As cooperative leaders, we have an obligation to our employees and our communities to make safety our number-one priority every day, no matter what. That commitment must be woven into the very foundation of our cooperative culture.

This spring, I had the opportunity to attend NRECA’s Safety Leadership Summit for the first time. It was the largest in the event’s history, and what struck me was not only the number of cooperatives represented but the fact that so many co-ops sent multiple staff members from across their organizations.

This is important because while safety is certainly a leadership issue, it’s also an organizational issue. Our crews may be on the front lines, but every single person in the cooperative has a role to play in sustaining an effective safety culture. It’s the contact center employee who takes the first call about a downed wire. The human resources team member who leads an employee training program on a new safety initiative. The communications director who builds an outreach campaign to reduce distracted driving. The community engagement coordinator who conducts an electrical safety demonstration at the local elementary school.

It’s vital that we reinforce that each employee has ownership of our safety culture, because ownership breeds accountability, and accountability yields impact. And that accountability starts at the top.

The level of a CEO’s engagement on this issue can mean the difference between a culture of superior safety performance and one that falls short. I’ve seen this firsthand at my own co-op. Our general manager has long set the tone for safety as a core tenet of our organization. She leads by example, and our employees follow suit. We set ambitious safety goals and take great pride as an organization in our success.

On the board side, we have a responsibility to support a commitment to safety with budget dollars for training, equipment, and employee incentives.

Getting your co-op involved in the Commitment to Zero Contacts, an initiative recently introduced by NRECA and Federated, is a great way to bolster your cooperative’s safety efforts. The program is designed to provide co-ops with the support and resources they need to help eliminate serious injuries and fatalities due to electrical contact.

Less than three months after the initiative kicked-off, more than 280 CEOs across 38 states had made the voluntary pledge on cooperative.com to work toward zero contacts. That number is growing, and a suite of program tools, including the S.A.F.E. job-planning app, are helping crews across the country work smarter and more safely.

There is no greater goal than to send every man and woman in our charge home safely to their families each night. It’s a commitment that everyone at your co-op must espouse, and one that I hope you’ll join me in making.

Information and resources for the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative are available at cooperative.com/zerocontacts.

Phil Carson is NRECA President.

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