PABLO — Energy Keepers Inc. is the only tribal entity to receive the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) highest level of achievement for safety excellence for the operation of the Séliš Ksanka QÍispé Project, located five miles southwest of Polson.
EKI was officially awarded the Star Voluntary Protection Plan achievement on Monday, June 24 at the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council Chambers with EKI board members and OSHA Regional Billings Office Representative Anthony Castillo.
Castillo, previously an OSHA compliance officer, said he seen sites that are horrible and those that are good.
“A lot of times people will see the plaque and say this is for the CEO or for the public to see, but actually it is for the employees,” Castillo told the group. “Employees can look at it and see the management is committed to making sure the employees go home safely, and the employees can say the same of management. So it’s a two-part situation.”
Brad G. Baptiste, Regional VPP Manager U.S. Department of Labor – OSHA, Region VIII, said, “The OSHA VPP is extremely exclusive. It is difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain. Essentially only three out of every 10,000 American workplaces are OSHA VPP participants.
“There aren’t many companies across the country at VPP status – only .03 percent,” Brian Lipscomb, EKI CEO, told those in attendance at the award luncheon on Monday.
EKI is one of ten sites in the State of Montana that earned the OSHA Star VPP achievement.
Lipscomb said the day EKI acquired ownership of the hydroelectric facility they were determined to keep up the maintenance and safety at a high bar.
“When we had our one-year probationary period we took on their recommendations,” Lipscomb said. “They told us, ‘I don’t think you’re going to make it.’ ”
“Oh I think we are,” was Lipscomb’s response.
History of the dam
Construction of the dam began in 1930 and there were more than 1,200 people employed. Small rail lines gripped both sides of the cliffs along the river to transport workers and materials to and from the dam.
Fourteen workers were killed in accidents before the completion of the dam in 1938, many in a landslide; several workers were members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
The Séliš Ksanka QÍispé project is a three-unit hydroelectric plant with the capacity to generate 208 megawatts of electricity. The annual generation of the plant averages 1,100,000 mega watt-hours of electricity, which is enough to supply 100,000 to 110,000 homes annually.
“When we took over ownership we determined there would be no more accidents,” he admitted to group on Monday. “Sacrifices have been made enough in regards to this facility,” he said.
Lipscomb bragged the Selis Ksanka Qlipse Project crew stepped up to the plate to become safety experts.
“We continue to build up the program. We have a computerized maintenance management system that’s like a computerized owner’s manual. Component by component we have built out preventative maintenance and systematic maintenance to keep ahead of the entire facility,” said Lipscomb.
“We look it as part of our business going forward and we plan to maintain it more,” added Lipscomb.
“I have been most impressed with the sincere commitment to employee safety and health exhibited at this worksite,” said Baptiste. “The organization has made significant investments in equipment upgrades and staffing. It is a very impressive workplace, and the employees and managers are exceptional.”
“Safety is part of the conversation every morning when we start work. Every Wednesday we have a longer safety briefing,” Lipscomb said. “We make sure our continued status as zero heroes isn’t by accident. We have zero loss time accidents.”
“Hats off to the folks that are down there every day.”