In 1996, “Independence Day” topped box office charts. LeAnn Rimes made her country music debut. And, Entergy Mississippi’s Natchez network had its last lost-time accident on Dec. 12 of that year. According to troublemen and long-term employees Dennis Melson and Rick Rushing, the Natchez safety culture embodies five key factors beyond practicing safety that led to this remarkable 20-plus-year record.
Learn from your predecessors. Now retirees, those workers who came before set good examples for newcomers and they weren’t afraid to correct an error or explain consequences.
“I want to be as good as or better than they were,” Rushing said. “I want them to know they did a good job training me.”
Build good relationships. Genuinely caring about co-workers is imperative. “Having good relationships matters in life and work is part of life,” Melson said. “When each person understands how they impact the whole team, the team gets better. It’s important they know they matter – to their family, the company and the guy they work beside every day.”
Talk it out. Communication always underscores safety. “Even though we review job assignments, you can’t dictate everything from the ground,” Rushing said, especially since crews might be working together from both on the ground and in the air. “You have to communicate throughout the work. Talking to your partners creates a safer environment for everybody.”
Share and share alike. Mentor each other by sharing past experiences and having a questioning attitude. “No one comes into this profession knowing everything,” Melson stressed about line work. “We all had to be taught. If I don’t know something, I’ll ask someone. That’s how we learn.”
Even in an already strong safety culture, staying sharp is necessary. “The automatic doesn’t work – that’s really dangerous for us,” Rushing explained. “Questioning what you’re doing and why helps you become more engaged in safety.”
The small stuff matters. Overlooking simple tasks can cause major problems. “Our work is very unforgiving. It only takes one mistake,” Melson said. “When we take time to understand our work and ask for help, we lessen those odds.”
“Safety has to be your lifestyle,” Rushing emphasized. “It’s one tool you can take home, won’t get you in trouble and should be something that improves your life.”