Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Power to the People

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Power to the People

Article excerpt

Past safety performance is water over the dam for TVA's Fossil and Hydro Power organization as it strives to be the best in the business.

The 5,200 men and women who work for the Fossil and Hydro Power organization of the Tennessee Valley Authority have tamed a mountain wildcat in order to meet the ravenous energy needs of 8 million customers.

Each year, they force billions of gallons of rushing water and millions of tons of coal to surrender their power at 220 electrical generating units spread throughout the Tennessee Valley.

Such work, like the taming of a wildcat, is hazardous. On any given day, employees are exposed to high energy electrical, mechanical and steam exposures. Potential health hazards include asbestos, arsenic in fly ash, flue gases, lead, coal dust, chemicals, radiography operations and heat.

They participate in activities like confined space entry and rescue, cutting and welding, scaffold erection, and excavation and trenching. They face machining hazards, and overhaul bulky, heavy and complex equipment, such as transformers and turbines, at one of the world's largest power service shops. Work is conducted under the constant threat of fire at coal-fired and combustion turbine sites and water engulfment at hydro plants.

Created by an act of Congress in 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was one of the most massive, innovative projects of its time, and it continues to grow in size and scope of operations.

A benchmarking process several years ago at Fossil and Hydro Power (F&HP) led upper management to the conclusion that the safety program had not grown along with other aspects of the business.

"Management came to the stark realization that other companies were outperforming us in safety," said Kenneth McVay, industrial safety program manager, F&HP. "We did not want to be in the middle. We wanted to be at the top and stay there."

Management recognized, said McVay, that change could only occur if employees were included in the improvement process. To that end, the F&HP Safety Process Improvement Team was formed and included line employees as well as safety personnel and managers. The mandate of the 154-member team: identify performance gaps between F&HP and other top performers; determine the reasons for the differences; and develop and recommend improvements.

As a result of the team's efforts, recordable injuries and illnesses have been reduced by 54 percent and lost-time injuries by almost 64 percent since 1991.

Measuring the Problem

After examining the safety programs and processes of 25 North American utility companies, the team found performance gaps related to senior management involvement in safety programs, employee empowerment, safety and health training, accident and near-miss event investigations, performance assessment, workplace inspections, the safety and health management process and safety staff communication.

Over the years, safety did not have the same focus as production and growth at many TVA operations. When Ed Lindler, a safety specialist with the corporate safety group, joined TVA in the late 1970s, the agency was growing rapidly and in the midst of a huge push to construct nuclear power plants.

In theory, TVA management had always voiced an interest in having a good safety program, said Lindler. "It's like apple pie and motherhood," he noted, "hard to talk against."

In practice however, safety took a backseat to mandates from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, construction and other challenges, he remembered, leaving many managers with little time or resources to address other areas.

"One manager told me, 'I feel like I am at the small end of a large funnel and most of the time, I get more than a mouthful,'" said Lindler. "I think he put the difficult task of balancing competing priorities pretty well."

The benchmarking program allowed upper management to see how far the company had slipped in safety performance compared to competitors. …

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