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Best Practices: Lakedale Telephone Company and Federated Telephone Coopertive

A little "411" Prevents a Lot of "911"

Utility companies, like members Lakedale Telephone Company and Federated Telephone Coopertive, face safety issues up and down poles and towers, in and out of ditches and holes, on rooftops, basements and myriad of traffic situations.

Lakedale Telephone Company of Annandale employs 60 and they haven't had an injury in six years. Safety Director Erik Monsos describes the issues they face:

"Some of the safety concerns are in construction, where crews install cable or fiber optics in-ground. Heavy equipment such as trenches and backhoes are used, as are ladders; they climb poles and towers. Crews also work on customers' roofs. Whether in-ground work or on poles, crews also come in close proximity to power lines or underground cables as well as buried gas lines. They have to work in cooperation with the power companies. Working in the field also presents the company with driving and traffic issues, particularly work area protection in blocking traffic," Monsos continues.

"We also have confined space issues, working in utility holes and in the cable vault, a concrete bunker-like structure that is below ground at the central office where all the cables come together at the central location. There are dead-air issues associated with this area."

Federated Telephone Cooperative of Chokio sees the same range of safety concerns, but on a much smaller scale. They are a small, rural telephone company with just 11 employees. Four employees work outside of the plant installing and repairing service. The other employees work in a central office—in operations, accounting and customer service.

Federated's Donna Eul says, "We're in a rural area here, a small town environment where everyone looks out for each other. Our guys in the field are most concerned about safety when they're working on the side of the road on a pedestal."

Eul says "At Federated Telephone we've always had a safety program on board. We've had no recordable accidents since 1971."

The safety program at Lakedale goes back 20 years. "Safety is good business," Monsos said, "it is ingrained into the culture at Lakedale. Employees are always coming up with ideas about safety and security and they're encouraged to share their ideas."

At first, safety at Lakedale concentrated on meeting OSHA requirements and basic safety training. Today at Lakedale there are nine-in-house training sessions scheduled every year. In the summer when work crews are too busy to attend in-house sessions, safety consultants spend time in the field with the crews, not only observing how they work but learning the jobs themselves. These field observations are important to gaining a first hand look at how the job is performed and gives the safety consultant an opportunity to work with and educate the field crews about safety issues.

Topics covered in Lakedale safety sessions are not limited to on-the-job topics. Off-the-job safety is covered as well. Seminars in family disaster preparations and hunting safety help keep employees safe at home or at play, which ultimately keeps employees on the job. Lakedale's safety committee is headed by the customer service manager, who served as the first safety director for the MTA 15 years ago. Also on the committee are the outside plant manager and four to five employee representatives who serve on the committee for a 12 month period. The committee meets quarterly and will hold special meetings if there are specific issues that need to be addressed immediately. Monsos says they're constantly reevaluating the effectiveness of the committee and make changes as needed in either structure or scope.

At Federated Telephone Cooperative, Eul reports that the plant manager serves as safety director. "We have a monthly safety meeting and each month the safety coordinator spends a full day with an employee making sure that they're working safely and in compliance with OSHA rules and regulations."

The general manager at Lakedale holds all staff meetings quarterly. He always includes a segment about safety and recognizes the members of the safety committee. Safety is always on the front burner and there are slogans and posters throughout the company. Contact and communication with all employees is important in keeping awareness and compliance high.

Monsos says "When it comes to safety, everyone at Lakedale is on board."

December 1998
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