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Caribbean Electric Companies Converge for Safety Conference

March 11, 2009 — The energy-production industry is in the top 10 of most dangerous occupations, said Hugo Hodge, executive director of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, and this week safety officers from the region's electric-utility companies are learning best practices for safety, health and wellness.
The Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) is co-hosting its organizational safety and health conference along with WAPA. The conference has attracted participants from all over the Caribbean, with some 15 nations represented.
"The bottom line is safety," said Gareath Adderley of the Bermuda Electric Light Company. "When staff come to work, they should go home in the same condition."
The conference kickoff, held Wednesday evening at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, featured keynote speaker Jason Ellick, the V.I. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration director.
Ellick urged utility executives to evaluate the ability of their company's safety officer to assess vulnerabilities accurately. He also champions making safety metrics a measure of company success, alongside reliability and profitability.
"Creating a safe culture is most challenging," Ellick said.
Ellick told the cautionary tale of the Texas City, Texas, BP plant that had one of the largest explosions in industrial history in March 2005. The plant had a culture that rewarded its employees for not having any accidents by having a monthly luncheon, Ellick said. The manager responsible for this program returned to his trailer office following one of these luncheons, just before the mammoth explosion, which took 15 lives.
Cultures that foster safety attitudes are hard to change, according to Anthony Roberts, manager of Health, Safety and Environment for the Power Generation Company of Trinidad and Tobago.
Roberts, who will serve as a presenter at the conference, says his company has brought in employees in groups and presented them with case studies. The attitude toward safety is not so much laissez faire as it is complacent, he said.
"Hopefully when they see the impact of existing culture it will motivate them to change," Roberts said.
"We want to ensure that all utilities have health and safety of one of their key performance indicators," said Nigel Hosein, CARILEC's executive director. "Senior management and staff incentives are based on reliability, technical losses and fuel consumption. Health and safety needs to be one of those."
Hodge hopes attendees will take to heart the importance of safety in their work.
"It is in the top 10 most dangerous professions in the world," he said. "Linemen are number four or five."
The Virgin Islands can learn from things that other utilities have tried that have worked or not worked, Hodge said. He lauded the networking opportunities offered by a conference of utility peers.
"These types of organizational meetings give us the ability to have people in similar situation, and learn from their mistakes and their successes," Hodge said.
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