Safety Professionals Discuss New Threats at Loss Control Conference
May 2, 2019
When Chris Ayala took the stage at the TEC Loss Control Conference and Exhibit Show in March, the veteran police officer had some unsettling questions for the nearly 300 attendees.
Looking for a show of hands, he asked how many audience members had ever had to deal with a disgruntled employee or customer and how many travel to "the middle of nowhere" for work. Then, "How many of you even know you may have a deer rifle trained on you when you come on somebody's private property?"
It was Ayala's way of pushing the linemen, safety managers and co-op leaders in attendance to consider some ever-present but often unconsidered dangers of line work in 2019. Those who interact with the public must always be aware of their surroundings, Ayala said, because any situation can turn into an active shooter situation. "Folks, if you do not believe that it can happen in your area, where you live, or where you work or go to church or have fun with your friends at a restaurant, then you're setting yourself up for failure," he said.
Ayala's presentation was one of many at the 73rd annual conference, which took place in San Marcos over several days, meant to invigorate co-op employees to return to their cooperatives with a mind toward greater safety awareness, which speaker John Drebinger Jr. said should be personal for all employees.
"Safety is a personal value," he said. "It's a corporate value, it's a personal value. And I think those people that grasp safety as a personal value are the ones that are more likely to get home every single day."
Nory Callaway, manager of key accounts at Concho Valley EC, gave a difficult talk—about how she and her co-op dealt with the sudden death of a co-worker. B.J. Hoffman, CVEC safety manager, was killed in a head-on collision while on duty in 2016. His death shattered the co-op.
"There's nothing that's going to prepare you for the shock of it all," Callaway said. "Unfortunately, if it happens to your co-op, you won't be ready for it. We were devastated and overwhelmed by the loss."
Other speakers presented more specific safety lessons. Hector Hernandez explained how to ward off attacks by dogs and gave attendees a chance to thwart a controlled attack by his dog, Malo. Tiffany Lee of the Texas attorney general's office addressed the prevalence of human trafficking and told attendees what signs to watch for—because utility workers in the field could come into contact with such activity.
The conference featured award presentations recognizing organizations and individuals for safety achievements, including two winners of the Ray Pantel Meritorious Service Award for their contributions to safety programs.
Todd Craven, safety and loss control coordinator at Guadalupe Valley EC, was one of the Ray Pantel Award honorees. "Our goal, obviously, as safety professionals is to help our people go home each and every day," he said. "That's our task. That's our goal."
Curtis Whitt, a longtime loss control specialist at Texas Electric Cooperatives and one of its regional supervisors, also won a Ray Pantel Award. He described the true reward of his many years as a safety instructor. "We do it for the hope that at least one of those guys sitting out there in that meeting room makes a different choice than he might have made if we hadn't been there to say something," he said.
Three co-op employees won Lifesaving Awards—Jacob McPherson and Brian Sims at Farmers EC and Baldo Solis III at Medina EC. Nine participants in TEC's Loss Control program won Good Samaritan Awards.
Special events at the conference—a golf tournament, raffle and auction of donated items—served as fundraisers and garnered $50,050 for the TEC Loss Control Scholarship program.