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Looking SHARP for safety in Dallas

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The 4,000 or so residents of the Gaston county town of Dallas consider their community an oasis of southern hospitality and charm. So it was fitting that North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, from nearby Newton and also known for her southern charm, came to Dallas to laud the town for its commitment to exceptional safety standards as an employer.

“We praise you for going above and beyond voluntarily in order to keep your employees safe while at work,” Berry said. “Keep up the great work.”

Berry was present at the Nov. 12 town board meeting to recognize Dallas town employees and elected leaders for achieving the Department of Labor’s SHARP accreditation. The designation (SHARP stands for Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Programs) was established in the early 1990s and is administered by the agency’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Division.

Dallas joins Washington, N.C. as the only municipal electric distribution systems in the state to receive SHARP accreditation (Washington is also a member of ElectriCities). Gaining and keeping the honor means passing a two-part OSH inspection, including a comprehensive worksite inspection, as well as keeping injury rates at or below a three-year rolling industry average, according to Debbie Lowry, a safety consultant who has worked with the Town of Dallas for more than two decades.

“Electricity doesn’t give any second chances and it doesn’t lie,” Lowry said. “Dallas is very meticulous in checking their personal protective equipment and checking their trucks, making sure everything they need when they go out on the job is exactly what it needs to be at all times. I’m really proud of them.”

As a member of ElectriCities, Dallas has taken advantage of the organization’s learning and development programs, which are held throughout the year and across the state, hosted in ElectriCities member cities with training provided by Raleigh-based or regionally based instructors.

The trainings span from Basic Electric Meter School to workshops focused on leadership skills for crew leaders. Lineworkers in ElectriCities communities can even access career development programs online and learn at their own pace at work or at home.

Safety Brings Benefits

Having safe working conditions is not just about awards and recognition, but brings myriad benefits along the way. The chief benefit, of course, is that all employees go home to their families every night. But emphasizing safety helps cities in other ways too.

“When employees come to work in Dallas, they stay there,” Lowry said. “That tells you a lot about the organization. There’s no turnover: you don’t leave, you retire.”

Lower turnover means lower administrative, training, and workers’ compensation costs. In a big utility, that might mean a better return for shareholders. But in a Public Power community, all those lower costs mean lower taxes for residents. And an experienced workforce means better electric service for customers, too. This benefit shows up as fewer outages and faster restoration times when the lights do go out – something that customers really notice.

A Commitment to Safety

Having a safety record as good as Dallas doesn’t happen by being lucky. It happens with a commitment to health and safety up and down the organization.

“Utility Director Doug Huffman has worked for years to create a culture of safety in Dallas,” said Kenny Roberts, senior safety and training specialist for ElectriCities. “Utility staff have participated in line schools, career development training, safety meetings and crew audits, and their leadership has been active on our boards.”

Dallas Crew Supervisor Anthony Michaels currently serves on the board of ElectriCities’ Safety and Training Team, and Huffman has served on boards previously as well.

“I was honored to be there when they received the SHARP recertification. It means a lot, and they deserve the recognition,” Roberts said.

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