Occupational Health & Safety

Midwest Generation is an independent power producer that operates six electric power-generating plants in Illinois and supervises operation of the EME Homer City generation plant in Homer City, Pa.

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Generating Safety Power

Here's how one company transformed its culture and achieved a major milestone on its path to zero injuries.

Edison Mission Group (EMG) manages the competitive power-generation business and other subsidiaries of California-based Edison International, a generator and distributor of electric power and an investor in infrastructure and energy assets, including renewable energy. EMG company Midwest Generation (MWG) is an independent power producer that operates six electric power-generating plants in Illinois and supervises operation of the EME Homer City generation plant in Homer City, Pa. It sells electricity in competitive wholesale markets and competes in a 13-state region that extends from the Atlantic coast westward to Illinois.

In 2006, MWG was facing an increase in the severity of injuries, which included fatalities, at its coal-fired plants. Senior leadership at EMG and MWG, including Len Tully, safety director; Guy Gorney, former MWG senior vice president; and Ted Craver, then president and CEO of EMG (now chairman of Edison International), asked DuPont to assist the organization in moving toward world-class safety performance.

During the three-year engagement that followed, DuPont:

  • evaluated MWG's safety management system against world-class systems;
  • identified opportunities for improvement in the management of workplace safety and process safety; and
  • provided recommendations for the development and maintenance of a world-class safety system at MWG.

Initial Assessment Findings
A first step by EMG and MWG management was a comprehensive assessment identifying key areas of concern and opportunities for improvement:

  • MWG's safety culture was reactive and compliance-focused.
  • There were pockets of safety system skills in the organization (such as the incident investigation process and its safety committees), but these were insufficient to achieve the highest standards of safety performance.
  • Established safety goals encouraged only incremental improvement.
  • MWG lacked sufficient safety management knowledge to achieve world-class safety performance.
  • There was a significant gap in the organization's ability to identify and mitigate risk.
  • Inconsistent safety management practices were a barrier to rapid improvement (i.e., more difficult, more expensive, slower).
  • MWG's primary goal was improving the overall safety and welfare of employees.

Primary Goals
DuPont designed its assessment to help MWG develop a high-level path forward for continuous safety improvement during the three-year engagement period of 2007 to 2010. The agreed primary goals of the engagement were to:

1. Reduce employee injuries and ultimately create an injury free workplace

2. Transform the safety culture from a reactive, compliance-focused one to an interdependent one (as defined by the DuPont Bradley Curve) that is proactively focused

3. Develop the skills and capabilities of the line organization to more effectively manage all aspects of the operation by establishing and maintaining high standards of performance

Needed First: A Cultural Shift
EMG and MWG leadership also realized that the company needed to take the following actions to create a strong safety culture and reach its goals:

  • make safety at least as important as production and quality (good safety is good business)
  • gather greater input from stations and include it in the process for setting challenging goals and defining action plans
  • expand the safety leadership organization by involving all levels of employees and management
  • establish the corporate safety policy as the driving force behind systems and processes for managing safety
  • ensure that all, not just some, potential workplace safety hazards are identified, analyzed, and safeguarded
  • create a comprehensive, structured auditing system that involves all levels of the organization, collect data, and use the data as a change agent
  • eliminate the potential for hiding injuries by encouraging a culture where injury treatment and prevention take priority over financial incentives
  • ensure that everyone on a station site, including contractors, is required to comply with a consistent set of safety policies and regulations

The MWG Improvement Strategy
Although leadership commitment and support were key drivers in building a safety culture, the consulting team agreed the greatest success would be achieved through implementing an improvement strategy that included seven essential steps:

1. Establishing a strategic safety management structure

3. Developing performance standards and metrics to monitor safety performance

4. Building safety leadership competencies at all levels of the organization

5. Expanding workplace safety systems to include contractors

6. Establishing process safety reviews to identify and mitigate risks from high hazard operations

7. Training employees and contractors on the new safety systems and processes

Achieving Improvement through a Comprehensive Approach
MWG developed and implemented a safety management system focused around the operations environment. It provides the organizational, process, and skill infrastructure needed to broaden the perspective of safety, incorporate accountabilities, and move MWG toward being an injury-free workplace. It was accomplished through a comprehensive three-year strategic process that included defining and documenting safe work standards; reinforcing standards and expectations through auditing and observation; fostering employee involvement through activities and communication; preventing incident recurrence through incident investigation; incorporating safety into contractor relationships; and driving accountability through actionable information.

The improvement strategy was implemented in three phases to drive positive organizational results. First came a division safety system with the design of a division-level safety governance structure and the future-state MWG safety system and processes. These processes were piloted at individual sites prior to broader rollout. Second, a Central Safety Committee was initiated at each site and sites prepared for the roll-out of the MWG safety system and processes. Third, all levels of the organization participated in safety leadership training and development workshops, and a detailed reassessment of the new system and processes was completed at each site, along with additional activities designed to drive cultural assimilation and optimization.

The work with MWG has been expanded to now include EMG facilities in other parts of the country so that processes and practices are consistent across all of EMG and its fleet of more than 40 coal, gas, and wind-generating facilities in 13 states.

DuPont helped MWG manage the necessary internal changes through its proprietary process improvement framework, which includes assessing the current state, envisioning the future state, planning the transition, and implementing the change. It also was critical to the success of the implementation to ensure continual two-way communication among all stakeholders involved in safety management at MWG, including the corporate safety committee, the steering team, top leadership, team leads, process improvement teams, and employees.

Results and Benefits
A key deliverable for the MWG steering committee was to achieve at least a 60 percent reduction in injuries to MWG employees against a 2006 year-end baseline, which would represent a major milestone on a path to zero injuries. By the end of 2010, MWG reduced its incidence rate by 73 percent, its DART (Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred) rate by 68 percent, and its LWDC (Lost Work Day Case) rate by 72 percent.

In addition to reducing injuries, the most important benefits of implementing a world-class safety management structure at EMG and MWG included the development of a work environment that fosters trust and openness and invites collaboration between company management and its employee union. The process also has created professional development opportunities for employees in the areas of safety management, project management, team building, process methodology, and leadership skills.

Knowledge Transfer and Sustainability
An annual Safety Summit was created to help to maintain and strengthen improvement across all EMG companies. Each year, successes are celebrated at the summit and continuous improvement opportunities are identified. As a result, this event has helped anchor and reinforce safety sustainability throughout the company and over time.

To maintain a world-class safety management structure and safety culture, an organization must establish high safety standards; regularly review its performance; monitor operations and processes; make needed improvements promptly; and continue safety training, coaching, and other awareness-building activities so that all employees understand their responsibilities and know how to work safely. Today, MWG continues to operate by the core set of safety principles achieved by this implementation.

About the Author

Patricia E. Hampel is the Utilities Segment Practice Leader at DuPont Sustainable Solutions (www.sustainablesolutions.dupont.com). She brings more than 20 years of experience in aligning global strategies, systems, and people for large corporations and has deep expertise in workplace safety, business leadership, and project management. In her current role, she has responsibility for leading the development and successful delivery of solutions for clients in the utilities sector in the North America region.

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