HUGHESVILLE, Md.—On August 1, 2012, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) employees reached the goal of working one million continuous hours without loss of time due to an accident or injury. SMECO defines a "lost-time" accident as a work-related accident or injury that results in an employee having to take time off from work. If an employee is able to return to work under restricted duty or is reassigned because of the injury, it is not considered a lost-time accident.
SMECO's job training and safety director, Mike Nygaard, elaborated, "We place a high priority on safety at the co-op, because safe work practices can mean the difference between life or death." Nygaard continued, "Since 2001, we've had no less than two lost time accidents each year. They ranged from lacerations and vehicle accidents to falling from a utility pole. The last lost-time accident we had occurred on July 25, 2011, so it has taken more than a year to reach this milestone."
"Working one million hours without a lost-time accident is a significant accomplishment, especially considering that we have worked through two devastating storms in the past year," said Ken Capps, SMECO's senior vice president of engineering and operations. "Linemen are especially susceptible to injury following storms because conditions are more hazardous, the work-day is longer, and they are often working at night and in very challenging weather conditions." SMECO employees average about 20,000 work-hours per week, but during the eight days following Hurricane Irene in August 2011, SMECO employees worked nearly 36,600 hours. After the derecho of June 29, employees put in nearly 22,100 hours in four days.
Capps added, "Reaching the one-million-hour milestone this year when we are celebrating our 75th anniversary makes it even more meaningful. This is a noteworthy event in the history of our organization because we are committed to keeping SMECO employees safe and healthy." SMECO holds monthly safety meetings in each office and all employees are encouraged to attend. Safety education topics range from working in confined spaces and safe driving to excavation, fall protection, and electrical arc flashes. The co-op documents its safe work practices and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association evaluates cooperatives' safety initiatives through its Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program.