Safety Summit promotes situational awareness

By Darlene Masse

img_3121Building on the success of similar events in electric operations, National Grid’s gas operations team in New England held a safety summit on October 28 at Gillette Stadium. During the event, more than 100 employees came together to discuss safety and best practices and learn from the experiences of others.

The day started with a very powerful safety moment delivered by National Grid gas worker Bill Aldridge and Supervisor Mike Teal. Bill and Mike recounted their experiences from being on the scene of the recent incident in Boston where two utility workers tragically lost their lives following a water main break. “I’ve been at the company for 35 years, and I’ve been in and out of thousands of holes,” said Bill. “Seeing what I saw and what can happen have changed the way I approach the job.” Bill described a sadness that he felt for the victims, and during the summit, there was a moment of silence in their honor. Mike also spoke about the emotional impact.

Bill and Mike’s stories had a profound effect on audience members and set the tone of the conference, which was focused on learning about safety in the broadest sense.  Bill described how his fellow co-workers approached him during the summit and said how impactful it was to hear a personal story from someone who has been doing the job every day for more than three decades. Jeff O’Brien, Director of Gas Operations for Southern New England, described what could be learned from Bill and Mike’s presentations: “The heart of the message delivered by Billy and Mike was delivered with care and respect in which they honored the victims, while explicitly sharing the profound impact it had on them personally. Two men did not return home to their families that evening. Working together as one team to ensure this never happens to one of us is the only way to truly honor the victims.”

Neil Proudman, Vice President of New England Gas Operations, introduced a guest presenter who also had a powerful story to share: Kristina Anderson, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting and founder of The Koshka Foundation for Safe Schools, a non-profit which provides educational resources on violence prevention to schools, law enforcement, and workplaces. Neil invited Kristina to speak about her personal experiences in regards to safety, after seeing her present at a recent American Gas Association conference. On April 16, 2007, a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. Kristina was one of the survivors after being shot three times while in French class at Norris Hall. For one hour, Kristina told the story of this incomprehensible tragedy.

Many employees were captivated as they listened to this amazingly courageous woman retell her story. “It was brilliant to bring in Kristina,” said Joe Kirylo, Union President of USW Local 12003. “You could hear a pin drop when Kristina spoke,” he added.

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So many lessons on general safety could be garnered from Kristina’s story. Situational awareness of our surroundings is one of them. Kristina’s presentation reiterated our individual responsibility to be vigilant, take note of things that seem out of the ordinary, and share the information with supervisors or law enforcement. If you see something, say and do something. Kristina recalled the multiple signs of the shooter’s increasing mental instability and steps in preparation, in the years preceding the attack. Taking note and saying something can help connect the dots and piece together a larger picture of a need for help before tragedy strikes.

The second half of the day was focused on a series of breakout sessions, where employees were extremely engaged in brainstorming solutions to prevent injuries.

Topics included:

  • Motor vehicle safety
  • Soft tissue injury prevention
  • Backhoe safety
  • Hearing protection
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Breathing apparatus
  • Excavation safety

During the closing presentation of the summit, Neil reminded employees that anyone can stop a job at any time, if they feel they are unsafe. “You aren’t stopping a job forever, it’s like a ‘time out’ to reassess and make sure the job is being done safely.”  Drawing from the lessons learned from Kristina’s story, employees are encouraged to have that situational awareness and help take ownership for maintaining a safe workplace.

img_3158Neil described the different approach they took to this safety summit: “We wanted to create an impact by having people recount personal stories. We remember stories and we learn from them.” Participants echoed those thoughts. Joe said: “It’s far more powerful when people address safety from a first-hand account.”

John Buonopane, Union President of USW Local 12012, spoke about the impact of Kristina’s presentation. “Her talk is definitely something I will think about in a situation in a crowd or a place I’m not familiar with. It’s being more aware of what is going on around us.”

All in all, it was a very productive day. Employees clearly walked away with a good feeling on National Grid’s commitment to safety and a greater awareness of the individual accountability we all have in personal safety. “Thanks National Grid for putting this together,” said Joe.

This was the second Safety Summit recently held for the New England Gas Operations organization. The first session, held in September, included mainly Rhode Island employees and was organized by Jeff O’Brien. This meeting was primarily Massachusetts employees and was organized by Bob Preshong, Director of C&M Central, and Bill Costigan, Director of C&M North. These summits will take place annually. Thanks to everyone who participated!

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