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Coping With Industry Changes

“I really like change as long as it is happening to someone else.” Have you ever heard that old saying? Well, for quite some time we have been talking about certain changes making their way to our industry, and now they are finally here. As utility workers, we sometimes complain about changes in our work environment, especially some of the more recent ones. For example, take the new OSHA fall protection regulations. Now we can no longer free climb and must be secured to a wood pole from 4 feet off the ground.

How about arc-rated clothing? We are now required to wear clothing that will limit or even eliminate employee injuries in the event of an electrical arc flash. Arc-rated face shields are an additional element we must deal with today. Following are a few more changes we also are facing:
• Host employer rules that require us to improve communication with contractors and others working on our systems.
• An improved hazard communication process, plus a change in the way chemical information is provided to users (via streamlined safety data sheets versus material safety data sheets).
• New confined space rules for construction.

These are big changes for some and not so big for others. But regardless of scope, we as utility workers thrive on change, don’t we? What, you don’t think so? Well, let’s take a closer look.

Consider that we are well-trained and know how to do our jobs. We have construction standards that the industry and our respective utilities developed for our transmission and distribution systems. We also have standards for setting poles, constructing towers, stringing wire, tying or clipping in, building substations, mounting transformer banks, metering installations and the list goes on. It’s pretty much ho-hum stuff, the same old, same old, been there, done that – or is it? While we have standards for what we build, we do not have standards for where it is built or what we run into once we get to a job site. Once on the job site, everything can change and we need to be fully aware of the hazards pertaining to our work environment as well as the work itself. Our work environment never stays the same. Consider storm work – talk about changes! We are headed into the winter storm season, and some of you may have worked long hours this summer due to the extended wildfire season. This was certainly a change from working during and after last winter’s storms. We experience many work- and hazard-related changes with all scenarios and, let’s face it, we experience changes in our work every day. While we can control some of these, some we cannot. However, how we as individuals adjust our attitudes to handle changes is entirely up to us and within our control.

Facing Drawbacks and Discomforts
Many of our industry’s improvements/changes have not had a significant impact on our personal work environment or how we feel while doing our work. But to quote Arnold Bennett, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”

I contend this will be the case for some of us with a few of the new OSHA requirements. The new fall protection, arc-rated clothing and face shield requirements just may cause personal issues we may not have encountered before. While it’s fantastic to avoid falling off or cutting out when climbing a wood pole, we can be distracted by using new equipment until it has become second nature to us. So, while our new fall protection equipment improves our personal safety, it can also be a distraction that acts as an additional hazard yet to be identified.

Arc-rated clothing, arc-rated rainwear and arc-rated face shields will impact our physical condition while we perform work. Cold, heat and the condition and cleanliness of our clothing all play a role in how we feel on the job, and this impacts our attitudes. Focusing on the personal impacts of these things instead of the task at hand injects another distraction, another hazard. With more changes to our work environment come more hazards for us to be aware of and mitigate.

As an industry, we adopted these improvements and changes in order to create a safer work environment, and it will take some time to become comfortable with them. Until we do, we have to recognize them for what they can be: additional hazards that need to be identified and dealt with just like any other identified hazard. Anything that takes your mind off the job at hand is a hazard that has to be identified and mitigated. However, I firmly believe that as an industry we will ultimately embrace these improvements and they will become second nature.

In this time of transition to a safer work environment, it is important that we address these changes head-on with an open mind while forging ahead to “Git-R-Done” safely. Most of all during this transitional period, we need to work together and remember to take care of each other out there.

About the Author: Michael J. Getman, CUSP, MBA, is safety manager at Clark Public Utilities. He has more than 40 years of utility industry experience in various roles, is a member of ASSE and serves on the executive board of the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network. In 2013, Getman was the recipient of the Carolyn Alkire Safety Advocate Award.

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