In recognition of National Safety Month, we’re talking about some of the new safety initiatives we’re rolling out across Essential Utilities.
When Aqua and Peoples became divisions of Essential Utilities in March 2020, it was evident out of the gate that our commitment to safety was one of our shared strengths.
With that in mind, Essential Utilities announced Ruth Werne as the new National Safety Director of Essential. The goal of this new position is to work closely with the high performing operations safety teams to coordinate and standardize the employee safety programs for the combined companies.
“We all live safety every day,” says Werne. “It’s continuously part of our planning and thought process at Aqua, Peoples, and Delta. Even though we have a lot of communication and participation in safety, the full scope of our safety efforts may not be entirely visible. If a safety process and program is going well, it may not always be front page news.”
Ruth’s goal – and the goal of our respective safety teams – is to align our safety strategies and, when appropriate, determine where we can leverage strengths and experience across Essential Utilities.
“We’re asking ourselves, where is there overlap? Where can we align our safety strategies and continue to grow them cohesively?” Werne adds.
To identify those growth opportunities for our internal safety culture, Essential Utilities created a safety-focused work group to develop a “Safety Strategy Road Map.” This group, comprised of employees at Aqua, Peoples and Essential, is focused on reviewing our existing safety programs and policies, then identifying opportunities to align and improve those plans.
“Policies and procedures allow us to be thoughtful about safety,” Werne says. “They’re in place to help us anticipate risks and protect our employees. Where our two companies overlap, we can leverage our combined expertise and ensure that we’re taking the most thoughtful, effective approach to safety.”
As Essential Utilities put together this collaborative work group, the team also identified three “Field Safety Champions” from Aqua and Peoples to join this safety group and assist in implementing the Safety Strategy Road Map. Werne illustrates how it was critical to bring in a field perspective when discussing our future safety strategy.
“We knew we needed employees in the working group who have field-facing responsibilities who also “get” safety,” she says. “We discussed this Field Safety Champion concept with each safety team leader and with senior leadership. To get us started, three individuals were chosen to join the group to offer that field perspective – Mark Smith, Lead Supervisor of Gas Operations in Butler, PA, Dave Marozzi, Plant Manager for Aqua Pennsylvania, and Jay Divers, Area Supervisor for Aqua Virginia. Mark, Dave, and Jay have exceptional track records when it comes to safety.”
“Mark has 30 years’ experience in the natural gas industry, Dave has 42 years’ experience in water industry, and Jay has been with Aqua for 20 years,” Werne says. “Even though many of the responsibilities overlap, there are still crucial differences, and we wanted to make sure the field perspectives from both industries are represented.”
Mark, Dave, and Jay are all excited to join this project and lend their expertise and their perspective.
“I’m honored to be one of the first two Field Safety Champions,” Mark says, “but I’m even prouder of all the people I have working for me. They make “safety first” a part of every day.”
Dave echoes this sentiment. “I’m also honored to be one of the Field Safety Champions for Essential Utilities,” Dave says. “Safety has always been an important issue at Aqua. Being able to interact with this new group, including Peoples employees, will be a great way to showcase everything we do at Aqua concerning safety, and also see what things we can learn from each other.”
Jay adds that he also feels a sense of accomplishment for being recognized as a Field Safety Champion. “Maintaining a safe work environment and being committed to safety is the best way to approach each day,” Jay says. “As leaders, we also have to be accountable for ourselves and instill that in our employees.”
Werne notes that Essential will continue to add additional Field Safety Champions to this safety working group in future months, to ensure we hear unique perspectives from across Essential Utilities’ 10 states. She reiterates that pulling in experts from across our companies in a collaborative approach is always best practice. A sound safety strategy considers what could potentially go wrong, then supports us in taking proactive steps to mitigate those risks.
“We try not to think of safety in a silo,” she adds. “If we’re talking about employee safety, we’re also talking about customer safety and environmental safety. The same policies that protect our employees are working to protect our customers and communities.”
That, Werne stresses, is the key takeaway for all employees at Aqua, Peoples and Essential.
“When you think about our job functions, every one of us contributes to safety, which ultimately impacts the safety of our fellow employees, our customers, and our communities,” Werne adds. “It’s up to all of us to acknowledge that responsibility, and do our part to protect ourselves and protect others.”
Mark, Dave, and Jay all agreed that a commitment to safety is vital; it keeps all of our employees and our customers safe.
“Everyone should always think about that person or those people who you want to see when you get home from work, and those people who are waiting to see you,” Mark says. “That’s the best reason there is to be safe.”