Spotlight on Safety

By Abby Bell 

Cloverland field employees are surrounded by potential hazards each workday. Keeping the lights on for members is the cooperative’s mission – but keeping crews safe is at the heart of each job.

Cloverland’s Safety Manager, Stephen Burnis, interacting with members during his PowerTown safety demonstration at Soo Locks Engineer’s Day in June 2022.

Cloverland’s Safety Manager, Stephen Burnis, combines a background in line work with a heart for safety. Burnis was pursuing a degree in law enforcement before transitioning to lineman school. After completing 12 years of line work, Burnis realized his passion for helping others would fit well in the role as safety manager. Burnis took on the role as safety manager after the retirement of previous director of safety, Jim Wilson, in January 2022. In his first year as safety manager, Burnis built relationships across the cooperative’s five field divisions, enhanced safety practices and achieved a certification as a National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Certified Loss Control Professional.

“I enjoy helping others,” Burnis states. “In my role as a lineman I was able to help Cloverland members, in the role as safety manager I am able to help all Cloverland employees work safely.”

During the average work week Burnis spends his time ordering personal protective equipment (PPE), reviewing current procedures, scheduling safety trainings across divisions, communicating with fellow safety professionals, and visiting field crews. Each day brings a different set of opportunities - daily tasks often vary and there is seldom a day that looks the similar to the last. Throughout the year, Burnis schedules safety meetings with each field division. Safety meetings are an opportunity for Burnis to listen to feedback from crews and implement new safety practices.

“We realize the hazards our team faces when they come into work every day, especially after-hours during power outage situations, and we want to make sure they return home safely at the end of each shift,” Burnis explains. “Our goal is ensuring every field employee has the tools needed to work safely.”

Burnis also invests time into community safety presentations for Cloverland members ranging from first responders to school aged children. Using the cooperatives hot-line and PowerTown demonstrations, Burnis teaches safety practices around electricity with a real-world demonstration. These community safety demonstrations empower members to stay safe around electrical equipment while showcasing the electric industry career opportunities to children.

Another aspect of Burnis’s job is ensuring Cloverland’s safety protocols are up-to-date and understood by cooperative employees. Cloverland’s safety protocols are extensive, and Burnis is passionate about modernizing the cooperative’s current safety manual to ensure every practice followed is at the highest safety standard across the electric industry.

“Line work has been around for a long time, but the industry is constantly advancing,” Burnis explains. “We want to ensure our field crews are always equipped with highest safety standards.”

Burnis explains one of the projects he is most proud of in his first year a safety manager is expanding automated external defibrillator (AED) access in Cloverland field vehicles. The cooperative purchased 14 AED devices in 2022, with the future goal to have an AED in every co-op vehicle. Cloverland crews often face severe weather conditions during power outage restorations and are sometimes the first to come across a car accident while traveling to job sites. All Cloverland employees are trained in first aid, CPR and AEDs.

“If just one life is saved by an AED, CPR or first aid training, the investment will be worth it,” Burnis states.

While his role is primarily focused on the safety of cooperative employees, Burnis also wants members to stay informed on electrical safety. Burnis encourages members to stay away from electric equipment, especially during winter storms and wind events, and to never go near a downed line or utility pole.

To report a downed line or utility pole, please call 800-562-4953.