Pattern Energy is Taking Safety to the Next Level

March 18, 2024

Safety has been a centerpiece of Pattern Energy’s strategic and operational philosophy since the company’s inception in 2009. Building a robust safety culture is a continual process of learning and refinement. 

In 2017, Pattern launched its Pattern for Safety program, which incorporated concepts of human organizational performance into the company’s safety practices for the first time. Today, Pattern is taking the next step in its safety evolution with a new initiative: Next Level Safety.

Pattern Energy’s Senior Director of Health and Safety Ben MacDonald is leading the new program. “There’s more to safety than hard hats and work boots,” he says. “There are other things that influence workers in the field.”

Next Level Safety is designed to better accommodate the dynamics of the industry’s field work.  Every project encounters the unexpected. When teams need to adjust on the fly, the risk of safety incidents goes up. MacDonald says safety is the capacity to be successful even when conditions change. 

The new initiative adds three new components to the company’s existing suite of practices: psychological safety, human and organizational performance, and leadership commitments.  

Psychological safety supports better outcomes

Focusing on developing a culture of psychological safety has profound implications for how businesses operate. In a workplace that practices psychological safety, employees feel comfortable to raise concerns, admit mistakes, and speak honestly about the struggles they are facing, whether personal or professional.

MacDonald says employees working in the field have long understood what psychological safety is about. People live complicated lives and face all sorts of pressures that can affect their performance. On a job site, teams need to make allowance for someone having a bad day. 

Where psychological safety has the greatest impact is at the leadership level. “We are working to help our leaders understand what psychological safety is and how it influences the personal safety and mental health of the team,” MacDonald says. “When leaders come out of our training sessions, the positive feedback has been overwhelming. They have a new appreciation for and understanding of the benefits of a psychologically safe work environment.”

The emphasis on bringing safety training to the entire company, rather than focusing solely on the teams working in the field, is an important shift. “Safety has always been a common topic of discussion in the operations and construction. We’re now talking about safety in all parts of the business,” MacDonald says. “As we turn into a utility-scale enterprise, safety needs to be embedded into all levels of the organization. We’re committed to making that happen.”

New ways of thinking

Human and organizational performance, or HOP for short, is the second pillar of Next Level Safety.

MacDonald says HOP can be understood as a transformation in the way people think about safety. “It’s about seeing safety as a presence of defenses rather than an absence of recordable incidents,” he says. The goal is to empower employees to create safety capacity, by implementing new safeguards and better work management practices. 

The emphasis on human and organization performance represents an important shift in the way the organization thinks about safety. Traditional safety programs set a goal of zero incidents. “The expectation was that people will be perfect all the time and the equipment will never break,” MacDonald says. “Even the best make mistakes.”

The new approach embraces that reality. “When there’s a failure, how do we ensure there’s no impact on the team, on the project, and on the community?” MacDonald says. By planning for errors, Pattern’s safety practices go beyond prevention to proactively anticipate predictable issues, so the team is better prepared to handle them when they arise.

Bringing leadership into the safety conversation

The third pillar of the Next Level Safety initiative brings leadership at all levels of the organization into the safety conversation. 

Bringing leadership into the safety program has caused a sea change in the way the company as a whole thinks about safety. Traditional thinking about safety tends to outweigh the importance of incident counts. The consequence can be that employees don’t report health concerns for fear of impacting corporate goals.

“Industry-wide the number of recordable incidents has gone down,” MacDonald says. “The problem is that the number of fatalities has increased. The industry as a whole is getting better at managing injuries, but not at being safer.” 

Changing the way leadership measures safety success has meaningful effects in the field. “We’re no longer looking at safety as a lagging indicator. It’s now a leading indicator,” MacDonald says. 

Encouraging employees to report incidents and get the care they need is foundational to this shift. If an employee needs an antibiotic after being stung by a bee, or needs medical help to address a back problem, the new approach proactively supports the employee rather than treating such events as negatives. 

“We are changing the way we measure and recognize safety performance as a business,” MacDonald says. “There used to be guilt associated with impacting the KPIs. Field-level folks are breathing a huge sigh of relief.”

Fostering an ever-stronger safety culture

The Next Level Safety program is rolling out to staff throughout Pattern in a two-part training program. The goal is to have at least 80% of employees participate in both parts before year-end.  

The hope is that the program will encourage other companies in the industry to make similar changes. MacDonald says Pattern’s goal is to build a safety culture that colleagues at other companies can emulate. “The whole industry is trying to figure out how to be more proactive and Pattern is leading the way,” he says.

Pattern employees are helping to make the program better by sharing their safety stories with each other. They are also taking advantage of the new mindset to find creative ways to address potential hazards. “People have come up with innovative ideas to add safety capacity, like creating new tooling,” MacDonald says.

MacDonald says the next horizon of safety lies in improving the company’s support for mental health. The team is planning to roll out mental health first aid training, among other things. The goal is to offer meaningful support for employees like military veterans who are working to overcome trauma. “We’re working on creating an environment where people better understand mental health,” he says.

Pattern Energy’s Next Level Safety initiative builds on the company’s commitment to develop a best-in-class program. As the program yields results, it will enhance the safety of employees, industry partners, and the community at large. We hope that it inspires change across the industry, helping renewable energy deliver on its promise of a better world in a safer way.