Local 223 Safety Director Todd Burger Champions Injury Prevention, Member Safety
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 3.5 million people suffered work-related injuries and 5,147 lost their lives on the job in 2017. That means on average, 14 individuals per day go to work and don’t return home to their families. While the toll of workplace injuries remains high across the country, individuals such as Local 223 Safety Director Todd Burger are tirelessly working to bring awareness and joint responsibility for safety within the utility industry.
As one of three full-time safety directors working at DTE Energy, Burger advocates for bringing improved information sharing procedures, first aid supplies, protective gear and industry standards that prevent devastating workplace injuries and help provide life-saving care in the seconds and minutes after an incident takes place.
For example, he successfully pushed to bring critical safety equipment to DTE facilities including trauma kits called Mobilized Rescue Systems. The supplies included in the kits offer a high level of care in case of an accident including tourniquets, gloves, EMT shears and blood-clotting medicine. These invaluable supplies can buy time while an ambulance arrives. Local 223 safety specialists were also instrumental in getting Automated External Defibrillators (AED) on over 250 of DTE’s field trucks where electrical shock is an ever-present risk.
“Todd isn’t afraid to get in a member’s or management’s face when he sees something that threatens safety,” said Jim Finch, Local 223 safety director. “In the military, he was trained to stand up for what he believes is right. He brings that same approach to this role.”
According to Burger, the military gave him a unique set of leadership skills most people don’t have — skills that translate well to working in the utility industry.
Four years as an infantryman in the Marines taught Burger the problem-solving, persuasiveness and leadership skills he uses every day to talk to management and members about safety procedures. He passionately values safety. Across careers, in the military, construction and utility industries Burger understands what kinds of accidents happen when organizations don’t value safety.
“The construction industry is riddled with injuries,” said Burger. “Pretty often I saw people cut themselves or lose their footing on ladders. There weren’t any OSHA rules, none of these companies are unionized and there certainly wasn’t a safety and health program to help individuals be pro-active about accident prevention.”
According to Burger, once he became part of a union and a company that wanted to put safety front and center, he knew he was in the right place.
According to Leroy Huckleberry, Local 223 safety director, members love to know they have an ear in the room with management who influences the decision-making process and understands their safety concerns.
After leaving the U.S. Marine Corp., Burger worked various construction jobs and sought to get out of the industry around the time the housing market crashed in the early 2000s. In 2002, he joined DTE Energy as a power plant operator at the Monroe Power Plant, the fifth largest plan in the country. Just a few years later in 2008, UWUA and DTE Energy were building a joint safety and health process and agreed to hire full-time tradespeople as safety officers. Burger was nominated and has worked in that position every since.
As a member of the National Safety Council (NSC) — an organization dedicated to eliminating preventable deaths through leadership, education and advocacy — Burger receives ongoing safety training he shares with other members on a regular basis. According to Burger’s colleagues Jim Finch and Leroy Huckleberry, in Burger members have a trusted advisor and safety advocate they can bring concerns to with anonymity and without concern about reciprocity.
“The military ingrained in me the importance of safety equipment such as personal protection equipment and procedures that protect people from getting injured,” said Burger. “I’m proud to bring that experience to the members of Local 223.”