Sunday, 01 October 2006 19:25

Everyone Benefits at Charter Communications

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An interview with Gordon Baldwin, Director, Safety & Security for West Division of Charter Communications 

Founded in 1993, Charter Communications has grown considerably. Today, the Fortune 500 company is the third-largest publicly traded cable operator in the U.S. The company provides a full range of digital video entertainment programming, high-speed Internet and telephone services for residences, as well as broadband communications solutions to businesses, such as Internet access, telephone, data networking, and video and music entertainment.

Gordon Baldwin's responsibilities related to safety in the CATV industry began in 1986 when he became a Safety Training Specialist with Times Mirror Cable Television. His experience in the telecommunications industry includes work as an installer, lineman, construction crewmember, service technician, safety trainer, safety manager, director of safety and a director of security.
A Certified Utility Safety Administrator, Baldwin joined Charter Communications in 2003. Today, his responsibilities include conducting safety audits, data analysis, performance reports and recommendations, facilitating Root Cause Analysis workshops, aiding operations in federal and state compliance, and developing and implementing key safety training initiatives.
"Everyone at Charter continually strives to facilitate company-wide safety compliance and use of best practices," Baldwin states. "This has been very important to any successes realized in our safety program. All of our safety initiatives have a simple goal—to get our associates home at night in the same shape as they came to work that morning."
Recently, Baldwin discussed with Incident Prevention the safety programs and philosophies in place at Charter Communications:

How is the safety organization at Charter Communi-cations structured?
Charter Communications has a corporate safety office directed out of Denver that provides guidance to three divisions. I am with the West Division, which is comprised of six Key Market Areas, each with a number of CATV systems in Texas, California, Nevada, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

How many people report to you and what are their roles and responsibilities?
Five of our six Key Market Areas have at least one full-time safety person. These team members conduct compliance audits, spot check safety performance and partner with managers and supervisors to help improve safety management skills. KMA safety administrators also assist in preparing Job Safety Analysis reports and one of their most important roles is to partner with supervisors in working through our Root Cause analysis process in the event of a near-miss occurrence, a motor vehicle or a personal injury incident.

What safety and training programs has Charter implemented?
Charter has developed some excellent programs for training aerial technical and safety competencies. For example, we have very solid programs for pole climbing, ladder handling and working with bucket trucks. We provide fundamental safety skills training during our new-hire programs covering defensive driving, customer premise safety concerns, electrical safety, PPE and much more. Charter relies heavily on our Charter University training team for the delivery of a substantial percentage of vital safety training topics. Charter University is an enterprise-wide learning and development organization created to provide a consistent and high quality, state of the art training environment. In addition, our management team provides instruction on specific topics as well as on-site coaching to continue the development of important safety skills.

What are the most beneficial safety processes that you feel have been initiated at Charter?
The West Division safety function has provided a central focus for safety concerns and initiatives by striving for partnerships between members of the safety team and their front line leadership clients. This helps local safety leaders learn first-hand the challenges faced by field operations and provides an opportunity for operations leaders to pick up needed safety management competencies.
In terms of particular programs, we have begun processes to ensure environmental compliance. We have also initiated Root Cause Analysis instruction for supervisors to identify what must be done to prevent the second occurrence of a particular type of incident. Additionally, we provide division leaders with monthly safety performance reports. Our managers can access their safety performance results any time on the Charter intranet. Charter intranet. Since the first of the year, Charter leaders have been able to access this online report to view trends and compare the relative performance of one business unit to another.
We have some great programs and processes, but what lets these make a difference is the outstanding support we are given by our leadership team. For example, each year our Division President creates and distributes to all West Division employees a very powerful, personal safety statement in which he shares his expectations that all of us will perform our jobs safely so that each of us gets home to friends and family at the end of the day. I believe that this has been very important to any successes realized in our safety program.

What process do you follow to determine hazards and develop safety practices?
It has been said of safety standards that they are written in blood—meaning that someone, some time had to get hurt or worse before business discovered that a particular safety practice was needed. I believe that from a safety perspective we are lucky to be working in the telecommunications industry. Many of our most essential work practices (climbing poles or ladders, for example) have well developed and proven safety standards. Our employees have access to some of the best-developed and most thoroughly tested approaches to injury prevention in the country. There is really no need to experiment or try short cuts. Instead we just have to sell the message that following our practices means going home to the most important people in your life.

How do you measure safety performance?
We use a combination of traditional rates as well as newer metrics, which gauge the number and quality of supervisor interactions with those reporting to them. One example of traditional measurements are Key Performance Indicators. We use these to measure how well we are performing in our efforts to reduce the rate of OSHA recordable injuries per 100 employees and motor vehicle crashes per 100 vehicles. These accident rates are lagging indicators, which measure past, unintended events. It is important to also know whether or not our leadership teams are engaged in the kinds of activities that will prevent accidents in the first place. Therefore, on the proactive side, we evaluate all sorts of accident prevention activities. These are the positive, safety reinforcing actions that supervisors engage in with their teams. There is a clear link between the things that leadership does to reinforce safety messages and practices and a reduction in unsafe behaviors and accidents.

How can safety professionals benchmark progress?
Look at trends over time. How we are doing over a multi-year period is a much better indicator of how well we are preventing losses. Create a matrix that includes safety performance comparisons down to the supervisor level. Conduct an initial safety and compliance audit with subsequent re-audits to document improvements. Use a performance management process to link appropriate and proactive safety activities from front line associates through each level of leadership. Try sharing the results of regular performance measurements, since this can lead to friendly competition and encouragement between business units or supervisory teams to work more safely. Most importantly, it is essential to use the GOAL (Get Out And Look) approach to coaching for safety.

How would you sum up the approach toward safety at Charter Communications?
Getting people home safely is good business. The challenge in achieving this is finding what works to motivate people to make the right choices when no one else is there watching. I believe that good relationships are fundamental to strong safety performance. ip

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