High-voltage crew works injury-free for 15 years

Posted: February 21, 2017 - 8:56am

Not one member of the crew that operates Y-12’s high-voltage Elza Switchyard has been injured at work in 15 years — not even a simple first-aid injury.

The journeyman high-voltage electricians, part of the Power Operations division of Infrastructure and members of the United Steel Workers, work with the 161,000-volt electrical system that supplies all Y‑12’s power.

Since the last injury in 2001, Y-12’s managing contractor has changed, safety programs have changed, and Elza crewmembers have retired while others took their places. One remarkable aspect that hasn’t changed — all of the electricians have gone home safe and well every work day.

“This small crew, doing very hazardous work in the high‑voltage switchyard, can teach us huge lessons about watching out for one another’s safety,” CNS Vice President and Y-12 Site Manager Bill Tindal said. “We’re extremely proud of their record of working injury free, one day at a time.”

CNS tracks several types of injuries for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including recordable injuries (those that require more than first aid) as well as lost work day injuries. To put this accomplishment in perspective, the 90-Day Safety Challenge Award recognizes Y-12 organizations that are able to go 90 days without a recordable injury.

“I think this is an outstanding achievement, especially since they are working in an area daily with high voltages,” said Elza Switchyard supervisor Karla Wright. “These guys take ownership of the system, their actions, and look out for the safety of each other. The approach is: We’re not going to have anybody hurt. Everybody’s going home safe — the way we came in that morning.”

Elza crewmembers said the level of danger in their work keeps them from becoming complacent or doing tasks through rote repetition. The Y-12 site typically uses 23–25 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 5,000 homes.

Supervisor Mark Lyons said planning a work task can take weeks or months.

“They’re just safety oriented. We talk things over,” Lyons said. “They’re just like a big, happy family.”

The crewmember with the longest tenure is Mike Hitson, at 41 years. The newest is Jason Harmon with three years, with the others falling in between. The crew size has ranged from 7 to 17 over the years.

“We talk about things before we ever get started,” Harmon said. “You don’t get a second chance with that,” nodding toward the towering structures in the switchyard.