The utility industry is filled with risks and hazards that other lines of business do not experience. Electrical work has been repeatedly identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries as one of the most dangerous jobs. Although the equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), and procedures have improved dramatically over the last 15 to 20 years, we still see many needless injuries and fatalities each year. The solution may seem straightforward and simple; however, with studies showing 90 percent of all incidents being the result of human error, whether equipment related or human-induced, the solution may not be so easy.
Today, many companies have administrative safety procedures and policies that either meet OSHA requirements or exceed them – yet the challenge is so many still choose to take shortcuts. Things that we might miss or take for granted when working in hazardous work environments can ultimately lead to dangerous safety risks.
So how do we encourage workers to follow procedures, maintain a focus on safety, and avoid shortcuts? The answer isn’t by leaving it up to luck. It has to be a conscious decision to be safety minded.
Don’t Fall Victim to a Case of the Mondays
A great way to create safety awareness is by establishing a Monday safety kickoff. John Voyer, Manager of Substation Operations for Green Mountain Power (GMP), states, “Every Monday we have a safety meeting – a reminder that the weekend is over and that it’s time to get your head in the game for the week. It pumps up safety awareness.”
GMP isn’t the only organization that finds this approach to be an effective one. “Communication of a weekly safety message designed to be relevant to the season is an important start to the week and helps in safety reporting,” says Mike Pazzanese, CUSP-Certified Director of Health/Safety and Training for ElecComm. “The safety message is short, focused, and to the point, making it easy to digest.”
Staying mentally clocked-in is important as well. As much as you may want to quickly finish a job or scoot out quickly on a Friday, the same behaviors can have you cutting risky corners. In fact, the National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen (NSUJL)** was started in remembrance of John (JP) Plante. JP, an electrical lineman, sadly died at the end of the day on a Friday trying to wrap up an error he noticed on the line.
Rae Johnson, one of the founding members of the NSUJL and a former lineworker, speaks often about the man who inspired the start of the organization. “It was the end of the workday. He was alone. JP was checking a job, saw something not right, and figured he could go up there and fix it. He ended up falling 90 feet off of the pole and died as a result. He was experienced and probably never considered that trying to get the job done quickly was so dangerous.”
Whether it’s Friday at quitting time, the start of a Monday, or any other day, take the time and the care needed. Overlooking little details can end up causing a huge problem.
“Every little detail matters. No little detail can be overlooked.” – Rae Johnson, National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen (NSUJL)
Keep It Safety Simple (KISS)
You’ve probably heard of “Keep It Simple Stupid” or KISS. In the utility industry, this can also be referred to as “Keep It Safety Simple.”
Since supervising safety professionals are not always there to guide or oversee work on a regular basis, providing convenient safety tools for quick reference in the field offers a quick, convenient way to refer back to safety in the field. Once you have equipped your team with these safety tools, call attention back to them on a regular basis to help ensure that they are being used.
Encourage junior crew members or apprentices to conduct job briefs periodically. They may be more apt to see little hazards that the crew leaders may overlook or take lightly. Ultimately, all crew members must be able to stop work if they see an unsafe condition.
Head Check: Get in the Safety Mindset
Before getting on a line, ask yourself, “Am I mentally prepared to be in a hazardous situation?” Being in a safety mindset, focused on the job at hand, is the first line of defense in preventing injury. If you see someone who is not in the right mindset, don’t hesitate to ground them from the job. This is important for their safety and the safety of everyone on the job. The NSUJL’s message to every lineman is always “be your brother or sister’s keeper.”
There is nothing wrong with being grounded, but pride can get in the way of that. Rae recounts the story of a Florida worker was going through a personal situation. His attention was on that and not on the job. He tried to continue on with his work, got in a bucket when he shouldn’t have, and he subsequently lost his life.
At some utility companies, the workforce is asked to conduct job briefs and day to day work as if their own son, daughter, or loved one is on that job with them. Corners should never be cut, and putting the job into perspective helps increase situational awareness. Considering family or loved ones brings the point home, according to Mike Pazzanese, ElecComm Corporation.
“If your safety message is easy, straightforward, and to the point, there is an increased likelihood that your message will be supported and followed in the field.” – Mike Pazzanese, Director of Health/Safety and Training, ElecComm Corporation
Your Equipment Is Your Last Line of Defense
Extend the same safety awareness to the tools and equipment that are in use every day. The daily grind, weather conditions, and even storage practices play a hand in how safe the in-use equipment is.
ASTM and OSHA standards require the daily inspections of equipment prior to use and after any breaks. This includes all rubber goods, fiberglass live line tools, grounding equipment, arc wear, trucks, vehicles, eyewear, hard hats, and more. ASTM standards outline the requirements for each. Monthly vehicle inspections account for tools that are needed, missing, and in need of calibration or testing.
PPE is a lineworker’s last line of defense. Equipment must be in good condition or repaired/replaced if any damage is suspected or if the goods are past their due date for retesting. Rubber goods, such as gloves, sleeves, blankets and line hose, should be rolled, inflated, and inspected prior to every use (ASTM F496-08, F479-06, F478-06).
“Cover all the phases. Make it look like a rubber Christmas tree. 70 percent of the accidents that we are called upon to assist are a failure to properly ground and cover.” – Rae Johnson, NSUJL
Never pass things off as being fine – always check equipment to ensure that it is properly protecting you and your team.
Check Rubber Goods for Deterioration
A popular misconception is that if you haven’t used the equipment, it’s going to remain fine for use a week, a month, two months or more down the line. However, many factors can deteriorate the goods. Storage in too hot, cold, dry, or humid conditions can reduce the elasticity and flexibility of rubber goods. Incorrect storage practices can also lead to cracking and dry rot. It’s no different than rubber gaskets and bands that deteriorate over time on other parts and tools.
Inspect rubber goods for the 24 types of visual failures outlined by ASTM F1236-96. Goods should also show a valid date stamp and be in compliance based on ASTM testing intervals as outlined in ASTM F496, F478, F479, F712, and F1116.
Make Compliance Easier With 3 Internal Steps
When discussing compliance, it can be strenuous to manage safety rotations and have compliant equipment at the ready for emergency situations. Time is money and lack of compliant equipment can keep you off a jobsite or result in OSHA fines, both of which are a significant financial hit.
To make the compliance process easier, there are three internal steps that can be taken to help manage the process.
1. Consider Incentives for Safety
Reward employees for catching out-of-compliance materials or reporting safety hazards. It brings pride to the workplace, helps avoid close calls in the long run, and reduces the likelihood of a costly incident or fine in the event of an inspection.
2. Implement a Second Set of Mission-Critical Equipment
Many safety and tool managers choose to have a second set of critical equipment on hand. These are products that could hinder an emergency response, be delayed due to manufacturer inventory shortages, or may be easily damaged in the field, such as rubber gloves.
Some companies even opt for a second, full rubber goods exchange set so there is never a rotation delay and there is always a backup set for emergency or storm support.
3. Bring in a Third-Party Partner
There is value in bringing in additional support personnel from third-party companies that are experts in the core competencies required to manage safety rotations and offer compliance solutions. An effective third-party candidate will be knowledgeable about compliance standards and up to date on all certifications, while also having an extensive and diverse support background.
When working with third-parties, make sure that they offer solutions to preserve all historical testing and compliance data. Having significant reporting data will be critical in the event of an OSHA inspection.
So the Question Is…
With 90 percent of incidents being the result of human error, as Mike Pazzanese says, “would you let your loved one into that situation?” If not, rethink the situation and take the necessary controls to avoid a hazardous situation. As always, making it home safely at the end of the day is more likely when you keep a safety mindset and avoid leaving it up to luck.
Mike Pazzanese has 35 years of utility-related operations and safety experience. Mike is a Certified Utility Safety Professional (CUSP). He is currently the Director of Health/Safety and Training at ElecComm Corporation in Wilmington, MA.
Rae Johnson is one of the founding members of the National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen (NSUJL). Rae has personally been involved with IBEW local 126 since 1997 when she started as a flagger and worked her way up through the ranks to Apprentice Linemen.
John Voyer, Manager of Substation Operations for Green Mountain Power (GMP), is responsible for the safe, reliable operation and maintenance of GMP’s Substation facilities throughout Vermont. John is a Vermont Licensed Master Electrician, Journeyman Lineworker, and a rated Relay Technician.
*OSHA 1910.269(a)(2)(iv) requires regular supervision and inspections conducted on at least an annual basis, that each employee practices safe working conditions. Additional training (or retraining) is to take place if the employees are not complying with safety-related work practices or if there are any equipment or safety-related procedures that need to be implemented or changed.
**NSUJL (National Sisterhood United for Journeyman Linemen) (https://nsujl.org/) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting fallen or injured IBEW Journeymen Linemen, Utility Linemen, Apprentice Linemen, Groundmen, Operators, Line Clearance Tree Trimmers (LCTT) and/or their spouses and minor children.