Job Briefing for One

A lot of safety training is focused on the individual operating in a crew setting, but there are many employees who work alone. How is their safety training different? If you answered that their safety training is not and should not be different, you are correct. However, their work environment is different from a crew’s work environment because they must rely solely on themselves to stay safe. Staying safe on the job requires constant vigilance by every employee, which includes utilizing the best practice of performing a detailed job briefing, tailboard or toolbox talk before starting work.

The September 13, 2012 Tailgate Topic by David McPeak, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP, “A Mirror: Your Most Important PPE” (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/a-mirror-your-most-important-ppe), contains good advice, particularly for those employees who work alone. McPeak identifies areas that we should focus on as part of our PPE: fitness for duty, distractions, training, perceptions, attitude and hazard identification. I believe these issues are elevated in importance when a job briefing is executed by a person working alone. Wait a minute – a job briefing for a person who is working alone? That may be an unfamiliar concept to some readers, so let’s take some time to explore it.

Job Briefing Best Practices
In 29 CFR 1910.269(c), “Job briefing,” OSHA details the minimum requirements for identifying hazards and how they shall be addressed in a crew setting. In 1910.269(c)(5) OSHA states, “An employee working alone need not conduct a job briefing. However, the employer shall ensure that the tasks to be performed are planned as if a briefing were required.” While OSHA says that we do not have to complete a job briefing if we are working alone, we are expected to perform the work as if we did complete one.

If we look deeper, we find that OSHA writes the following in its “Job Briefings and Best Practices” e-tool (see www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/electric_power/hazard_jobbriefing_bestpractices.html): “Many workers in the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry work alone, making it difficult to discuss topics that need to be covered in a job briefing. People who work alone need to assess and plan each job before they begin work and identify any potential hazards and how they will be addressed.” Again, OSHA mentions job briefings when an employee is working alone.

To take it one step further, the Electrical Transmission and Distribution Construction Contractors and Trade Association OSHA Partnership states in their best practices FAQ that, if a person is working alone, a job briefing should be completed “in order to insure that hazards have been properly identified and that the countermeasures will be effective” (see www.neca-neis.org/docs/default-source/powerline/best_practices_with_faq.pdf?sfvrsn=0). The document goes on to say that the job briefing shall also be documented.

According to the FAQ, the OSHA partnership agrees that it is a best practice to perform a documented job briefing even when working alone.

Maintaining Awareness
A person might find all of these citations confusing, so what should an employee do when working alone? It’s important to maintain a heightened state of awareness. With only yourself to depend on for hazard recognition, you should complete a job briefing and not merely give it lip service. When you’re on your own, hazards may be a bit more difficult to recognize, you may not be as focused as you should be, and it’s even possible that your attitude isn’t what it should be. No matter what the distraction or issue, if you are not focused on the job at hand, you do not have anyone at the job site to remind or warn you of a hazard you did not identify. Completing a job briefing for each job should help to keep you focused. If you document the briefing, chances are you will maintain awareness of the checklist as you complete your job.

Our industry is one in which an incident can have a devastating effect on an employee and that individual’s family, friends and employer. The best way to avoid an incident is to stay focused, and a job briefing for those working alone will help. After all, what better work practice can you implement to help identify the hazards that present themselves throughout the day?

A large part of remembering to take care of each other is remembering to take care of ourselves. So, look into your mirror, prepare yourself mentally and physically for the tasks you must complete, and remember to perform a job briefing when working alone. After all, the life you save today may be your own.

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 roles ranging from line apprentice to acting general manager. Getman is a member of ASSE and the Clark College Power Utilities Advisory Committee. He also serves on the executive board of the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network. In 2013, Getman was named the recipient of the Carolyn Alkire Safety Advocate Award.

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