Connecting with Coworkers Key to Safety

Members of the Hopatcong Substations Group proudly display their 20-year safety milestone banner.

February 16, 2020

How the Borough of Hopatcong, N.J., got its name is a bit of a mystery.*

What isn’t a mystery is how Jersey Central Power & Light’s (JCP&L’s) Hopatcong Substations Group achieved 20 years without incurring an OSHA-recordable injury.

​Good communication has been the key to working safely, according to Mike Guyer, Utility Construction & Maintenance (UC&M) chief. “Communicating with your coworkers during all aspects of a job is critical to reducing exposure to job hazards and completing projects safely,” he said.

​Mike’s coworkers – Kevin Hezel, UC&M chief, and Jeff Mutchler, UC&M first class – agree. With nearly 100 years in the utility industry combined, these guys have a great deal of experience working safely.​

“From the first day I started with the Hopatcong Substations Group, there was a culture of doing things the right way and not taking chances,” said Kevin. “The company taught us to work safely – and we did it to keep ourselves and our coworkers safe.”

Part of Jeff’s job is to inspect equipment before crews arrive at a job site to help avoid unforeseen issues. “I check the affected equipment to make sure it is functioning properly,” added Jeff. “Communication is such an important part of this process because I need to let my coworkers know if anything is out of the ordinary before they start the job assignment.”

Regional Operations Supervisor Brian Shaw is impressed by the strong safety culture the Hopatcong group has been able to maintain over the last two decades. “One of the biggest challenges our group faces is complacency, since many of the tasks they perform are repetitive,” he said. “Senior leaders, like Mike and Kevin, mentor our less experienced employees and stress the importance of communicating, asking questions and treating no task as routine.”

Doug Stone, general manager, Regional Operations Support added: “I am very proud to be a part of this group and commend our Hopatcong Substations employees for achieving this outstanding milestone. Working for 20 years without an OSHA-recordable injury illustrates our employees’ commitment to controlling exposures, keeping each other safe, and going home to their families, every day.”

Operations Support Director Ralph Hillmer echoes Doug’s remarks. “Anytime a physical work group – that is exposed to job hazards on a daily basis – reaches such a significant milestone it’s not only an achievement, it demonstrates our employees’ focus on mitigating and reducing hazards as part of their work practices,” he said. “All Hopatcong Substation crew members – current and former – are recognized for their impressive dedication to working safely.”

There are 13 employees in the Hopatcong Substations Group. Bargaining-unit members are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1289.

​* According to the town’s website, the name Hopatcong may have come from the Native American word “hapakonoesson,” meaning pipestone – a reference to the soft stone found around Lake Hopatcong that was used to make pipe.