A $4 million dollar lawsuit involving an energy and utilities company could have been avoided, or at least handled in a way that would have spared them the loss.
The energy company built a neighborhood next to one of its substations, of which there are stray electric currents running through the grounds. One particular house had a raised bathtub to avoid having the person in it completing a full electric circuit from the shower head to the electrified ground. When the resident unknowingly converted her raised tub to a standing shower with metal fixtures, she started becoming ill. When reports from her electrician show that she had an electric current passing through her, the suit began. During trial, her gas utility company verified that the voltage was at a much higher rate than the electric utility company stated.
But that’s not the only problem the company has. Additional suits are being filed against the company, costing the company countless amounts of time and money fighting multiple suits from the same neighborhood.
As the issues of grounded currents have only recently been realized as a major concern in the utilities and energy industry, companies have likely had minimal checks and balances for issues in this area, thus the lack of precaution, and quick-fixes such as a raised tub with jerry-rigged handles instead of metal fixtures!
However, the Utility company should have addressed these precautions with residents upon purchasing the house.
The Need for Transparency and Compliance
Upon hearing about this case, one question came to mind: Why did the residents not know about precautions like the raised tubs, or the reasons for the ˜mysterious’ electrical problems?
When building the neighborhood next to their substation, one step that could have saved them would have been ensuring certain policies and procedures were followed or noted by the company engineers to the appropriate people, such as the company legal department and real estate agents. Had they all known, they would have been able to present the precautions and hazards in the contract negotiations with the potential buyer before moving in, and avoiding the responsibility for the residents’ putting themselves in harm’s way. One resident even had an inflatable mini-pool for their children to play in “ Clearly they had no clue that the grounds were electrified.
The company also would have had additional proof to add to their case showing they had done everything they could have from the start to keep their residents safe.
Mitigate Risks with Collaboration
In this particular case, ensuring collaboration between the compliance department, the legal department and the safety department could have ensured the neighborhood residents were better informed with regard to any electric issues, and complaints raised by residents could have been documented for proactive responses.
Collaboration tools are extremely common, today “Making these kinds of issues seem like a careless oversight. For example, Microsoft’s leading collaboration tool, SharePoint, is used by 78% of Fortune 500 companies for keeping checks and balances in line. Combined with solutions for policies and procedures, contract management, and HSE management, the company could have proactively mitigated risks instead of being forced to handle in a courtroom setting.
Is It Too Late For Progress?
Cases like the one above highlight the need for better collaboration and transparency within utility companies. Taking small proactive steps to increase collaboration in the areas of compliance, risk mitigation, policies and procedures, contract management and safety compliance go a long way in helping utility and energy companies avoid their biggest risks.