With 1,400 employees and three offices throughout California, San Jose-headquartered Cupertino Electric Inc. (CEI) is one of the state’s largest electrical contracting firms. It is also one of the safest, as is evidenced by a spate of recently received safety awards. Since 2010, the company has been honored with a Clark Construction Award, the Liberty Mutual Award, and the Cal-OSHA Golden Gate Partnership Recognition — all in acknowledgement of important safety milestones achieved.

“Working safe is one of our core values,” says Patty Becker, CEI’s director of corporate safety. “It’s an expectation, and we make sure our employees have a solid foundation and understand our safety requirements.”

But according to newly appointed COO Tom Schott, this wasn’t always the case.

“In 2006, we looked at our recordable injury rate from the year before, and the number was not where we wanted it to be,” he says. “Our recordable injury rate was 6.24, and our COO at the time decided this was unacceptable. He determined we needed a mind-set shift.”

That shift resulted in bringing Becker onboard and implementing a stringent safety program that puts all of CEI’s employees first, including those in the office as well as those out in the field. In addition, management is involved in every aspect of the safety program from the top down.

“Anyone who is a foreman or above must receive OSHA 10 training,” Becker notes. “We also require our general foremen and project managers to be OSHA 30-certified, which we think makes CEI’s safety program pretty unique. Each year, we follow up with an additional day of training for our field supervisors and general foremen called Supervisor Safety Training (SST) to discuss what trends we’re seeing and ask where we need to make continued improvement.”

Weekly toolbox meetings, a monthly safety newsletter, and a pocket-sized Injury Prevention Program booklet provided to all employees help to reinforce the company’s safety culture.

Other steps taken to guarantee workers’ well being include a daily safety pre-task plan to ensure all job hazards are identified and control strategies implemented before work begins, along with mandatory hand protection, elimination of utility knives, and the use of gasketed safety glasses for work above T-bar ceilings.

“When it comes to performing energized electrical work, CEI really embraces the spirit, intent, and requirement of NFPA 70E of reducing or eliminating energized electrical work,” says Becker. “Our company policy is that we don’t do energized electrical work — period. If there are compelling reasons that make a shutdown infeasible, then we work with the customer to identify how we can meet their needs with alternative sources of power and then accomplish the work in a de-energized state.”

According to Becker, the company’s commitment to safety has paid off, resulting in a 70% reduction in its recordable injury rate since 2006. In 2010, 99% of CEI’s jobs worked injury-free (with more than 1,000 job-site locations) and CEI laborers worked without any injuries.

“The most important message we try to get across to our employees is that ‘safety starts with me,’” she adds. “Each employee is empowered to be personally accountable for his or her own well-being. We let workers know that it’s OK to stop a job if conditions change, because things don’t always go as planned. Employees are encouraged to come forward and tell us if project conditions have changed or if they feel a situation is unsafe. That way, we can come up with a new game plan to keep everyone involved healthy and injury-free.”

This past summer, Cupertino Electric received the Cal-OSHA Golden Gate Partnership Recognition Award on the Cal Poly Pomona project for implementing effective safety and health management systems, as well as the Liberty Mutual Award for “Commendable Safety Performance” on the Thunder Valley Casino project. On Jan. 22, 2011, Cupertino Electric received a Clark Construction Award for “Installation of 10 Miles of In-Slab Conduit without a Recordable Injury,” during work on the UCSF 19A project, which involved construction of a 5-story neurosciences laboratory and clinical research building at the University of California, San Francisco campus.