The Electrical Worker online
May 2015

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New Brunswick Local's Safety Hat Trick

NB Power workers celebrated a major safety milestone earlier this year. Three of the utility's generating stations each achieved 2 million man-hours of work without losing time to an accident.

"Two million hours without a lost-time accident is an amazing and impressive achievement," said New Brunswick Local 37 member Ron Zinke. Zinke is co-chair of the labor-management safety committee at the Belledune generating station. "It's a testament to the focus of our members and their ability to get the job done right and get it done safely."

The achievement is the result of an ongoing partnership between Local 37 and NB Power management to raise safety standards and ensure safe working conditions throughout the company.

It all started 23 years ago. In 1992, an apprentice lineman was killed while working in the woods of New Brunswick, stunning labor and management alike.

The IBEW began holding monthly meetings with NB Power devoted exclusively to safety, while educating members on the importance of safe working practices.

A number of successful joint initiatives led NB Power to compile a record as one of the safest utilities in Canada, eventually enjoying two 12-month periods without any lost time to accidents.

But the focus on safety started to slip, with the company falling in national safety ratings three years ago.

"It was a reminder that we needed to re-focus on the problem," said Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith, who also represents the Eighth District on the International Executive Council.

After looking at some of best safety practices from other utilities and IBEW locals throughout the country, in 2013, the top officers of Local 37 and NB Power signed a joint safety commitment agreement, encouraging every employee to uphold safety standards — at all times.

"Safety is so much more than a safety hat and boots," said NB Power CEO Gaƫtan Thomas. "It is important for us to re-engage our commitment to safety with real, concrete actions."

The agreement laid out five points for employees and management:

  • Follow the rules
  • Refuse unsafe work
  • Report incidents
  • Lead by example
  • Have courage

Galbraith says letting members know that they have not only the right, but the duty, to refuse unsafe jobs was particularly important.

"I tell members at every meeting, 'if something doesn't seem right, if it seems dangerous, don't do it. Stop and reevaluate,'" he said. "We'll back you up, it's the law so the province will back you up, and as management has made clear, the company will back you up."

The company and Local 37 also review a weekly list of "high potential near misses," or almost-accidents to give workers and management a better idea how to avoid potential disasters in the future.

Galbraith also says getting leaders and supervisors on board is vital to the agreement's success. "Everyone in a leadership role has a strong part to play in this. It can be so easy to look the other way, and get the work done, but will there be some unsafe shortcuts?" he said. "We expect all of our leaders to champion safety on the jobs they oversee and lead by example."

It's not just their generating stations where this focus on safety is having an impact. New Brunswick residents suffered through brutal weather last winter, including blizzards, ice storms and major winds, causing massive blackouts throughout the province. They also experienced a significant storm in the summer that uprooted thousands of trees and also caused extensive outages. Despite these tough and hazardous conditions, NB Power didn't experience one single accident-related lost-time incident.

"Members realized that our goal is to make sure we all go home in one piece at the end of the day," said Galbraith. "It's OK to slow down and make sure you have a well-planned approach with a focus on safety and following proper procedures. The work will get done more quickly that way anyway, and it's a lot safer. "