Kansas City Power & Light's (KCP&L's) underground department and overhead line crews at its Front & Manchester (F&M) Service Center recently completed 1 million hours without a lost-time accident. It is cause for celebration, but as with most days in the electric utility business, pressing issues are keeping line crews at their tasks. In the case of KCP&L, that task is preparing an 11-block section of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, for major building construction projects.

Making Way for the New

Kansas City's inner-city corridor is in the midst of a rebuilding boom with $3 billion worth of projects underway. A new 18,000- to 20,000-seat Sprint Arena, which will take up a two-block by two-block section, requires the relocation and complete removal of several 15-kV KCP&L circuits. On the eastern edge of the arena is another three-block by three-block section that is being prepared for a new entertainment, retail and restaurant district — Kansas City Live! New access roads, streets and building renovations in the downtown area are requiring extensive work by KCP&L.

Additional KCP&L circuits also are affected running on 10 blocks in mostly older sections of the city, and a list of new duct lines, vaults, circuit routes and clearance projects abound.

So, when the utility passed the milestone of 1 million hours with no lost-time accidents, the crews celebrated by saying (in the words of F&M BU safety rep John Riggins), “We plan to make it 2 or 3 [million hours].”

This confidence and the 1 million hour achievement are based on a decision in the mid-1990s to reorganize the company's field operations to an interdepartment-collaboration strategy and a more comprehensive focus on safety.

It Began in the 1990s

F&M started its million-hour run in 1998 when Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) incidents were beyond acceptable frequency. In response, KCP&L set various goals for its workforce, began analyzing the possibility of an organizational realignment and set out a more deliberate worker emphasis on job-site safety.

In 2002, KCP&L decided to split its distribution safety department, managed by Keith Kesinger, from its construction division. Kesinger and the distribution safety department began reporting directly to Vice President Bill Herdegen in the customer operations department. The strategic shift created a direct line of communications, opening frank discussions about safety at the executive level.

Resources and Collaboration

While the F&M Service Center and other locations had a good performance record, OSHA indices still identified areas that needed improvement; this prompted Herdegen's safety group to address the situation from two fronts. KCP&L's management and workforce decided to adopt and implement DuPont's 11-Point Safety Philosophy. A DuPont Safety Resource field specialist conducted on-site reviews and made experience-based recommendations. DuPont Safety Resources also formed a similar partnership with KCP&L International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1464.

Wayman Bonham, Local 1464's business agent at the time, supported the union's increased safety involvement and led the effort to create new positions called bargaining unit (BU) safety representatives. Members had a good track record of being safety conscious every day, in every circumstance, so they were eager to show the company they could lead the effort to reduce injuries.

Senior-level union employees ultimately volunteered to be BU safety representatives. KCP&L and IBEW agreed to place a representative in each work area and service center, and they have taken an active role in communicating safety. They encourage more active pre-job briefs and more details when discussing near misses. They also complete separate field inspections again creating direct communications from the field perspective.

Herdegen believed it was important for the union to feel comfortable inspecting crews and discussing safety gaps on its own. Thanks to this alliance, the relationship has continued to evolve positively. The current 1464 business manager, Darrell McCubbins, has cultivated the partnership, agreeing to combined field inspections with KCP&L safety specialists and BU safety reps. This collaboration and teamwork has been a key in the continued push by KCP&L toward safety excellence.

Walking the Walk

KCP&L has also adopted a Corporate Safety Council, incorporating joint committees attended by all affected divisions. Communication during these joint meetings is frank and open, and participation is encouraged. Union and management hats are checked at the door, and the value of working safely is always central. Employees also discuss safety at the beginning of each of their operational meetings.

The current downtown Kansas City project has been extremely demanding. Field crews must work with engineers on design options. Circuit cutover schedules and customer loads have to be coordinated. Street and lane closings by the city have to be coordinated, and expiration deadlines and curfews adhered to. We could not have completed all of these expectations with the command and control style of management.

The Sprint Arena project alone involves roughly eight network circuits. Approximately 8000 ft of duct (10-way and 12-way) have to be installed and 25 manholes have to be constructed or rebuilt. The arena will require a circuit rerouting and complete removal of about 1000 ft of duct line, six manholes and two network vaults, all within three months.

Needless to say, crews have encountered a substantial amount of extra work. When the streets are opened, crews have found abandoned steel pipes, old duct tiles and old streetcar rail lines that were not on any of the maps. These all complicate meeting the schedule and cost estimates. Because the existing downtown load cannot be interrupted, numerous temporary routing of circuits is also required. The new organizational structure and focus on safety and teamwork has made all the difference in the world.

Interdependence Works

Current 2005 OSHA rates for all of KCPL are 0.88 for lost-time accidents and 3.55 for injuries. These numbers appear monthly on the company's balanced scorecards and are discussed at all service centers.

Each service center holds a monthly safety meeting, which is customary in most organizations. However, KCP&L holds another meeting in each center to discuss safety, budget and productivity combined. Safety is a core value.

Employees serving on committees also provide status updates during the meetings with both union and management employees discussing the issues. The focus gained is increasing our teamwork and our level of mutual trust. KCP&L and its IBEW workforce feel that they are in this business together for the long haul. Employees are seeing the momentum build. The union/management collaboration is a central focus to creating a winning culture at KCP&L.

DuPont is halfway through a five-year plan of involvement with KCP&L. Jerry Gray, principle of DuPont's Safety Resource, reports that the essential elements of safety excellence are continually being implemented to achieve the goal of zero injuries in the workplace. As employees communicate more openly, the results continue to improve. And, with programs like these, KCP&L will make the next million hours by working together.

Steven Gilkey is the director of field operations at Kansas City Power & Light. Gilkey has more than 20 years experience in utility operations, and holds a BSEE degree from Syracuse University and an MBA degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Steven.Gilkey@kcpl.com