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Focusing on a Safety Culture at Consumers Energy

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As Safety & Health Director for CMS/Consumers Energy, Tom Taylor
discusses his role in developing, maintaining and auditing all safety
and health programs.

Headquartered in Jackson, Michigan, Consumers Energy is the principal subsidiary of CMS Energy Corporation, an integrated energy company that also includes CMS Enterprises, whose primary businesses are independent power production and natural gas transmission. Consumers Energy, Michigan's second-largest electric and natural gas utility, is the 13th-largest investor-owned electric company in the U.S. The company provides service to more than six million residents in all 68 of the state's Lower Peninsula counties. As the 5th-largest investor-owned natural gas utility in the country, it delivers more than 360 billion cubic feet of gas through a system of 26,400 miles of pipelines.

A 23-year veteran of the utility industry, Tom Taylor has been with CMS Energy as Director of Safety & Health for the past eight years. Previously, he worked at AEP for 15 years in several roles, including Safety & Health Manager. Earlier, he served as a Hospital Corpsman in the U.S. Navy responsible for safety and health programs.

Taylor's other safety related credentials include a Bachelor's Degree in Safety Engineering and completion of AEP's Executive Development Program at Ohio State University. He is also a Certified Utility Safety Administrator (CUSA), a Certified Safety Manager, a Certified Nuclear Training Instructor, a Certified Health Physics Technician and a firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician. In addition, Taylor is the current chairman of American Gas Association's (AGA) Safety & Occupational Health Subcommittee and a member for eight years of that committee as well as the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) Safety & Occupational Health Committee.

The Corporate Safety & Health Department that Taylor oversees at CMS/Consumers Energy consists of five field safety professionals, four who support Consumers Energy field operations and one who supports CMS Enterprises. There are also three corporate safety professionals, one safety administrator, and a corporate S&H manager/industrial hygienist. In addition, the company has a corporate S&H manager who supervises and manages daily activities of the field safety professionals; a CMSE safety manager who provides support to non-regulated/international facilities; a substance abuse manager who develops and maintains drug and alcohol testing and employee assistance programs; and an administrative assistant who publishes safety statistical reports, maintains an injury and illness database and the safety department's web page.

In his current role, Taylor is charged with developing, maintaining and auditing all safety and health programs. On a regular basis, he consults with the company's leadership team on strategies for reducing injuries and improving compliance. Recently, he discussed the safety and health initiatives in place at CMS/Consumers Energy with Incident Prevention.

What safety and training programs are in place at CMS/Consumers Energy?
 Consumers Energy has a highly skilled training group that reports to the operations department. The Corporate Safety & Health Department works closely with them and approves safety related lesson plans. We also coordinate the development of monthly safety meetings for more than 20 different workgroups. This service to our supervisors and safety committees has gone a long way toward improving the quality of our safety meetings.

What are the most beneficial safety programs, and practices and processes, that you feel you have initiated and managed?
Number one would have to be our Safety Culture Change initiative. You can have the best programs in the world and if the culture of your organization doesn't support them they will be useless. The second would have to be our safety compliance initiative. Getting our policies and procedures in line with regulatory requirements and ensuring employees are trained is an ongoing initiative.

What process do you follow to determine hazards?
Hazard assessment is critical to perform any work safely. Those doing the work need to be knowledgeable and respectful of the potential hazards they may encounter. The key processes we look at are those that focus on employees, their skills and the culture, such as pre-job briefings, tailboard meetings, training and the unwritten rules that exist in the work place. Unwritten rules are part of the safety culture. They are the ones that reflect the way work is done when compliance with written rules is considered inconvenient.

How do you measure safety performance?
Safety performance measurements require two views. One is reactive and measures how many people were hurt and for how long. The second is proactive and addresses what has been done to prevent accidents. We have become very adept at looking at reactive numbers and working to establish proactive measurements that have enough credibility to become part of our incentive program. I would consider the D.A.R.T. rate one of the better reactive performance measures that we use. Safety meeting attendance, inspections completed, job site visits conducted, near miss reports completed and employee recognition programs are all examples of proactive measures.

What types of strategic partnerships do you have in place? Why is this important?
We encourage partnerships with the local medical community to ensure we are involved in the recovery of any injured employees. We also work very closely with our workers compensation department. These relationships are important so employees know you care about them and their well-being outside the workplace. We want to ensure they are getting the best quality of care for their injuries and are getting back to work in a timely manner.

Are you involved in the purchasing decisions for vehicles, tools and personal protective equipment for work crews? What input can and do you have in this area and why is it important to get involved?
We are on the committees that select and modify vehicles, tools and PPE. We have veto power over any changes and our input is considered valuable by the teams we support. It is important that someone from outside of operations looks primarily at safety issues. If not, then the drive to improve customer service or streamline work can unknowingly lead to decisions that could jeopardize employee safety.

What regulations impact your decisions about safety and compliance?
At the Michigan-based utility, Consumers Energy, we primarily follow MIOSHA, MDOT, and MPSC regulations, while some federal OSHA and DOT requirements need to be followed as well. For our operations across the U.S. we follow appropriate state and federal regulations and for international operations we follow international banking standards, OSHA or host country safety regulations, whichever are most restrictive.

What changes do you see coming in regulations that will have an impact on your operation and the industry as a whole?
OSHA's proposed changes to 1926 subpart V and 1910.269 are the next step in creating more conservative work requirements for electric utilities. From what I've heard, we can expect the final rule to be published in late 2007 or 2008. I also believe we can expect to see a continuous improvement theme coming from regulators. As long as we have employees being killed or injured on the job, it should be everyone's goal to improve our performance. Some industry groups believe that additional regulations will only be offset by utilities taking it upon themselves to create work rules that are effective in reducing injuries.

How would you sum up your philosophy and approach toward utility safety?
Accident reduction in any form is a benefit. For employees it's the elimination of pain, suffering and family distress. For the company it's improved productivity, reduced costs and less equipment damage. For the customer it's a safe, reliable and cost-effective source of energy. Fundamental safety programs and procedures developed by safety and health professionals are a product of your company's cultural and procedural environment. Operations and front line employees need to maintain active involvement and ownership of these programs and have a strong focus on safety culture and what they're doing to improve it. ip

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Guest Monday, 20 October 2014

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