain awareness, but I believe our best strategy is directly involving employees in safety. At any given time, about 20 percent of our workforce is serving on a safety-related process improvement team or on their site-based safety committee. About a third of our employees have served on a team at one time or another. Employees who exemplify safety leadership are nominated by co-workers and, during the annual Safety Week, are recognized and rewarded for their contributions. All of this helps employees to be actively engaged and to take a personal interest in safety.
How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?
We must walk the walk. Employees must see every manager – including executive staff – taking safety just as seriously as we expect of every front-line employee. Executives, like every supervisor, conduct monthly safety observations, and they are accountable to do so. These conversations and observations lead to not only valuable suggestions for safety improvements, but also a genuine relationship between employees and management based on their mutual desire to improve safety.
How does your organization measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?
EKPC has committed to focusing on leading, rather than lagging, indicators. By measuring upstream metrics that we can control, we are better able to adjust when we see downstream metrics trending in the wrong direction. Safety observations – informal discussions about safety that occur at the jobsites between managers and employees – are a key metric.
In 2017, around 4,200 safety observations were documented at EKPC. We also track work orders for safety-related changes to our facilities, most of them generated by suggestions from employees. In 2017, over 1,000 safety-related work orders were completed. Other leading indicators include the number of near misses reported and investigated, incident investigations completed with corrective actions, job hazard analyses, safety walk-downs, safety meetings conducted/attended, and even the number of employees volunteering to serve on safety committees. The most important metric is one that is difficult to quantify: Have we prevented pain and suffering by our employees and their families? That is the true measure of success.
What role does off-the-job safety play in your organization’s overall safety program? What types of off-the-job safety and health programs does your organization offer to employees?
Promoting safety outside of the workplace is critical. My personal goal is for every employee to feel comfortable talking about safety with their supervisor, co-workers, family, friends and even strangers on the street. Our program is branded “Safety is R.I.G.H.T.,” an acronym for the “Reason I Go Home Tonight.” We conduct an annual Family Safety Fair, where employees bring their family for a fun, prize-filled event that is focused on safety at work and at home. We hold an annual safety art contest for employees’ children and grandchildren, and winners are featured in a calendar distributed to employees. Employees receive a quarterly safety newsletter mailed to their home, which includes safety-related information for adults as well as fun games and coloring pages for kids. We encourage employees to take [personal protective equipment] home and use it. Our safety group has conducted many free training classes for employees and their families, with topics like first aid, CPR and even how to use a fire extinguisher.