Energy Adviser: Managing safety a priority

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One man on a mission. At least, that’s how one might imagine the safety manager job at Clark Public Utilities. And the truth is not far off. Three months ago, Gene Morris assumed that position. While Morris has worked at the utility for just two years, he’s not new to safety work. For five years, he was the safety director at Pacific Corp., following nearly 30 years in the industry.

Many of us might rate safety as a tedious topic — one we only think about after something’s gone wrong. But managing safety is a proactive, ongoing effort. Rarely do utility customers see the behind-the-scenes details, or how far it reaches. Today, let’s peek behind the curtain.

“Essentially, I manage risk for the company,” said Morris. “My job covers everyone from workers in the office to those in the field. And I think about our customers’ safety, too.”

That puts Morris on the front line. His job runs the gamut from traffic accidents, downed lines, line repairs, tree trimming, moving wire spools around the warehouse, injuries and equipment malfunctions to the ergonomics of office employee workstations — any place a utility employee’s safety might be at risk. But he realizes it’s one thing to handle injuries as they pop up, and quite another to prevent them.

“While I manage risks, I don’t like handling one after the fact,” he said. “I try to stay ahead of what ‘might’ happen and offer ways to prevent potential problems before something goes wrong.”

Part of Morris’ job intersects with utility customers. He provides public information related to safety, such as calling before digging, staying away from downed lines and safe use of generators. He’s also a customer resource for indoor and outdoor electrical safety, and available to speak about safety to community organizations and local businesses.

“Creating awareness around everyday safe practices is important for us,” he said. “As an example, an improperly installed generator can send electricity back through the grid and potentially injure a lineman working to restore an outage. We want to solve that problem ahead of time through education and encouraging customers to work with licensed electricians and get required inspections.”

A typical day in his job can include conducting monthly meetings with employee groups to talk about safety or training a small group on specific safety practices. Back at his desk, he might look into why an accident happened, fill out required documentation or develope ways to avoid an issue in the future.

If there’s an equipment failure, he’s on that, too. Later, he might go out in the field to chat with linemen about problems they face. While he’s there, it’s likely he’ll counsel the crew about how to avoid injuries.

“While the safety meetings I conduct are important, when I get into the field, the work crews raise the best questions,” Morris said. “By watching linemen and asking them about their work, I can help them navigate through any safety issues. It lets me help on the spot and shows them how to be safer in the specific conditions they’re working in.”

Environmental safety is part of Morris’ job, too. If a transformer fall to the ground and oil spills, he sees to it that it’s cleaned up and reported. Even old transformers need to be managed when they are replaced and decommissioned in environmentally friendly ways.

“We want to stay ahead of shifting environmental requirements and proactively adjust our processes to protect employees and customers,” Morris said.

Wherever safety opportunities exist, from in utility work practices or processes, equipment or other assets, to public safety, they fall under Morris’ job.

“Its wide scope makes safety not nearly as boring as it sounds,” he said. “To me, there’s nothing more rewarding than to spend my days helping people stay safe, healthy and productive.”


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.