South Texas Project (STP) Nuclear Operating Co., based in Wadsworth, Texas, is one of the nation's largest nuclear facilities and a top performer in the industry. For 6 consecutive years, the company has led all other two-unit nuclear plants in the nation in energy production.

The company's safety culture and record is so top-notch that other nuclear stations come and benchmark against them. In fact, non-utility employees often strive to work at STP because they believe it to be the safest nuclear power plant.

“We don't only talk about safety, we live it,” said John Castaneda, safety supervisor.

The company has a safety over production philosophy; a robust injury management program; a safety minute at the start of all meetings; incentives for safety ideas; safety action teams; rigorous recordkeeping requirements; an open-door policy; and more. Employees are empowered to work safely, ask questions and report problems quickly. Furthermore, the company implements the most stringent requirements from both construction and general industry standards, even though only general industry is required. Safety is one of STP's core values, along with Integrity, Teamwork and Excellence.

But it's the safety-over-production policy that might be at the heart of STP's success. In the fall of 2009, STP voluntarily shut down one of its operating units for several days to repair equipment from a damaged bellows inside of a condenser unit. STP made the decision to ensure safety over production — protecting employees and equipment — by taking one of its units offline and making the necessary equipment repairs.

Castaneda calls the workplace culture “an uncompromised commitment to safety,” a framework that applies to the management team, employees and contractor personnel alike.

“Safety is always first here,” he said. “Always.”

JUST A MINUTE

STP's success stems from many directions, including:

  • The company has achieved employee buy-in of the safety program;

  • Employees are empowered to correct safety issues at the plant; and

  • Employees are quick to report safety issues or concerns.

But Castaneda also attributes the company's positive safety culture in part to the safety minutes that are included in every meeting at the company — including staff meetings, challenge reviews, training presentations or benefits presentations.

“The safety minute sets the tone for what every meeting in the station will think about,” he explained. “It's always required and expected to be completed prior to the beginning of all meetings, training, etc. It gets attendants in the right framework and mindset that safety is first.”

Castaneda also credits the safety minute for helping drive improvement in station's safety performance over the years. The safety minutes, however, are just part of the strong culture at the station. STP prides itself on its facilitative culture, Castaneda said

“[It's] how our contract work force is part of the ‘we’ team,” he explained. “We don't say words like us and them. We talk here in terms of we.”