On an average workday, nearly 1,000 employees at the Harris Nuclear Plant in New Hill, N.C., drive past a colorful sign as they enter the security checkpoint. Although the sign features a montage of friendly, smiling faces and cute pets, it carries a serious message: Remember why you work safely today.
“The bottom line is that we want every single person who comes on the site — Duke Energy employees, contractors, vendors, it does not matter — to go home safely at the end of the day,” says George Hamrick, site vice president at Harris. “It’s a bad day if you have to call someone’s loved one and say they got injured at work.”
Safety isn’t just a catchy buzzword in the nuclear industry; it is an integral part of daily life.
When most people think about nuclear power, they probably think first about reactor safety — keeping employees and the public safe from radiation. Safety at nuclear plants goes well beyond that. While it all starts with the design of the plant, it really comes down to the people who run the plant day-in and day-out to ensure a safe working environment.
Just like most industrial sites, most of the injuries at nuclear power plants are slips and falls, the same kind of injuries that occur at home. That’s why, even at nuclear plants, there are constant messages and reminders about holding handrails when going up and down stairs, as well as reminders to keep the eyes on path when walking across the site.
Another common message across the Duke Energy nuclear fleet is “200 percent safety.” This means each employee is 100-percent responsible for his or her own safety as well as that of his or her co-workers. In fact, nuclear employees are rewarded and recognized routinely for identifying workplace hazards or situations which can cause injuries if not addressed, such as uneven or cracked pavement, wet stairs, frayed cords or the improper use of portable heaters.
Employees are conditioned to perform a “360 check” on their cars before leaving work. At the Harris site recently, an employee noticed a deflated tire on an adjacent vehicle while performing a 360 check on her own car. She gave the license number to plant security who, in turn, notified the car’s owner. The observant employee was recognized in a meeting and rewarded with a gift card for actively caring about her fellow employee.
“We hold employees accountable for workplace safety but also expect them to hold management accountable, and to know that we will take corrective actions to prevent accidents and injuries,” Hamrick added. “We are in the business of making electricity but we are committed to doing it in a manner that protects our workers and the public.”