California Utility Admits Lying about Safety Data to Win Bonuses

Southern California Edison Co. admits that some managers hid injuries and inadvertently omitted data to improve safety statistics, thereby winning $35 million in performance bonuses for the company from the state.

The utility admitted the wrongdoing to the California Public Utilities Commission, and promised to return the $35 million to the agency.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Southern California Edison found that in some instances, managers and supervisors failed to report minor first aid cases requiring bandages or ice packs. In as many as 50 cases, supervisors tried to influence medical treatment and lied about the seriousness of injuries. Some managers also asked employees to use vacation time following an injury, rather than use sick leave or disability leave.

"We've discovered that we simply never set up a comprehensive system of tracking and reporting the first-aid cases," said Edison's general counsel, Stephen Pickett. He said the utility planned to return the money "because we don't have a database to support" its right to the bonuses.

A program sponsored by PUC rewards utilities based on several factors, one of which is safety performance. The utilities conduct their own reporting, leaving many to wonder if the foxes are watching the henhouse.

"I was pretty flabbergasted," Robert Cagen, a PUC staff attorney told the Times. Cagen attended a closed meeting Thursday with Southern California Edison executives. "What this appears to be is an incentive … to underreport injuries. That's what's happened here."

The company plans to amend its illness and injury logs with Cal/OSHA, and its unclear at this point if the agency will take action against Southern California Edison.

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