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Best Practices: Pioneer Power

Pioneer Power Takes Safety On Site

Pioneer Power, a St. Paul-based mechanical contractor specializing in process and power piping, serves the region's leading companies in the power generation, petroleum, chemical, pulp and paper, and manufacturing industries.

Outside of a core office staff of 25, all Pioneer employees work at client sites on projects that might take a day or several weeks. Because of the project nature of the work, employee counts can vary anywhere from 150 to 400.

Safety Director Bill Williams came on board in 1993, when the OSHA recordable incident rate was 7.99, and the company was greatly expanding its safety efforts. Prior to that, safety had been a part-time responsibility for a project manager. He was joined by Safety Director Eric Johnson five years later.

The following table documents the company's tremendous progress.

Pioneer Power OSHA Recordable Incident Rate, 1993-2000
1993 7.99
1994 7.93
1995 5.93
1996 6.62
1997 4.73
1998 3.26
1999 2.27
2000 1.77

"The year 2000 was a great year from the safety vantage point," Williams said. "PPI experienced only four recordables and a 1.77 recordable incident rate."

Safety on site
Working at client sites means that employees might need to learn a new workplace with every new project. This presents a unique set of safety challenges. "Even within OSHA guidelines and industry standards, every company can have its own way of doing things," said Eric Johnson.

PPI conducts orientation and safety training at each site so workers get familiar with each working environment and its policies and procedures. "A strong working relationship between PPI and the client makes all the difference," said Johnson. "It can sound obvious, but what's most important from the safety perspective is knowing what's in the pipe we're working with. Is it chemical? Petroleum? Electrical? Steam? The safety procedures and personal protection equipment needs can vary a lot."

Project managers hold daily "take 5" meetings, including job hazard analysis with all crew members. Eric and Bill work with all the project managers and run or participate in many of these. Safety training is designed very specifically to the site and the project and is held weekly.

All employees are union, which means safety procedures are supported by several rigorous years of schooling and apprenticeship.

The company documents near misses in the same way and on the same form as it documents an actual incident. Forms are reviewed at safety meetings and in training sessions.

"Like everyone, we want to learn from our close calls," recalls Williams. "A few years ago, a worker mistook a 480 volt line for a steam tracing line. He was almost electrocuted. Clearly this was a breakdown in communication. Now we paint all lines targeted for demolition. That makes the rule simpler: Do not cut into any line that has not been painted."

January 2002
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