Big Rivers Electric Corporation, a cooperative for power generation, transmission, and distribution, provides wholesale electric power and services to three distribution cooperative members across 22 counties in western Kentucky.

Headquartered in Owensboro, Kentucky, with stations in Robards and Centertown, Kentucky, and a substation in Henderson, Kentucky, Big Rivers is responsible for keeping 273 employees safe in an industry where contact with high electrical voltage is an everyday possibility.

Corporate Safety Manager Aaron Barkley outlines safety measures that have been implemented throughout all levels of the organization to bolster their ongoing safety program. A comprehensive commitment to workplace safety has earned Big Rivers Electric the distinction of receiving the KEMI Destiny Award for the eighth consecutive year.

What role does safety play in your organization’s culture?

Big Rivers maintains a proactive approach to safety by putting people first. Our employees and contractors are our greatest assets, and we treat them as such. We have personal safety awards for all employees based on completion of training, attendance of safety meetings, and displaying safety leadership.

We also have department, plant, and company awards when we reach safety milestones. These awards help unify our employees with a focus on safety, which fosters relationships and ensures employees are getting to know each other on a more personal level. This intentional and personal touch toward safety breeds a culture of caring for one other’s safety, which leads to an interdependent safety culture.

What are some of the workplace safety challenges Big Rivers employees encounter?

High electrical voltage poses a danger that many other businesses and organizations don’t face. Heavy mobile equipment from the public is also unique to our operation. Many industries are contained within their “plant” or worksite, however, a number of our employees interact with the public regularly while working with power lines and distribution lines.

Lockout tagout for deenergizing and securing equipment is not a concept confined to our industry, however, the way it must be performed under the power generation standard is unique. This is a focus area that requires multiple training courses each year and is pivotal to our success.

What practices have you added to your program that helped improve your safety record?

We are especially focused on new hire training and qualifications. We also have a “good catch” program that encourages anyone to find something, fix something, or report something so it can be appropriately addressed. This proactive program helps improve our safety records by removing hazards from the workplace. Additionally, we have safety committees that meet monthly to review any issues identified and to discuss fixes for those issues.

During the past year, we began implementing a comprehensive safety management system that will continue to take our safety program to the next level. We have taken steps to make advancements in our communication to enhance learning from one location to all other locations. From the top of our organization, safety meetings are held monthly to discuss ways we can improve, and that concept trickles throughout the organization.

Our CEO and COO are actively engaged with everyone at all levels. This is evident from the quarterly all-hands meetings conducted at each facility, the monthly safety meetings, and the monthly safety and business updates. Engagement, learning, and advancement are foremost in our organization, and this sets us apart from other industries. In addition, we offer shared services to other organization co-ops, which aids in communication, learning, and further advancements in safety.

What impacts or benefits have you seen resulting from a strong safety program?

We have experienced more buy-in and ownership from our employees. Any problems can be resolved faster because we have the processes set up within our safety program to generate the necessary feedback to move forward. As a lagging indicator, our injuries decrease. This is a primary goal and our No. 1 core value at Big Rivers.

How has KEMI assisted in enhancing workplace safety and reducing claims?

KEMI keeps us informed when situations are reported to them. When we have not been made aware of these situations, timely notification from KEMI has allowed us to review and consider potential solutions to appropriately address the circumstances surrounding these situations.

What notable safety milestones or recognition has your organization achieved during the past several years?

Wilson Station in Centertown received a Governor Safety Award in 2021 and 2022. Our headquarters in Owensboro also received a Governor Safety Award in 2021 and 2023, and our Energy Transmission & Substation in Henderson received a Governor Safety Award in 2021.

Everyone at Big Rivers Electric Corporation is proud to add our eighth KEMI Destiny Award to our collection this year and to be recognized for our team effort that supports workplace safety.