Safety Training Saves Lives, Builds Careers

The UWUA’s commitment to providing continuous, lifelong learning opportunities for its members is successfully preparing current and future utility workers to excel in the industry. Safety is the bedrock on which all union training is built.

To continue to be the safest, most productive, highest skilled workers in the world the union is growing its training capacity with more employers choosing to participate in the Power for America (P4A) Training Trust. In addition, with a proven track record, the UWUA and its members are central players in training with a number of employers who have yet to join P4A.

Utility Workers best trainers

No one is more qualified to train utility workers than utility workers themselves. The facts show that utility workers training utility workers results in measurable improvements in safety and service while reducing costs to employers and, ultimately, the public.

“When utility workers partner with utility employers, both the workers and the companies — and ultimately consumers — see big returns,” says UWUA National President Mike Langford.  “This is now resonating with our members, the companies, industry regulators and the public. We couldn’t be happier with the results and we are working hard to partner with more employers to improve their training programs.”

Power for America is a one-of-a-kind training resource for electric, gas and water utilities to become smarter, safer workplaces and ensure a pipeline of expertly trained workers, equipped with the skills to build the infrastructure of the future.  P4A was established in 2009 by the UWUA.

The experience of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council (MSUWC) with Consumers Energy provides a clear example of the success of the union’s safety training program. Consumers’ total annual safety incidents dropped from 558 to 73 between 2007 and 2016 — a seven-fold drop in only ten years!  Last year was not only the safest in the company’s 135-year history, but Consumers took the prize among its peers for having the lowest safety incident rate among its peer group.

Taking ownership

“Our members do most of the training and on top of that, over the last dozen years we negotiated for eight full-time safety reps,” says MSUWC President Pat Dillon. “We prove day in and day out that the safety and skills training our members do pays for itself, with a safer, more productive workplace.”

Les Wutka, Single Worker Safety Representative, from Local 254, explains why MSUWC’s system works so well. “When management comes to a job site, they look at it from a disciplinary perspective rather than a fixing perspective. As union safety reps, we take ownership and responsibility for safety. If we see a problem, we show our members how to correct it. It’s not giving them a spanking, it’s explaining why a problem exists and showing them how to fix it. I really think the membership appreciates that.”

In another example of a partnership that works, UWUA Local 1-2, together with Consolidated Edison in New York, implemented a Systems of Safety program that brought down operating errors by 47% and preventable motor vehicle accidents by 40% over the five years ending 2014. 

UMAP puts veterans to work

Through funding from participating employers and government grants, P4A brings together the most experienced UWUA members to meet the skills and safety training needs and challenges of UWUA employers.  And through the union’s innovative, nationally recognized Utility Military Assistance Program, the UWUA is working with the Dept. of Defense and partner companies to meet the recruitment and training needs of tomorrow’s workforce.   

P4A is looking to build on its record and apply the lessons learned to create new success stories across other areas of the utility industry.

“Our message is clear,” says UWUA Executive Vice President Steven VanSlooten, “No one trains better than the workers who perform the work themselves every day. If you want the safest, most highly skilled, productive workforce in the world, give us a call to find how together we can build a partnership that works.”

Safety Comes First for First Responders

“If it wasn’t for the safety training we received, there might have been some guys who took their buckets up in those dangerous winds,” says MI Local 104 President Jim Bouliew when describing work conditions during a severe March windstorm that caused the biggest power outage in state history.

“People in our trade know they are first responders, we take it on as a career goal,” the 35-year veteran line worker in charge explains. “We have to answer the call. Our neighbors, friends and family depend on us to get the lights back on and make communities safe.”

The storm lasted five days and impacted more than a million Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison customers. Through it all, UWUA members did their jobs safely and efficiently. By the last day of the storm, a remarkable 99% of power was restored.

Jim’s message to his union brothers and sisters is: “Trust your training, trust your instincts, and speak up when things aren’t going according to plan.  If you don’t feel safe, stop the job, go through procedures to make sure everyone is on the same page.”