August 14, 2018
Employees in Substation Controls at Potomac Edison and Mon Power might be described as kindred spirits.
Technicians in the groups travel throughout their respective service territories in Maryland and West Virginia to maintain a variety of equipment – from relay controls to Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.
They also share a commitment to safety that’s certainly stood up to the test of time. Employees in Potomac Edison’s Controls group recently celebrated 23 years without an OSHA-recordable incident, while the Mon Power group has worked OSHA free for 15 years.
“Watching out for each other’s safety is really part of the culture here,” says Steve Zimmerman, who recently became a supervisor after working as a technician in the Potomac Edison group for more than 30 years. “You’ll probably hear the same comments from employees in the Mon Power Controls group. They’ve always had a stellar safety performance, too.”
As predicted, Mon Power’s Ken Parrish echoed Steve’s remarks. “We all try to keep an eye on each other,” says Ken, a lead control technician. “There isn’t anyone in our shop who wouldn’t question someone if they thought they were doing something unsafe. They would point it out.”
Safety goes hand in hand with the Controls group’s daily efforts to ensure the reliability of the company’s electrical system, according to Jim Sandeen, manager, Substation Services, Potomac Edison. “We want to perform our work practices without any mis-operations or errors. That focus carries over to the safety area,” Jim says.
The 20 employees in Potomac Edison’s Controls group are based at the Williamsport (Md.) Service Center. Mon Power’s 26 Controls employees work out of the Virginia Avenue facility in Fairmont, W.Va. As a result, the two groups can spend a good portion of their day traveling back and forth from substations and other job sites.
“As a group, we drive about 15,000 miles per month – so driver safety is a real emphasis for us,” says Rob O’Brien, a Potomac Edison Controls supervisor. “We recently surpassed one million miles without a chargeable motor vehicle accident.”
Employees in the Potomac Edison and Mon Power groups have been able to maintain their safety streaks through significant turnover in recent years due to retirements and job movement. Mentoring is the key, according to Chuck Turner, lead technician, Mon Power. “We typically work in pairs,” he says. “It’s really important for the lead technicians to make sure the newer guys develop the proper habits. If they start out the right way, they’ll be thinking about safety from day one until the end of their career.”
Looking back on the Potomac Edison group’s safety streak, Steve recalls taking a FirstEnergy Utilities (FEU) safety representative to observe a Controls crew in the field. It was 2012 – and FEU was just introducing the Safety & Human Performance program to employees across the company.
“For years, work leaders in our group had been responsible for holding job briefings and employees were self- and peer-checking their work,” Steve says. “After watching our crew, the safety representative said: ‘you’re already following Safety & Human Performance.’ Our technicians were using the error-prevention tools – we just didn’t have a name for them at that time.”