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PWC to renew its focus on safety following increase in accidents

Other news: Utility enacts new rates designed to attract big factories

Timothy Bryant CEO and general manager of Fayetteville Public Works Commission.
Timothy Bryant CEO and general manager of Fayetteville Public Works Commission.
Fayetteville Public Works Commission photo

Employee accidents involving vehicles and equipment at the Fayetteville Public Works Commission are running twice as high as average this fiscal year, and the utility is taking steps to reinvigorate a culture of workplace safety.

The PWC’s board learned of the situation during a presentation at its meeting on Wednesday.

In other business on Wednesday, the PWC board unanimously approved new electricity rates for large-scale power customers.

PWC CEO Tim Bryant said in an interview after the meeting the rate of accidents among its 665 workers has been low, and so has the cost of repairing and replacing damaged equipment. But he wants to make those numbers better, he said.

The new electricity rates and fees for factory-level power consumers are designed to make the PWC and Fayetteville more attractive to companies seeking sites to build large industrial facilities, Bryant said.

Worker safety program underway

PWC General Counsel Georgette Miller is the head of utility’s risk management and safety team. She presented the safety initiative to the commissioners.

As of March 1, Miller said, there had been 68 vehicle and equipment accidents in the fiscal year that started July 1. Of those, 45 were preventable, she said.

At that rate, the PWC is trending to have 107 such incidents this year, Miller said. “That is double our historical average,” she said.

Despite the increase, PWC still has a good rate of safety, Miller said.

Its total recordable injury rate, a standard measure, is 0.46 per 100 full-time equivalent workers, she said. The lower, the better, Bryant said. For comparison, the rate in the private sector was 2.7 as of 2022, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Our total reportable injury rate is really, really low,” Bryant said. “So we’re not hurting people, but I’m still spending $70,000 to $80,000 to fix my trucks and cars.”

Some employee accidents can be prevented with more situational awareness, Bryant said. For example, when PWC employees park company-owned vehicles at their worksites, other drivers sometimes crash into the PWC vehicles and leave, he said. The PWC gets stuck with the repair bill.

Such accidents can sometimes be avoided if the PWC employees park the vehicles in less-vulnerable positions on their worksites, Bryant said.

The recent increase in accidents is in contrast to a history of safety at the PWC, according to Miller.

“The safety program was viewed as a model in the state of North Carolina,” she said. “It’s my understanding that previous utilities would come to us, take our policies and procedures, and then implement them at their institutions. We were seen basically as the gold standard.”

From 2011 to 2015, the PWC had no accidents reported that were severe enough to cause workers to be out of work, Miller said.

But the culture changed, she said.

“There’s a strong support and desire within the rank-and-file to work safely,” Miller said. “It appears, however, many current and future supervisors of the rank-and-file see safety procedures as a hindrance to completing their tasks, and not as a tool.”

The PWC has inconsistencies in its safety procedures and reporting requirements, she said.

To address the situation, Miller said, the PWC is bringing back and updating a safety manual that it used to use, that it called the Green Book.

“Everyone will know what the Green Book procedures are, and everyone will be held accountable,” Miller said.

The PWC is also setting up risk management software to track all data related to safety and risk, she said.

New electric rates to attract industry

Other than providing power to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. factory just outside Fayetteville, the PWC’s electric rate structure was insufficiently attuned to adjust to the needs of large consumers of electricity, Bryant told CityView.

The PWC board voted unanimously Wednesday to replace its old rate structure with new options to better serve industrial scale customers considering whether to build plants in and around Fayetteville.

Under the old rate structure, PWC wasn’t well-prepared to serve a potential customer that needed 10 megawatts of power, he said. “Not without a whole lot of effort.”

PWC’s posture was, “Oh, that’s too big,” Bryant said. “Anything above 10 megawatts, we can’t serve. Or it has to go to Duke.” Duke Energy Progress is the major private provider of electricity in this region.

If 10-megawatt-plus customers don’t go with PWC or with Duke, it might choose to build its factory elsewhere, he said. So he sought to ensure the PWC will be able to offer them what they need.

“We are here to attract large manufacturing to really build out this community, this county, the way it should be,” Bryant said. “And having low-cost rates, published rates — water, wastewater, electric — is the way to do it. Having low-cost utilities is what brings these companies here.”

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

pwc, power, safety, electricity, industry, goodyear, fayetteville