The picture of the meter reader training class in 1930 is striking in many ways. The instructor is in a three-piece suit, and all the soon-to-be meter readers are wearing suits and ties, as well. Instructors today at PSEG are not dressed so formally, and the meter readers have traded in their suits for another uniform: PSE&G flame-resistant shirts and khaki pants.
The instructor in the picture looks like he is conducting an old-fashioned chalkboard lesson, where the instructor spends the majority of the class lecturing. Today, much of the instruction would cover how to use the hand-held computers meter readers take on their routes, as well as the high level of customer service expected of those who are welcomed into thousands of New Jersey homes each day.
On the wall behind the instructor is PSE&G’s triangle symbol representing the three businesses the company administered for the first almost 80 years of operations – gas, electricity and transportation. We shed our transportation business in the 1980s, but in our history we ran trolleys, buses, ferries and even an elevator that carried donkeys – after they had crossed the Hudson River on boats – up the Palisades.
But what strikes me most from the picture is the giant slogan on the wall – Safety First. This remains one of the phrases regularly heard in our offices, work huddles and classrooms around PSEG. It is joined by another long-held commitment – always strive for continuous improvement.
In a business that deals with such dangerous commodities as combustible gas and high-voltage electricity, safety and continuous improvement go hand-in-hand.
When I joined PSEG a little more than 20 years ago, the company averaged an employee fatality every 10 months. In 1997, we launched a continuous improvement effort by benchmarking best safety performing companies and forming Employee Safety Councils. Employees have been involved with improving the safety of the workplace and every employee – whether a supervisor, janitor or administrative assistant – was given the right to stop a job if there were safety concerns.
Today, as a result of hundreds of employees’ participation in those safety councils and a lot of hard work and examining what “Safety First” means in every situation, we have gone more than 10 years without a fatality. Our entire workforce strives not just for zero fatalities but also for zero injuries. We are not there yet, but it is a source of pride that, for PSEG, 2016 was the safest year ever.
Our nuclear plants have often led the way with one of the lowest industrial accident rates of any industrial business – not just much lower than mining or traditional manufacturing, but also lower than businesses such as bakeries. In fact, our nuclear plants are so safe that an employee increases their risk of an accident by merely getting into a car or walking into their home. (My guess, though, is that our employees take our safety culture home and have fewer injuries than their neighbors.)
Times certainly have changed since Public Service was founded in 1903. We no longer have a stable for horses or require women to wear a hat and long-sleeved gloves to the office. Yet our core commitments – safety, for sure, but also our dedication to our customers, the environment and the communities we serve – have been and will remain constant for years to come.