Coastal Electric’s workplace safety saves lives and money

Chris Fettes holding an award plaque with Harry Reeves and Wendy Sellers by his side
Harry Reeves (left), vice president of training, education and safety at Georgia EMC, and Wendy Sellers (right), Washington EMC president and CEO, present Coastal Electric Cooperative CEO Chris Fettes with an award commemorating nine consecutive years with no lost-time accidents.

Coastal Electric Cooperative was recently recognized for nine consecutive years without any employee missing work due to an injury in the workplace or in the field—an impressive accomplishment, given the complexity and inherent dangers of the electricity industry.

“Our business inevitably involves risk,” says James Tomas, training and safety coordinator at Coastal Electric. “We strive every day to minimize these dangers by investing time and attention to safety measures and careful work practices.”

To acknowledge the co-op’s robust safety program, Coastal Electric received a No Lost-Time Award during a Georgia EMC Annual Meeting for electric co-ops on Nov. 7, 2022, in Savannah.

Nationally, electrical linemen suffered 18.6 fatalities for every 100,000 hours worked in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to just 3.4 fatalities per 100,000 hours for the average American.

For the last nine years, Coastal Electric had no fatalities or injuries that required the worker to miss any time away from the job.

More than any other time in history, electric utility employees, including those with Coastal Electric, work in a much safer environment due to advances in equipment and safety techniques, along with stricter safety regulations and oversight. This leads to a significant reduction in accidents and time away from work for employees, according to Harry Reeves, vice president of training, education, and safety at Georgia EMC, the state-wide trade association representing the state’s 41 electric cooperatives.

Still, the nature of the electricity business proves challenging to avoid an injury, no matter how many safety practices are in place, making it especially noteworthy when electric co-ops, such as Coastal Electric, earn a No Lost-Time Award.

“It’s a testament to all our employees,” Thomas adds. “Success and safety depend on all of us. Our goal is to ensure that everyone returns home to their families at the end of each day.”

While protecting the safety of employees and the public is the primary goal of workplace safety and training, Coastal Electric’s stellar safety record also translates into significant savings for the cooperative and its members.

When an injury does occur, the total costs go beyond emergency room visits, doctor appointments, and related medical costs. Indirect costs, such as administrative time dealing with the injury, increases in insurance costs, hiring replacement employees, and even loss of reputation, can add up to four times the direct cost of the injury.

So safety is not only good for co-op employees, but is beneficial for co-op members and the community.