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Balance, precautions keeping plant workers safe

March 17, 2021 | Jason Kuiper | generation, North Omaha

Some people are fortunate enough to be able to work from home during the pandemic. Half of OPPD’s workforce has been able to make that transition due to the nature of their jobs, much as many workers around the world have done.

But for the other half of OPPD’s workers such as line technicians, energy marketing and call center reps, that isn’t possible. That is especially true for the men and women who keep OPPD’s generating stations up and running. That reliable stream of electricity makes it possible for the world to stay connected and operating as near normal as possible.

By keeping plant workers safe, power plants have been able to keep running and make sure electricity is there when our customers need it most. So how are they doing it?

“We are doing all the things everyone else is doing,” said Allan Vacek, manager of station operations at OPPD’s North Omaha Station (NOS). “Taking temperatures, monitoring our symptoms, staying home when not feeling well and lots of hand-washing. And there has been a lot of coaching going on around the plant, reminding everyone to stay safe.”

Vacek said the pandemic plan the plants are using has changed over the past year. What started out as a document that was only a couple pages long has grown into a much more substantial piece of written guidance. He should know, he helped write it.

“It’s over one hundred pages,” he said. “And we have ones specific to our peaking plants and for nuclear decommissioning workers.”

Mask wearing has been vital, he said. Some job roles are unique, like control room operators. It is critically important that these workers stay healthy, because there are only so many of them.NOS worker 1

“It’s not like we can get one of these operators from anywhere, or take someone from one of the other stations,” Vacek said. “They understand that and know they are held to a higher standard.”

Now that vaccinations are happening, there is hope that everyone can stay safe but it is no time to let your guard down, he said. OPPD continues to use an electrostatic disinfecting system once a month at all locations, and employees are still wearing masks. Physical distancing is still important, although there are times when certain tasks are being done that it isn’t possible to do so. That’s why it is important for workers to stay vigilant in monitoring their own health.

A recent planned maintenance outage at NOS to clean the condensers, and overhaul turbine valves, among other tasks, was completed ahead of schedule due to the polar vortex. That meant a lot more workers and contractors on site – about 200 compared to the usual 90 – but the work went well and the safety precautions were followed, which helped it go smoothly.

“I think OPPD is doing everything in its power to keep workers safe and to help them feel safe while doing their jobs,” Vacek said. “We are giving them the tools they need to do so and that has helped make a difference.”


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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

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