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Control High-Energy Hazards to Help Reduce Serious Injuries and Fatalities

Reducing and eliminating serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) remains a challenge throughout the utility industry. The work required to generate, transmit and distribute electricity and gas often places workers near hazards that cannot be completely eliminated. Workers must be able to safely perform essential work without contacting or exposing themselves to sources of high energy.

Working Safely from Elevated Heights

Each year, OSHA reveals which of its regulations are most violated by employers across the U.S., based on the number of citations given. Violations of fall protection regulations are routinely in the top 10. Given that this is a widespread issue, I’m going to use this month’s Tailgate Topic to provide a brief overview of typical fall hazards as well as some protective systems you and your company can use.

5 Safety Factors to Consider in Unfamiliar Territory

| Bob Dunderdale, CUSP |
On a routine workday, it’s likely that you are in a familiar place. The people and the system around you? They’re probably familiar, too. But when we as lineworkers are asked to respond to storms or other emergencies via mutual aid or a storm call, all that can change quickly. Suddenly, we may find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. So, in this month’s Tailgate Topic, let’s review five safety factors we must consider when on a foreign property.

Getting Safety Communications Right with SBAR

Utility workers know getting communications right about safety – especially in pre-work discussions such as job hazard analyses, plans of the day and tailboards – is vital to going home safe. It can also be difficult to accomplish. However, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of training lineworkers to use a communications tool called SBAR, which stands for “situation, background, assessment, recommendation.”

90% of Safety Rules are Written for 10% of the People

Ninety percent of all safety rules are written for only 10% of a company’s workers. Now, that is a bold statement, particularly from someone like me, who has been involved in making safety rules for over 30 years. First, let’s take a minute to look at how safety rules have historically been made. Then I will explain my bold statement. In the old days, a company had a group of safety people who developed the rules. I was one of these people who looked for holes in safety and devised potential solutions. We safety people then presented our rules to management. If management agreed with our new rules, we updated the safety book and sent it out to all employees. Later, we created a safety and management team who developed the rules together….

Simplifying Tasks to Improve Worker Safety

The prevailing wisdom is that experience prepares you for what’s to come – that if we have done something in the past, we are better prepared to handle it when we must do it again. For the most part, I think that is accurate. It is the reason we tell our young children not to touch a hot stove, and, as they get older, we caution them not to drink too many happy hour specials. We have been there, done that, and we know the results were not always ideal. But, as with most things, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, I am currently teaching my youngest child to drive. This is my second time around this particular block; I taught my oldest child to drive about six years ago. Now, I went into this exercise with my youngest child wit…

Powered Industrial Truck Safety

In the utility industry, we use various types of powered industrial trucks – also referred to as PITs and forklifts – to perform various applications. This equipment is used in material handling in warehouse operations as well as in field construction and maintenance operations. Safe operation of a PIT is critical to avoid injury, death, and material and equipment damage. For the year 2020, OSHA reported that forklifts were the source of 78 work-related deaths and 7,290 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work. From 2011 to 2020, OSHA statistics reveal that an average of 7,243 forklift incidents occur annually. Regardless of the industry, the unwanted experiences are excessive. Also for the year 2020, OSHA reported issuing 1,932 v…

4 Questions for Continuous Improvement

As Jim, the owner of the company, walked the job site with the head of safety and quality, he said, “You know, we’ve made big gains in safety, quality and production, even as we’ve grown over 200% the past couple of years, but things have plateaued, and I don’t know what to do.”  This may sound familiar, or maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum – it seems that you are headed down the wrong path or perhaps have even hit rock bottom. The solution to both problems is the same: ask these four questions.  Question 1: What’s Good?   We want to double down on the good. We want to figure out what it is and communicate it to increase operational consistency and efficiency throughout the company. These are called best practices, and you’re…

Chainsaw Safety Practices for Rights-of-Way

We all enjoy watching television or listening to music at home, perhaps while eating a hot meal or drinking a shake we made in the blender – all activities made possible through the wonderful power of electricity. But our enjoyment is dampened when the power goes out, which is sometimes due to a fallen tree or fallen branches breaking electrical supply lines. To help remove the debris and restore electrical services, line crews often use chainsaws. They have become essential tools, but it’s no secret that operating a chainsaw can be hazardous if the user doesn’t follow safe operating procedures. In this month’s Tailgate, I want to share the following tips for using a chainsaw on the ground to clear trees and branches in the right-of-way….

If I Could Do It All Over Again

| Terry Ehli |
Being retired from a 32-year career as an electrical lineman, I sometimes catch myself asking the question, “If I could do it all over again, what would I have done differently?” Then I start to think about how my shoulders ache on these cold Minnesota nights because of the arthritis in them. That pain is probably due to jacking up wire with a hoist thousands of times, or cutting steel guy wire with a big bolt cutter, or not using proper body mechanics when dragging heavy tree limbs while clearing rights-of-way for our power lines. I also think about the two artificial hips I have because I wore out my original ones, most likely from climbing poles, jumping in and out of large trucks, and jumping down into trenches for splicing undergrou…

The Rule of Should

I have been working in the health and safety realm for many years, and I enjoy sharing with others the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve acquired. I often distill my know-how into short pieces of advice that get my message across without sounding too preachy. Over the years, some people started calling my one-line safety slogans “RLisms,” and today I want to share with you two RLisms that go together. RLism Number One  The first RLism is that no one purposely violates a life-threatening rule. Now, most of you are aware of someone who was seriously injured, or worse, when a rule or work practice was violated. It could have been the result of a step being left out of a process or someone cutting corners to expedite a job’s comple…

Plan on Going Home Tonight

Do you plan on going home tonight?  It’s probably something you don’t really consider as you go about your day. And if someone asked you, you might think, “What a weird question,” and then say, “Yes, of course.”  But stop for a moment. Think about those words: Do you plan on going home tonight? You come to work, you do the job, and then you walk back out that door to go home. But in between entering and leaving, you did what? Hoped you would make it home?  Hope is not a plan. In fact, not having a plan is exactly what puts us on the path to an accident. So often we hear someone say, “I wasn’t planning to have an accident,” yet they are still happening. So, if we are planning on going home tonight but accidents keep happening, where is th…

Creating Good Safety Habits

A journeyman lineman is aloft in his bucket, helping a co-worker install a new transformer on a utility pole. For a second, his mind wanders to the argument he had last night with his wife. Then, suddenly, he hears his co-worker asking for help repositioning the transformer, which is now suspended in the air, attached to the boom winch line of the line truck. In response, the journeyman lineman overreacts and operates his bucket controls too quickly, hitting and lifting the bottom of the transformer. The sling loosens and comes off the lifting eyes, causing the transformer to drop to the ground. In a fraction of a second, oil spills all over the sidewalk and the street. Even the groundman standing nearby is splashed. What a mess, not to …

Strategies to Handle Workplace Conflict

“Jack, the people issues are just getting to be too much,” the foreman said. “If it’s not the landowners and members of the public throwing fits and coming into the work zones, it’s our own people getting into conflicts. At best it’s a distraction that steals our focus, and at it’s worst it becomes violent.” The superintendent replied to the foreman, “I hear you, Billy. Let’s come up with a plan on how to deal with this.” Three Important Questions In this month’s Tailgate, we’re going to review answers to three important questions related to workplace conflict and violence, and then we’ll look at how to deal with three areas of conflict in ways that lead to the best possible outcome based on the situation. Question 1: How can landowners …

Getting Shocked on a Structure?

| Jim Vaughn, CUSP |
It’s not static. And there’s a reason that’s important. Static is defined at www.dictionary.com as a stationary electrical charge built up on insulating material. The Britannica.com website defines static as a phenomenon in which charged particles are transferred from one body to another. For example, if two objects are rubbed together, especially if the objects are insulators and the surrounding air is dry, the objects acquire equal and opposite charges. So, why are these definitions of “static” important? Because what you are experiencing is not static – it is induction. Why is that important? Because while static won’t kill you, induction can. If you are getting shocked on a structure, there is likely a transmission circuit nearby, ei…

Avoid Injury When Lifting and Moving Objects

The foreman looked up and asked, “Jim, how are you feeling today?” Jim limped over and replied, “I’ll be OK, my back just goes out on me from time to time. I hurt it in my 20s, and it’s never been the same since. It comes and goes.” The foreman agreed, “Yeah, we always lifted way too much far too often back then. I wish we could go back in time and change that.

Powerful Safety Messages: Spoken and Silent

In September 1994, my career in safety and human performance had yet to begin. At the time, accepting a temporary position in safety was my way to “get out of Dodge,” which was the Customer Information Center at the local gas utility. Having spent four years as a call center representative and another four as a supervisor in that same call center, I distinctly remember the day that the company’s safety and training manager offered me a temporary opportunity to help rebuild their safety program. He barely had the words out of his mouth – “How would you like to …?” – when I emphatically said yes. Not because it was something I had dreamed about doing; it was simply not my current position. All I could hope was that it would last longer tha…

Battling Invisible Distractions

Over the years, the utility industry has spent countless hours and dollars on worker safety efforts. By now, I think just about everyone reading this Tailgate Topic has attended a safety seminar or meeting where a new concept was explained, a new acronym was released or a new form was rolled out. Personally, my bowl is full of alphabet soup and my file cabinet is full of documents with untold revisions. But what have these concepts, acronyms and forms really done for us? Yes, we have fewer accidents today than we did in the early days of line work. There have been major advancements in industry tools, practices and equipment. Why is it, then, that many root cause analysis reports still include phrases like “the employee didn’t notice …” …

The End of the Day

Safety is an around-the-clock job. However, there are certain times – like the end of the workday – when safety needs to be given extra attention. In the beginning of the workday, worker complacency is typically at its lowest. That’s because we may not yet be familiar with the day’s work, which keeps us on our toes. The job briefing or tailboard will help to focus the crew on the task at hand, the hazards present and the barriers to mitigate those hazards. Hopefully everyone on the crew is well-rested, and if you are like most lineworkers, you are looking forward to tackling the job. By the time lunch is over, if the morning has gone well, we are on the downhill side of the job with a focus on completing it. Near the end of the day, comp…

Watch Your Step

Soft tissue injuries are very painful, and it takes a long time to heal from them. In addition to pain, they also can cause frustration and emotional distress. Big medical bills and a loss of wages may be covered by workers’ compensation, but that doesn’t reduce pain or cover lost overtime, and it certainly doesn’t compensate for lost family time or time away from outdoor pursuits, among other things. If slips and falls happen at home, workers’ compensation doesn’t help at all. Often, these types of injuries are self-inflicted, perhaps the result of rushing or not paying attention. So, it’s important to keep your eyes open and stay focused on one thing at a time. When working outdoors, slip-and-fall hazards can include wet or icy ground …
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