Building, Maintaining A Successful Safety/Damage Prevention Program

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | January 2014, Vol. 69 No. 1

“Safety is the foundation of everything we do,” said Dirk R. Dunham, compliance assurance director – gas programs. “Our executive management takes responsibility for ensuring we have an effective safety program in place and that it is communicated to our key internal audiences – employees and subcontractors, as well as external stakeholders, customers, excavators, governmental officials, media and the general public. You can’t have an effective, successful safety program without addressing both.

“Our current damage prevention program was created in 1999 following a series of incidents. We established field supervisors to focus on protecting our facilities and supervise damage prevention efforts. In addition we partnered with other utilities, contractors and damage prevention stakeholders within the state to form the Michigan Damage Prevention Board (MDPB). The MDPB works to establish a consistent understanding of safe digging practices for all excavators, stakers and utilities.

“Since ’99, our damage rate has dropped every year.”

Basic elements of Consumers’ program include:

• Establishing the comprehensive program, including identification of potential risks;
• Creating benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of the program; and
• Developing strategies in four areas: identifying potential conflicts early in engineering and planning stages, public awareness of One-Call and safe digging, field response to staking requests, and investigation of incidents that occur to identify causes to reduce risks of future accidental strikes.

Always communicate

Communication is the essential element in the company’s damage prevention and safety efforts, Dunham emphasizes. Consumers Energy works with other utilities, Miss Dig (the state’s One-Call organization) and other organizations. Each year, the company launches a Dig Safely campaign in April that continues throughout the year to raise awareness of the need to call Miss Dig and follow proper digging procedures.

The campaign includes state of Michigan legislation to proclaim April as Dig Safely Month, special events designed to draw media coverage, television and radio public service announcements (also used during storm situations) and other related activities. The Dig Safely campaign is modeled after recommendations from the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), of which Consumers Energy was a founding member.