Legislators Grill California Public Utilities Commission In Safety Hearing

Two leaders of the California Public Utilities Commission assured legislators at a hearing in San Francisco today that the agency is doing its best to instill a systemic commitment to safety throughout its operations.

“I hope you have seen and will see that in our actions, and if not, I expect to be called to account for it,” public utilities Commissioner Michel Florio told a state legislative committee.

Florio was responding to a statement in which Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Covina, told him, “We really need to see a redirection and focus here as it relates to safety, in both infrastructure and the workplace.”

The hearing of the Subcommittee on Gas and Electric Infrastructure Safety was convened by subcommittee chair Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

The purpose was to follow up on a report issued by the committee last month on the PUC’s safety oversight plans in the wake of the fatal explosion of a PG&E natural gas pipeline in San Bruno in 2010. Eight people died in the explosion and ensuing fire.

The report concluded safety was not a priority for the PUC and called on the PUC to improve its procedures and organization to make enforcing safety programs in regulated utilities a chief objective.

PUC Deputy Executive Director Brian Turner told the committee, “I believe the activities we’re developing meet many of the goals of your report.”

But Turner added, “We have much more work to do in tackling the broad-based challenges.”

Earlier in the hearing, the committee heard from two safety experts who said that a culture of safety had to be integrated into an organization at all levels of management and staff.

Don Arendt, a senior safety-management advisor to the Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards Service, said, “Safety can’t be a checklist of a collection of practices.

“We have to build it into the system so the behaviors are automatic,” he said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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