August 10, 2017 Update on the June 29, 2017 Big Bend Slag Tank Accident
The tragedy of June 29, 2017 will not be forgotten. We will work relentlessly to insure that the injuries and deaths of all involved are not in vain. We will learn from this, and we will demand changes that keep us safe. I am receiving numerous calls from members asking for information as to where we are at in regards to this tragedy. While the investigation continues, below in a summary of where we are, and some of my opinions on the changes that are needed.
My first contact from the company was on July 28, 2017. The Company asked if the Union wanted to be part of several safety review teams that were going to be created. My answer was yes, but that we would select the committee members that would represent the Union.
On July 29, 2017, I received a phone call from Gordon Gillette, TECO CEO. The Conversation was pleasant. Mr. Gillette stated that he agreed with what I was saying. I found this encouraging, but we have a long way to go.
The Union submitted a grievance on July 10, 2017 requesting that no maintenance be done on slag tanks when the Unit is on-line. Mr. Gillette has stated that no maintenance will be done on slag tanks when the unit is on-line, until after the investigation. This is a start, but we must insure that no employee, either company or contractor, is ever directed to or allowed to work on a slag tank when there is a potential that they can be injured. Risk taking activities must stop, even though shutting a Unit down will effect profits. We must stop putting profits before safety. Prudent risk taking must end. The Company has asked for a time limit extension until September 29, 2017 to answer this grievance.
On July 11, 2017 I proposed a letter of agreement in an effort to expedite safety concerns and resolutions... “If a safety concern is not resolved through the company’s normal safety resolution process, and the safety concern or issue is advanced to the Union/Company negotiated formal grievance process, all steps of the safety grievance will be heard within 30 days from the date that the grievance is filed.” The primary reason for this request is to allow the Union ample time to file an OSHA complaint, or seek other advice and opinions, if no agreement is reached at the end of the 3rd step grievance process. This was an issue in 2016, when a grievance on the safety of working on a slag tank while the Unit is on-line was heard. The Company’s 3rd step response did not resolve the issue for the Union. I filed an OSHA complaint on September 30, 2016, in an attempt to get a ruling from OSHA. We were told by OSHA that a complaint would not be investigated if it occurred more than six months prior to the date that the complaint was filed. This LOA will insure that we have ample time to address unresolved safety concerns with OSHA and others. The Company has requested a time limit extension until September 20, 2017 before addressing the request.
On July 22, 2017 I requested that the Company agree to a Letter of Agreement stating that “no employee will be terminated for refusing to do what they consider to be an unsafe act.” The Company has requested a time limit extension until September 29, 2017 before responding to the request. This L.O.A. is in response to a long term employee that was terminated for refusing to do a job that they felt was unsafe. This sent a chilling message to employees, and intimidates them into performing actions that they consider to be unsafe. I have heard from many the following: You have to do what you are told or you will be terminated. Complaining can get you in trouble. The Company does not want to hear it. The Company is strong on safety, unless safety interferes with profits.
These perceptions, or realities, must change. The safety culture in Tampa Electric must change. Your Union will work relentlessly on making the following a reality, but we will not be able to do it alone. We must have cooperation and assistance from everyone, especially the Company.
1. The Company must be committed to listening to its employees, especially when there are safety concerns.
2. Resolving safety issues must be a top priority. A complete and exhaustive attempt to resolve safety issues must be done in a timely manner – As Soon As Possible.
3. Employees must not be terminated, disciplined, criticized, accused of being lazy, or of just not wanting to do the work, if they have a safety issue on the task that they are being told to perform.
4. Contract employees must be kept at a minimum-peaks and valleys. Continual and increasing use of contractors to do the work of permanent employees is inheritably unsafe. No one knows how to operate and maintain our equipment more safely than our permanent employees. Experience and exposure to our many complex and hazardous operations and equipment best addresses safety. Contracting should be done at a minimum.
5. TECO’s safety culture must change. The Company’s safety programs primary objective should be to insure that no one is injured, and that everyone goes home after their shift, regardless of the cost. Employees must believe that profits are not put before safety. If the employees do not perceive that the safety program is legitimate, with their best interest at heart, then the program is a failure, and it must be changed.
6. The change that we need will require more than just words. We have heard these words before. The words must be backed by actions. This change must be mandated by our CEO, but most importantly, it must be put into practice by local management, especially front line supervision. We must, as a team, strive to make TECO the safest utility in the nation.
Sincerely, Doug Bowden Business Manager