The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration Tuesday presented its highest safety award, the Voluntary Protection Program Award, to the Calhoun Power Company in Oxford for the first time. The company, which opened in 2003 and supplies electricity solely to Alabama Power, earned the award after voluntarily opening its doors to OSHA inspectors for 10 months last year.
“This was not a compliance visit,” said Chris Owen, production manager for Calhoun Power. “They expect you to be compliant … for this you are doing above and beyond compliance.”
The company, which has 11 employees, has already avoided on-site injuries during its entire existence through proper safety procedures, Owen said.
Roberto Sanchez, area director for OSHA, said the award was a significant accomplishment for Calhoun Power.
“It’s recognition of an excellent safety and health program,” Sanchez said. “It’s the maximum award we provide for safety and health … for companies that go above and beyond.”
Lindsey Hunt, public relations spokesman for Nextera Energy, a national energy company that owns Calhoun Power, said his company mandated all its subsidiaries last year to try and obtain the award and that Calhoun Power was the first to succeed.
“Safety is the key certainly with energy,” Hunt said. “It is one of the top priorities ingrained in what we do. This award lets not only the public know, but employees know we are serious about safety.”
Calhoun Power is a plant that primarily uses natural gas to supply electricity to Alabama Power during peak service times, such as during very hot days in the summer. When operating at full power, the plant is capable of generating enough electricity to power more than 650,000 homes.
Without an on-the-job injury since opening, Calhoun Power had a good head start in earning the award. Still, the rigors of meeting all of OSHA’s requirements were not easy.
“They come out and have access to everything,” Hunt said. “They come anywhere they want at any point and time.”
Owen said OSHA personnel did not just inspect the site and review the company’s safety procedures, but interviewed all employees as well.
“They interviewed employees and leadership as well to make sure everyone was on the same page,” Owen said. “A big part of this was employee engagement. They are the ones who are truly at risk.”
Nathan Phillips, control room operator and site safety leader for Calhoun Power, said he and others worked many long hours to ensure the company met with OSHA’s approval.
“We coordinated a lot of plant projects around here to improve the site,” Phillips said. “We improved safety procedures because, though we have had zero injuries at the site, we were trying to keep from being complacent.”
Since learning that Calhoun Power would receive the award, staff from other companies owned by Nextera Energy have traveled to the plant to learn how to improve safety, Phillips said.
“Other people are coming to you, asking you what you did … it feels nice,” he said.
According to Nextera Energy’s website, the company is a leading clean energy provider and operates wind, natural gas, solar, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants across the nation. It also operates the largest wind generator in North America.
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.