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Expand Pre-Job Briefings to Include Your Hydro-Excavator Partners

Editor’s Note: This month’s Tailgate Topic has timely advice to ensure crews working with unknown subcontractors are kept safe. Remember that OSHA requires those subcontractors to be qualified for the assigned task and that their employer is responsible for their safety. Having subcontractors observe and participate in a line crew’s tailboard is a good way to help them ensure safety without directly supervising their work practices. Most state’s dig laws restrict the use of mechanized equipment within specified tolerance zones of buried utilities. Because of these laws, hydro-excavation trucks working in conjunction with electric line crews are now more prevalent throughout the industry. Hydro excavation removes soil with pressurized wat…

Do You Really Care?

| John Fischer |
As EHS professionals, we may scoff at first when a worker asks us, “Seriously, do you really care about what I’m doing?” But this question has a much deeper meaning than you may think. In our day-to-day activities, much of the relationship building and many of the general discussions fall to skill-of-the-craft concepts. This means there is tremendous variability between individuals regarding how they approach and connect with people at a personal level. Many companies have abandoned engagement-based or team-based training due to budget restraints or a perceived lack of value, so there isn’t a consistent approach or even a dedicated effort to having engagement in the field. For many EHS professionals, unfortunately there is just not enoug…

Fighting PPE Complacency

| Scott Francis |
In the fast-paced world of utility work, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “This is just a quick job” or “I’ve done this a thousand times.” These thoughts can lead to complacency and poor decision-making around proper personal protective equipment use, including flame-resistant and arc-rated apparel. In this month’s Tailgate Topic, we’ll explore how to combat such complacency. Many utility job tasks carry inherent risks, whether it’s working near live electrical equipment or navigating challenging terrain. Regular training sessions serve as invaluable opportunities to reinforce safety protocols. These sessions should cover the correct use of PPE as well as delve into the rationale behind the need for it. Additionally, familiar…

Am I My Brother’s Keeper – Or Not?

| Mack Turner, CUSP |
I am sure that the safety leaders reading this Tailgate Topic have heard some or all of the following phases: “I’m my brother’s keeper,” “Don’t get hurt,” “Work in a manner that prevents injury,” and “Keep your head in the game.” These phrases are well-intended; they serve as a reminder to keep safety top of mind. But using them will not prevent incidents. I recently reviewed an incident that resulted in an injury for a client. That client has a very good safety program and culture. The incident report included feedback from co-workers of the injured party (we’ll call him “John”), who said things like, “I knew John was going to get hurt one of these days” and “I was too busy doing my own work; it’s not my fault John got hurt.” All of us …

Incidents Require an Immediate Response

Incidents on job sites can cause pain and mental anguish, disrupt project timelines, escalate costs and have lasting repercussions on an employer’s safety performance record. When an incident occurs, company management and safety professionals must respond in a timely manner. Typically, the first responsive action is obtaining detailed information about the incident as quickly as possible. Ask about any injuries that may have occurred and their severity, as well as whether the injured party is still on the scene or has been transported to a medical facility. Find out if emergency responders and law enforcement have been notified if they aren’t already present at the scene. The health and safety of an employer’s human assets should be the…

Cleaning Up the Ointment

| Steve Martin, CUSP |
Earlier this year I wrote a Tailgate Topic titled “The Fly in the Ointment” (see https://incident- – but I probably should have written this Tailgate first. Why? Because sometimes, the fly becomes a problem because of the ointment. By that I mean a work environment can become toxic due to one or more of the people managing it. Like many of you who have had the same experience, I have worked for people whose management skills were so poor that it negatively impacted my performance and the performance of others on my team. In fact, one of the greatest gigs of my life was destroyed in large part by one such manager. Have you seen the image that shows the difference between a boss and a leader? In…

Mitigating Predictive Processing Errors

Andy Clark’s book “The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality” was just published in May. The science he discusses in the book is not new, but the methods used to understand our brain are relatively new. This begs the question: Are we basing our safety training on an older model of the human brain? That older model is an orderly cause-and-effect/stimulus-and-response system. Essentially, if we train to respond appropriately to stimuli, we think we are all set. We imagine our brain patiently awaiting stimuli and sensory information so it can send out the appropriate responses. Much of the older model was derived from brain autopsies. But as Tan Le states in her book “The NeuroGeneration,” “Dead brains don’t talk.” The…

Cable Safety Considerations for Electric Utility Workers

| John M. Perez |
Properly identifying energized cables is critical to worker safety. Over the course of my 30-year career, I’ve become aware of more than one cable splicer who suffered serious burns after attempting to cut into a live cable that was not properly identified or de-energized. Proper cable identification procedures may take some extra time on a job, but the cost of that extra time does not compare to the cost of a worker being injured and the aftermath that may follow. In my experience, it’s not safe to cut any cable based on tags, chips, duct position, cable size, the word of an inspector or other splicer, or the proximity to the utility easement. Tools are available that reliably identify an exposed cable in a ditch. “Reliably” means the s…

Stay in the Yellow: Understanding Conditions of Awareness

I recently read a great blog post titled “If You’re in the Line of Fire, It Has the Right of Way” (see The post provides an account of a line-of-fire incident and covers the importance of situational awareness. The following three sentences resonated with me: “I believe line of fire hazards are most dangerous when we become task focused and subconsciously place our blinders on. Can you remember a time where you were immersed in your work and you became unaware of everything going on around you? It’s important to be engaged in our work, however we need to keep our head on a swivel, periodically checking our surroundings and rely on spotters…

The Fly in the Ointment

“The fly in the ointment” is an old phrase that refers to an individual who spoils things for the whole bunch, someone who has dark energy that affects an entire group. It has become my greatest concern in line work. Now, you may scoff at my use of the word “energy,” but the truth is that we are all either transmitters or receivers of energy, and all of this energy is transmitted or received in frequencies. The entire universe functions on a nodal frequency of 432 Hz. That’s the frequency of the Fibonacci sequence that gives the diameters and spirals to our galaxies and even to chambered nautiluses deep in the ocean. And 528 Hz is the solfeggio frequency – the human vibration pattern that brings us in tune with every subatomic structure …

What We Leave Behind: A Cautionary Tale

| Dale West |
This is Aaron’s story, told by his mother, Jenny. Aaron’s father, Dave, loved his job. He was always tinkering with things and could never just sit still. Dave was wonderful, thoughtful, funny and caring – the most beautiful man I’ve ever known. When Aaron was born, you could see the love, devotion and pride in Dave’s eyes. As Aaron grew up, Dave wanted to be there when he woke up in the morning, play with him throughout the day and put him to bed at night. He cut back on overtime and jobs away from home so he could spend more time with Aaron. The thing that stands out most in my mind about how Dave and Aaron got along was when Aaron was 6 years old and wanted to play soccer. Dave told me it was so funny watching the boy play. Aaron was …

Recognizing and Combating the Half-Attention Mindset

The human imagination leads to invention, invention leads to innovation, and innovation leads to progress. The brainpower of humanity is why we have space travel, the electric grid and a cellphone in nearly every pocket. Who knows what we will come up with in another 50 years. Humans also have an amazing capacity for making ourselves believe things that may or may not be true. Self-awareness and rationalization are two of the most fundamental differences between humans and other animals. Because humans are capable of so much, we sometimes think we can do things that we simply cannot. One issue that I confront every day with my workforce ties into the categories of complacency and risk tolerance. By now, most if not all of us know what it…

Power Restoration Triage and Delta Systems

Triage is a common tool used to prioritize medical treatment based on urgency of need and severity of the injury or condition. For example, in mass-casualty incidents, victims are tagged using a color-coded system that identifies which individuals should get transported to the hospital first. Colors may vary depending on the triage system you use, but typically there are four colors – red, yellow, green and black – with red indicating that immediate transportation is required while black means that the individual likely will not survive. Beyond its medical uses, triage is also highly useful for prioritizing power restoration after a storm. For example, if a substation transformer blows up and another one isn’t readily available, the outa…

Words of Wisdom from a Longtime Safety Man

I first got into the electric utility industry in 1965 when I was hired to work as a lineman’s helper. Lineman’s helpers were also called by another name: grunt. At that time, you were not considered a grown adult until you were 21 years of age. I was just 18 in 1965. I could not drink, I could not vote, and I could not be a lineman, but I could be a grunt. So, I grunted for a couple of years and then went into the U.S. Army for a tour. The job the military chose for me was light weapons infantryman, so I was essentially still a grunt.

Training a New Generation

| R. Neal Gracey |
My personal journey in line work started October 2, 1978, on a two-man line crew. It was just my foreman and me. He was an old, seasoned power lineman, gruff and to the point. When we met, he looked at me and asked, “Can you climb 30 poles a day?” Heck, it was all I could do to not turn around and walk out! But I didn’t walk out, and he and I spent the next few years together setting poles and installing facilities in backyards and rights-of-way.

3 Reasons to Think Twice

| Dale West |
Loretta was excited but very nervous about her upcoming 20-week ultrasound; she and her husband, Vic, were told there may be complications with her pregnancy. Their son Levi was now 5 years old, and all three had been hoping for a little brother or sister for Levi for two long years. This ultrasound was going to be a big surprise for Levi – he’d get to find out what his mom would be having. Vic was traveling for work, but his boss agreed to fly him out the morning of the ultrasound so he could be with Loretta and Levi for the big event. The day before the ultrasound, Vic called Loretta to let her know that everything was going to be fine and that he would be home on an early flight the next day so he could be with her and Levi. Loretta s…

The Significance of Critical Steps at the Work Site

| R. Neal Gracey |
A “critical step” is an action that can trigger immediate, irreversible harm to people and assets if it is improperly performed. Such a step occurs in our industry whenever an action involves a substantial transfer of energy, movement of weight, or transference of something else that could cause or result in harm to a person or asset.

Safety Considerations for Matted Surfaces

Have you ever worked a job that involved matting? If so, were the hazards and risks of matting discussed during the pre-job briefing? We often focus on the electrical hazards of our work sites – and we should – but we fall short if we don’t also pay attention to other types of hazards. The remainder of this month’s Tailgate Topic will provide you with some items to consider when working with or from a matted surface.

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.