www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/2013-ceos-who-get-it-17

Michael L. Sims

2013 CEOs Who "Get It"

February 1, 2013

Michael L. Sims
General Manager
Butler Rural Electric Cooperative Inc.

Why is safety a core value at your organization?

MICHAEL L. SIMS: There are several good reasons safety is important, but the most important are our employeesí health and well-being and sharing our knowledge with the general public.

We have a highly skilled and valued workforce that provides safe, reliable and affordable electric service to the members of the cooperative. When employees perform their duties and responsibilities in a safe manner, it reduces our risk of losing this valuable asset. Safe and healthy employees are far more productive because they are happier and better able to perform their duties without any restrictions.

The more we educate the general public about safety as it relates to electricity, it improves the odds that people will know what to do when they encounter downed power lines, car accidents, etc. We educate elementary students by visiting local schools, train first responders on how to deal with electricity during emergency events, and inform the general public about hazards by conducting electrical safety demonstrations.

Whether we prevent an employee from lost time at work, or an unfortunate public event, we save the cooperative not only money, but also goodwill. Our employees, members and the general public view the cooperative as a good corporate citizen working to improve the quality of life for all of its citizens. The happiness, health and safety of our employees, members, and general public are priceless.

Describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who "gets it." What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?

When my career began at the cooperative in 1976, my technical skill was in the area of accounting and finance. In 1982, I became the General Manager at the cooperative. As the General Manager, I became more involved in all areas and functions of the cooperative. My involvement expanded to human resources, public relations, marketing, billing, engineering, line operations, computer systems, physical facilities, communications, safety and compliance, in addition to being involved on various cooperative boards and committees.

As I gained experience, I learned many valuable lessons from my mentors and predecessors concerning cooperative operations. In 1982, our organization entered the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program, sponsored by National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Participation in the RESAP led our charge to establish a strong safety foundation for our employees, as well as the general public. While we learned more about the importance of safety, it provided us the opportunity to develop our safety culture as it is today.

What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?

We have a couple of major obstacles. First, we have budget constraints and second we have communication challenges.

We overcome the budget issue by having an engaged nine-member Board of Trustees that oversees the cooperative on behalf of the members of our cooperative. About every five years, the Board of Trustees and the management staff participate in a strategic planning initiative with an outside facilitator. During one of our planning sessions in 2006, the board made it clear that safety at the cooperative is just as important as the financial strength of the organization.

The communication issue is always a challenge, but we communicate with our employees through many avenues. This includes regular departmental and staff meetings, one-on-one conversations, tailgate discussions, and through an active safety committee. The safety committee meets at least quarterly to discuss safety-related issues such as safety rules, accidents, injuries, property damage, facility inspections, building evacuations, etc. The committee consists of employees from all departments of the organization, along with representatives of senior management.

Each employee receives an annual employee evaluation from their supervisor. Safety is one item listed on the annual evaluation that is reviewed and discussed with each employee.

How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?

We have many safety activities, processes and documents that enhance our safety efforts at the Cooperative throughout the year.

  • We have two semi-annual employee meetings to discuss industry-related topics. One of the two meetings is dedicated to our safety awards program, recognizing employees for their safe work performances.
  • Every department head in our organization conducts, at least monthly, a departmental meeting with the employees in their respective departments.
  • We have 10 linemen in our Operations Department. Seven of the 10 have completed, or are in the process of completing, their four-year Apprentice Lineman Program with Central Ohio Lineworker Training Program at Marion Technical College, in Marion, OH. The cooperative pays all costs related to the training.
  • Several of our linemen participate in the Hotline School and other industry-specific line training sponsored by Ohio Rural Electric Cooperative Inc., our statewide association. On many occasions, we have also supplied supervisors to participate in the training of linemen from other cooperatives.
  • Monthly safety inspections and meetings are conducted at the cooperative. Our manager of safety and compliance conducts field observations on a regular basis. Our statewide organization (OREC) and insurance provider conduct unannounced safety and compliance inspections throughout the year.
  • An emergency action plan is documented, and is updated periodically. The plan prepares us to act in a safe and effective manner during the event of an emergency.
  • A safety improvement plan is prepared and distributed to all employees and board members so that we strive to improve safety at our organization.
  • We participate in the NRECA Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program every three years to assess our facilities, procedures and documents related to safety.
  • We tell our employees how important their safety is to the organization, but we will demonstrate it through disciplinary action if safety rules and established work procedures are violated.
  • In addition to our safety policies, we have a safety rule book that has been developed using our employees and statewide organization (OREC) as a resource, and it is updated periodically.
  • Management representatives participate in various statewide safety and training planning committees.
  • Trained employees are provided as observers in the NRECA Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program as they conduct peer review field inspections at participating cooperatives throughout the state.
  • Our employees know that we expect them to work safely because we have communicated that message through our actions, but more importantly, we have regularly included them in the development of our safety rules and work procedures.

 

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?

A report is presented to the Board of Trustees at their regular monthly meeting. We compare our metrics to those of other cooperatives throughout the state and at the national level. We use the OSHA 300 Report and other data to compare statistics. We look at the recordable rate, severity rate, work days report, fatality rate, and days away restricted or transferred rate.

An annual report is generated by Ohio Rural Electric Cooperative that compares our accidents and injuries for the year to other cooperatives in the state.

At present, our safety measurements are acceptable, but we continue to review our numbers, our procedures and our results to see where we can improve.

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?

To provide safe, reliable and affordable electric service to the members of the cooperative, we need our most valuable assets, the employees. If the cooperative can reduce the risk to an employee, whether an employee is on the job or off the job, is important to the cooperative. Each year, we offer our employees a flu shot, and encourage them to get a medical examination by allowing them three hours off work to do so. We also provide an employee health and wellness program and encourage their participation in the annual health fair, health assessment survey, biometric testing, exercise promotions and we offer incentives for their participation.


Butler Rural Electric Cooperative Inc., a not-for-profit 501(c)(12) organization, is an electric distribution system, employing 48 workers and serving approximately 11,500 members throughout parts of Butler, Preble, Hamilton and Montgomery counties.