2012 CEOs Who 'Get It'
President & CEO
Diverse Power Inc.
Why is safety a core value at your company?
Wayne Livingston: It is no secret that dealing with high-voltage electric distribution lines comes with inherent danger, and the days of being able to de-energize circuits to perform tasks on those lines have long since ended. Keeping our employees sharp when it comes to safety procedures is something we do formally once a month, but also is reinforced every day on the jobsite. This focus on safety permeates all aspects of our business so employees who do not work on the lines also are focused on the safety aspects of their daily activities, which include responsibilities traditionally not thought of as being “dangerous.” Our employees are our most valuable asset. We want employees to know this, so we take steps to emphasize that value. We have found the best way to do that is accenting safety to a level high enough where it is obvious that Diverse Power cares for our employees beyond what is “required.”
How do you instill a sense of safety in your employees on an ongoing basis?
On each employee’s first day, a personal meeting is set up with the safety coordinator and a detailed review of safety policies and procedures is discussed with regard to the new position. This sets the groundwork for emphasizing safety throughout an employee’s career. All employees in safety-sensitive jobs are required to attend formal safety meetings every month, many of which are OSHA-mandated, and others that put an emphasis on particular tasks that may be performed. New issues that need to be addressed or old ones that are changed also require meetings for updates and remedial training.
Our safety coordinator, with the assistance of managers, general foremen and crew leaders, all work together to ensure safety rules and regulations are followed in the field. Here in the office, a daily walk-through is conducted by our safety coordinator, during which he will visit with different employees and inquire about issues or concerns that may arise within the building. Compliance with the safety manual is achieved through ongoing observation and developing relationships with the employees so it is easy to achieve “buy-in” from everyone.
What is the biggest obstacle to safety in your workplace?
If I were to select one issue, it would have to be complacency. Becoming routine is a sign of maturity, but it also can be a sign of not thinking through each step of the process. Routine in safety equipment application and thought is something that can be encouraged, motivating employees to use their training and the equipment provided for all tasks. Regularly scheduled safety meetings, onsite visits and impromptu meetings during the lunch hour all contribute to reinforcing safety as a routine. The daily worksites are scattered over a wide geographical area, and many line crews move frequently throughout the day. By providing rigorous training and equipment that is comfortable, easy to use, designed for the task and easily replaceable if damaged, our employees are motivated to use what is available every time, all the time.
How important is off-the-job safety to your company’s overall safety program? What type of off-the-job safety program does your company offer to employees?
Moving the culture of safety from the workplace to home can be one of the most daunting tasks a company can undertake. It is not enough to recognize that most injuries occur at home and employees can face many of the same hazards in their personal lives as they do on the job. Being a good corporate citizen sounds great at the Chamber of Commerce meetings, but what are we really doing? At Diverse Power, our safety committee has developed a “Safety@Home” campaign in which we recognize individual acts of safety an employee does at home, with their neighbors and in society. We also encourage our employees to take home with them many of the personal protective equipment items they use at work. Planning a job and protecting one at work is required by any employer – what we are doing is encouraging the same process to occur at home.
We are asking each other when we talk about plans for the weekend if we need PPE to perform our home tasks. We include safety and health newsletters in each pay stub envelope and have subscriptions to the National Safety Council’s Family Safety & Health Magazine for each employee and members of the board of directors. We also offer defensive driving and CPR/first aid classes to family members at no charge. Diverse Power believes that promoting safety at home is not just a good thing to do, but the responsible thing as well.
Describe your journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.”
As a young man growing up in the farmlands of rural South Georgia, I had the opportunity to learn firsthand the value of patience and hard work. While in college, I worked at an electric cooperative during the summers and saw many tasks that were similar to things I’d seen on the farm, now being performed every day with safe practices. Because I have spent my career in this industry, I have seen it mature, with ever-increasing regulations emphasizing the importance of safety in the workplace. Once I became CEO, I was very well aware of what we needed to do to protect our employees and still remain competitive. We can do the tasks required today because everything from practices to equipment to clothing has been developed with safety in mind. The lessons learned early in my life remain with me today. Learning to work safe was one of these lessons.
Diverse Power Inc., which employs 89 people, is a rural electric cooperative that serves seven counties in west central Georgia and Chambers County in Alabama.