AEP Sustainability - Initiatives

Safety & Health Initiatives

We have made significant progress in improving our safety culture over the years. While we celebrate these achievements, we also recognize there are still opportunities for growth. Whether assessing our existing safety and health programs or identifying opportunities to improve our standards, we are committed to Zero Harm.

Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated all aspects of our work and personal lives in 2020. Across AEP, employees showed their resilience and dedication to maintaining our safety culture while encountering challenging conditions.

The pandemic created unforeseen challenges for our workforce and the communities we serve. We adapted, refocused and found a deeper appreciation for our fundamental safety behaviors while reinforcing our commitment of caring for our team members.

At the corporate level, the Safety and Health team served as subject matter experts on the virus. They were the main source for up-to-date and relevant information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They also are the link between our leadership team and the company physician.

In the field, the Safety and Health team coached employees on how to distance properly, wear face coverings and adopt new behaviors. As the pandemic began impacting our workforce through virus clusters and hotspots, the team shifted gears and became contact tracers, helping to determine if employees contracted the virus on the job or outside the workplace.

The Power of Our People: Weathering the Storm During a Pandemic

Hurricane Laura hit the Louisiana coast as a major Category 4 hurricane – one of the strongest to make landfall in the state since 1856. It caused catastrophic damage in Louisiana and the Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) territory. Our COVID-19 safety and health efforts were essential in protecting our employees and our peer utilities during hurricane restoration efforts.

Aerial view of the base camp created to house anywhere from 500-800 workers during Hurricane Laura storm restoration efforts.

When Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana in late 2020, more than 3,000 workers were deployed to support power restoration efforts. Hotel rooms were unavailable as local residents evacuated the area to safety. In response, SWEPCO mobilized base camps to house employees and visiting workers.

Each of the base camps housed 500 to 800 people. With safety and health as the top priority, the bunk trailers were retrofitted with special air filtration systems, and partitions to create compartments that allowed for social distancing, even while sleeping. They were filled to only a third of their capacity and they were sanitized twice a day. When crews checked-in, every individual completed a self-observation questionnaire and a temperature check. They were also required to physically distance and wear a face covering. Third-party COVID-19 observers also helped remind people to wear their masks and keep at least six feet from others when they were in common areas.

The safety precautions during restoration efforts allowed for crews to safely replace approximately 1,600 poles, 750 transformers and 1 million feet of conductor, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Labels were created and placed on tools and equipment to remind employees about the item’s weight.

Overexertions (sprains and strains) are the leading cause of injury at AEP. These injuries can happen in a single event or build up over time. To reduce these injuries, we studied employees’ awareness of hazards related to lifting tools, materials and equipment. We learned that employees were more likely to lift items if they were unaware of the item’s weight. In response, we created a micro learning program to improve employees’ knowledge of ergonomics and awareness of hazards related to lifting. The program consists of short lessons that build upon each other and are designed to make the information easier to retain. The lessons include supervisor guides and handouts to discuss as a team. New weight labels were created to identify the weight of tools, materials and equipment. The labels are visual reminders to lift safely and serve as a trigger for employees to stop and determine the best ways to lift and move materials.

Coaching through Observation, Recognition and Engagement (CORE) is a leadership tool used to engage with our workforce and assess a variety of activities. An important part of the Safety and Health Transformation has been ingraining CORE Visits and their principles into our safety culture. Targeted CORE Visits provide a framework to assess elements that present high risk to employees and contractors. They evaluate the knowledge of safety and health policies/procedures and controls that influence outcomes during high-risk tasks. The results identify successes and learning opportunities associated with knowledge gaps. Training materials are provided with actionable information to focus attention on areas where there are gaps allowing us to learn without harm. This process promotes a learning safety culture and sets our employees and contractors up for success in the field to identify issues before they turn into events.

Although Serious Injuries and Fatalities (SIF) are rare events, we continue working to further reduce these occurrences. Recordable injuries in the electric power generation and delivery sector have steadily declined over the past decade, SIF rates have plateaued. Because SIFs are infrequent, taken in a small sample size they do not necessarily represent any meaningful pattern or trend. To overcome this lack of data, AEP is adopting the SIF Safety Classification and Learning Model, which was developed by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and our peer utilities. The model provides employees and contractors with new skills to identify the unique hazards that cause SIFs as well as access to valuable industrywide data.

In 2020, we began the first phase of implementing the SIF model by engaging with frontline employees to decide the best approach for rolling out the program. This work resulted in the creation of materials and a framework to pilot the model with employees and contractors in the field. During the pilot, employees and contractors learned the principles of the SIF model and gained new tools that helped them identify more and different hazards than they had before. They used icons to serve as visual reminders when identifying high-energy sources and used them to build capacity to prevent serious harm. The pilot feedback is shaping the training materials for the companywide rollout, scheduled in 2021.

In 2020, more than 900 contractor companies worked over 33 million hours on our behalf. Having a standardized and common set of systems and processes across AEP is foundational to providing our contractors clear and consistent expectations.

Enhancing contractor safety remained an area of focus in 2020, and a priority of our Safety and Health Transformation. This work included the adoption of a common data collection and communication program for contractors (the VERO Data Management System) and the creation of a common set of Safety and Health Supplemental Terms and Conditions. Additionally, we published a companywide onboarding safety video. All business units will use the video to promote a strong safety message from AEP’s leadership outlining work safety expectation. All contractors will be required to view the video before starting work on our projects.