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GoPro the New Canary in Power Plants

IBEW Local 94 NJ uses GoPro technology to shield members from heat and noise

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by Guest Post on
Jun 11, 2020

This post was written by the IBEW Media Center

For members of Cranbury, N.J., Local 94 working for the state’s largest utility, PSEG, safety is embedded into everything they do. And that commitment extends not only to working safely, but to coming up with innovative ideas to make the job even safer.

“It’s a way of doing business for us,” said Business Manager Bud Thoman. “Safety is at the heart of how we function.”

At the Kearny Generating Station, a natural and liquid gas peaker plant on the Hackensack River, members saw an opportunity to take the risk out of one of their everyday tasks using a simple $200 GoPro camera.

Workers in the fossil generation unit are required to regularly inspect for leaks, a task done in an area with temperatures that exceed 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit and where decibel levels can surpass 120, the equivalent of standing next to a siren.

Rather than expose themselves to these and other potential hazards, the members devised a way to use an off-the-shelf GoPro instead. The camera captures a live feed and sends it to an operator outside in a safe environment. And the camera’s mobility allows the operator to conduct a full set of checks without ever having to enter the area.

“This has significantly improved the safety of those who perform this work and has reaffirmed staff’s continued focus on two of PSEG’s core commitments: safety and continuous improvement,” wrote the Combined Cycle Journal in its article on the best practice.

The CCJ article also noted that the GoPros provide greater flexibility at a lower cost than stationary cameras.

The 3,000 PSEG workers have safety councils at every location, comprised of both management and Local 94 members, as well as councils that go up to the corporate level. They also have safety meetings every morning. So, it’s no surprise that they’ve also received a number of awards.

“We’re constantly evaluating jobs and looking for ways of reducing injuries,” Thoman said.

For the 100-plus-year-old company though, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1980s, there were strikes and that led to a concerted effort in the ‘90s to mend fences. PSEG brought in outside help from Cornell University and implemented mutual gains bargaining practices, which essentially makes bargaining and negotiations less adversarial by establishing a common ground. For both sides, safety was at the top of the list.

“We have advanced so much since then,” said Thoman. “Safety performance has increased drastically.”

Ideas like the remote inspections come from a structure that Thoman and business agent Adam Neuman, one of the members involved in the innovative GoPro approach, say is very grassroots and member-oriented.

“Our local believes in the strength of our partnership,” said Neuman, a former recipient of the Ken Brandt award, the highest corporate safety award given by the company. “It is grassroots-driven, and it’s based on the common goal of employee safety.” 

Beyond worksite safety, Local 94 members have lobbied in Trenton on issues like zero-emission credits for nuclear plants, which provide a way to keep the clean energy plants profitable, saving jobs while not contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. With help from Local 94 members and other labor organizations, the legislation passed. At a time when nuclear plants are closing across the country, it was a big win.

“What we accomplished was nothing short of amazing,” Thoman said.

And even when plants do close, Thoman says their relationship with management has helped. In 2016, three coal units closed, along with some 300 jobs. But they were able to find employment for everyone who wanted it and secured fair retirement plans for others.

“Nobody lost a job,” Thoman said. “And it’s because we worked together.”

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