A view from the top: My “why?”

Turner and his wife Rachel celebrate the upcoming arrival of their daughter.
Steven Turner and his wife Rachel celebrate the upcoming arrival of their daughter.

The job of a lineman is physically demanding and, oftentimes, involves potentially dangerous situations. Proper training, safety procedures, practices and equipment are paramount in their everyday work, but regardless of what occupation you find yourself in, staying safe on the job should always be a top priority. One of the best ways of ensuring your team is as safe as possible is to establish a culture of safety within your work environment.

A culture of safety
Heath Smith, CAEC Journeyman Lineman, and Steven Turner, CAEC Lineman, agree that the atmosphere and emphasis placed on safety at CAEC are unlike anywhere they’ve worked before.

“We train to be 100 percent safe at CAEC,” said Turner. “We have it printed on our hard hats and we practice it daily. You can’t predict or prevent every accident, but it’s our duty to do the best we can to prevent it. And we all do so.”

Along with weekly safety meetings, the linemen also attend monthly training sessions on pole top and bucket rescue, annual CPR and first aid refreshers, quarterly meetings and various other training opportunities.

Even on a typical workday, safety starts before linemen leave the warehouse to load their trucks. When loading materials, proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, safety glasses, steel-toed boots and gloves must be worn. Linemen must also undergo forklift training if they plan to get their own materials for the day, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires pre-trip inspections to be done on trucks and trailers before heading to the jobsite.

Once on the jobsite, inspections must be made of the surroundings to check for potential hazards. A comprehensive job briefing is performed and signed off on by all members of the crew and necessary signage and cones are placed to notify the public that linemen are at work. Once the job is complete, all materials are returned to the truck, secured and properly flagged to ensure nothing falls off during transport.

“It’s critical for us to be safe in our job because it only takes one mistake, one misplaced hand, one unintentional movement to change our lives forever,” said Turner. “We’re holding 14,400 volts in our hands almost on a daily basis. They make plenty of tools and protection for us to use, but sometimes the only thing between us and injuries are our gloves and our minds.”

Throughout his 17 years at CAEC, Smith has seen firsthand the impact that proper safety procedures can have on a jobsite. Smith adds that a large percentage of jobsite safety hinges on personal accountability and making sure you are practicing proper safety procedures first because if you don’t follow the procedures, how can you expect those around you to follow suit?

“You’ve got apprentices learning from you and other linemen watching you every day,” said Smith. “If you’re not practicing safety, how are they going to learn what to do? It’s an accountability thing, and it’s a safety culture thing, too. If your Journeyman’s not safe, nobody’s going to want to work with you either.”

My “why”
Whether you realize it or not, safety can sometimes take a back seat when our brains go on autopilot, especially when performing a task you’ve done numerous times. Most of us don’t even realize when we’ve deviated from doing something safely because it’s become second nature, and in many cases, these moments are when accidents or oversights occur.

But while we may all go into autopilot from time to time, there is one factor that tends to put things into perspective and put us back on track: my “why.” For many, dedication to safety on the job comes down to being able to return home to family at the end of the day, but Smith added that it’s not just about looking out for himself.

“I want the guys on my crew to go home to their families, too,” said Smith. “It’s not just about me; it’s about the brotherhood.”

“My ‘why’ behind safety is simple,” Turner agreed. “I want to go home; I want to see my brothers go home. I’ve got a baby on the way and a wife I want to see, and all of us have families we want to return home to.”

Commitment to safety
Both Smith and Turner play active roles on CAEC’s Safety Committee, and just last year the group was involved with helping brainstorm possible ways of announcing the co-op’s new safety culture statement to the members.

When asked why this statement was important and relevant to organizations like CAEC, Smith said it showed that regardless of anything else, we at CAEC are committed to safety. He added that it also accurately sums up the seven cooperative principles CAEC was founded on and truly reflects what the co-op still stands for to this day.

At the end of the day, safety isn’t just something you practice, it’s a mindset you adopt. The best way to keep safety top of mind is to practice it daily, hold yourself and those around you accountable and always keep your “why” in focus.

“Our employees are my brothers and sisters, the ones I want to see go home and enjoy family time,” said Turner. “The community and our members are my friends and family. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt because of a step I missed by being complacent.”

Heath Smith with wife Heather, son Jackson, daugher Emilee and son-in-law Hunter.