Business
3:34 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Seattle City Light Employee Raises Workplace Safety Concerns To City Council

On a morning when a fire at a Seattle City Light substation knocked out power to customers including the Monorail, the utility’s CEO happened to be in city council chambers answering questions about safety. 

Seattle City Council members brought CEO Jorge Carrasco into an energy committee meeting to discuss a string of recent embarrassing news stories, including Seattle City Light’s effort to suppress unflattering online search results.

But public testimony at the meeting steered toward the issue of employee safety.

Joe Spallino, who has worked for the utility for 23 years as a lineman and does emergency response, told city council members that about six or seven years ago, Seattle City Light eliminated field safety coordinator positions. That, he said, has had a negative effect.

"We the high-voltage workers have watched a safety program that was once attentive and responsive to the needs of its high-voltage workers become almost tone-deaf to the needs of these high-voltage workers," Spallino said. 

Carrasco responded that in the decade he’s headed the agency, he’s boosted spending on safety sevenfold and reduced the number of workplace accidents by more than half. He said he would follow up on Spallino’s concerns.

A City Light spokesman said those field safety coordinators have been folded into a centralized safety team.

Council member Kshama Sawant, who chairs the energy committee, told Carrasco she’s heard from dozens of employees at City Light who say that there are significant issues that need to be addressed.

The last employee survey was conducted in 2007, and Sawant urged City Light to do another. Carrasco said that is set to happen next year.