Public utility risk manager Bill Powell knows the drill--literally. In the 30 years he's worked for the Salt River Project, he's earned five titles. He recently added environmental services to the list, on top of the oversight of property/casualty insurance, safety and health, security management, business continuity and workers' compensation, which he's had since 1991.
The fact that Phoenix-based SRP--the nation's third largest public power utility, behind New York and Los Angeles--has retained all those functions under the risk management department is highly unusual.
In his three decades of interaction with the risk management industry, Powell said he hasn't come across any utility peers who have as many functions under their risk management department as he had previously--and now even more so that he's been given environmental services.
"Once in a while, they have fire protection or workers' compensation or claims, but I haven't come across anyone in this industry who has the breadth of responsibilities that I do," Powell said. "I just think SRP got it right when they pulled these functions together. We have produced outstanding results in working together. They work very efficiently to the betterment of the organization."
Powell, who's got his Associate in Risk Management and Certified Safety Professional designations, can rattle off examples of how the integration of different risk management functions can improve an organization.
He said one issue that is increasingly being watched by risk managers is workplace violence. If this risk is being managed solely by a safety and security director, according to Powell, "the solution would be guards, gates and guns."
"But if you handled the business continuity function as well as security, they'd match up extremely well together. One works on prevention and control, and the other works on planning response and recovery in the event of a workplace violence event," he said.
Another example Powell supplies is directly related to the new portion of his risk manager title--the environmental services component. A demolition or remodel of a facility could involve asbestos, he said, bringing together the employee health and safety segment of his job with the environmental services segment. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are involved in such risk management issues.
It appears that Powell has come full circle with the recent addition of the environmental services responsibilities to his title. He got his start in the industry because of his master's degree in environmental health and safety management. His first job out of college was with Union Carbide Corp., a chemical and polymers company that later became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Co. After just four years there in 1978 he was recruited by the Salt River Project--and he's never left.
"When I was hired, I was the first safety professional that had been trained academically," said Powell. "The culture was not the same back then as it is today. There wasn't at that time a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities for safety and health. That fell to me. It was very challenging."
Powell said the safety culture was common for that era, and he was tasked with setting up systems for a chain of authority and for holding employees accountable when it came to health and safety.
"Our record of fatalities was averaging about one a year from 1978 to the mid-80s, and we haven't had that experience since," Powell said.
The Salt River Project was formed in 1903 as the first reclamation project under the National Reclamation Act by landowners in the Salt River Valley, who pledged their property as collateral to the government so that they could more effectively irrigate their land. The first dam was built in 1911 and dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt. Over the next few decades, five more dams were constructed, and the Salt River Project began generating hydroelectricity and powering surrounding residents as well as the mining industry.
"From those humble beginnings, we've climbed to almost 1 million customers and 4,800 employees today," said Powell. "We are known for a very well-managed company, outstanding safety record and really an admirable record of environmental compliance."
Salt River Project was awarded first place for the best safety record among public power utilities in 2007, as decided by the American Public Power Association. Powell attributes the company's safety reputation to several factors. One is having oversight of several departments in which there are dozens of employees each. The commitment to having a large, full-time risk management staff means Salt River Project rarely needs outside consultants and conducts in-house everything from safety program development to environmental permit applications to auditing and monitoring compliance.
Other factors include Powell's involvement with the risk management industry, keeping on top of the latest issues experienced by his peers in the utility sector. He's also involved with local events, due in part to his involvement as a board member of the Arizona Captive Insurance Association.
"But the one thing that I could point to with confidence is the senior leadership team at Salt River Project," Powell said. "Their commitment to doing things right and especially being responsible for the safety and health of our employees and protecting our environment and the impacts our business could have on the environment.
Powell said he can't really explain how that level of commitment came about.
"I've seen it evolve over the last 30 years to the point where it has become so ingrained in the very fiber of the organization that one internally questions how crucial it is to provide a safe and healthful workplace and meet all the requirements placed on us for environmental compliance," he said.
Powell credits his support staff as being the reason he's stuck with the company so long.
"Anyone who couldn't succeed with the team I have probably isn't worth their salt," he said.
ERIN GAZICA is associate editor of Risk & Insurance®.
(Read the rest of the People on the Move newsletter from August 13.)
August 13, 2008
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