Everyone is the ‘Safety Person’
Like many of you, I follow social media power-line forums to remain engaged with current industry-related topics. One of those forums reports on nationwide electric utility incidents and accidents. Before I start reading an article posted to that particular forum, I already know a whole lot of people have been impacted by an unfortunate event and will have to confront its consequences.
Some of those forum posts indicate that one of our brothers or sisters has sustained injuries that might leave long-lasting mental and/or physical scars. Unfortunately, I have also been a member of a crew that experienced an accident on the job site. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience. To this day, I can’t rid myself of the mental pictures I still carry from that event, even though it took place decades ago.
Why mention these things? Well, my son has chosen to follow in my footsteps and will be starting a lineman apprenticeship in the near future. Knowing what I know, I wish I could transfer my craft knowledge and experiences to him so that he could forgo the steep learning curve he will encounter in his career. However, I’m a realist and I understand that, as John Keats once said, “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” Personal experience provides the most enduring lessons.
Furthermore, as a maintenance manager for my employer, one of my responsibilities is to ensure the on-the-job safety and health of all the craft employees I supervise. Accordingly, I met face to face with two new-hires in my office this week. One was a journeyman lineman and the other a brand-new apprentice lineman. We engaged in quality dialogue regarding personal accountability and responsibility. Among other things, we addressed the following five items that it’s imperative for them to understand:
- No employee, under any circumstances or to any extent, should set aside safety procedures or common sense for personal convenience or to meet a project schedule.
- You must understand your rights and responsibilities and act accordingly to identify and then reduce or eliminate hazards in your work environments and work practices.
- Without fear of retaliation, an employee has the right and responsibility to not participate in any activity or action they deem unsafe. Additionally, an employee has the right and responsibility to stop any action they believe would place a person in imminent danger.
- Without fear of retaliation, employees are encouraged to report near-miss incidents. Reporting a near miss may prevent injury to other employees or prevent damage to equipment.
- No employee will be subject to restraint, interference, coercion, reprisal or other discrimination by virtue of participation in our safety and occupational health program.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, these safety principles should be incorporated into every workplace where hazards exist, so why discuss them? I tend to agree, but unfortunately, it’s been my experience that speaking up in some work environments – especially for apprentices – is easier said than done. If you’ve ever been a member of a crew with a culture like this, you fully understand why common sense sometimes isn’t employed.
As I stated earlier, I wish I could transfer my craft knowledge and experiences to my son, but I also wish I could pass it on to my new apprentice. I wish I could transfer my safety knowledge and experiences, too. Since I can’t, I hope through their own learning experiences that they become responsible and accountable for their actions, especially as they affect personal safety. I hope they never set aside safety procedures or common sense for personal convenience. But more importantly, I hope they are empowered to always do what is right and what is safe.
To drive this point home, our administrator, in a recent letter to employees, stated, “Everyone is the safety person. I am the safety person as is the newest apprentice and everyone in between. It is everyone’s obligation to look out for one another. We owe it to ourselves, each other and all our loved ones to take those few extra minutes to evaluate if a work activity is safe.”
The takeaway is this: We don’t have to be an administrator or a foreman to be bold and lead. We don’t have to be in a position of influence to have influence. Leadership is action – not a title. Every one of us is a “safety person.” If we step up, it encourages others to step up. One of our goals is to work toward transforming those work environments where speaking up is uncomfortable and modifying those behaviors that might lead to errors. And then, hopefully, our craft knowledge and experiences will be passed on.
About the Author: Will Schnyer is the director of transmission and construction for Western Area Power Administration’s Sierra Nevada Region. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.