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Make Safety a Habit and a Skill

I have been a passionate safety advocate for many years. However, like most people, I was not always safety conscious.

Right out of high school, I started working as an underground electrical contractor. While on the job, I witnessed another laborer drill through a duct bank and make contact with 40,000 volts. He was killed instantly. That incident forever changed how I view my safety and the safety of others.

In our line of work, we can significantly reduce accidents and injuries when we make safety both a habit and a skill. When we talk about safety as a habit, we mean a good habit, not a bad one. Some think a habit is just a repetitious movement you make or thought you have without awareness of what you are doing. A good safety habit consists of knowing and understanding the importance of the actions we perform on a daily basis.

Knowing what to do is a start. However, having the wisdom to safely complete a task and demonstrate proficiency is what I consider a skill. In the electrical utility industry, skill is critical, as every move we make and thought we have when working on energized equipment or conductors requires everyone to have their head in the game.

As you consider your own safety habits and skills, and those of the people you work with, here are three things utilities and their workers can do to help foster a healthier safety culture.

1. If you see something, say something. 
I know through firsthand experience that hazards can be eliminated simply by saying something when you see a potential hazard or other issue. At times it can be difficult to ask your co-workers to break a bad habit or demand that they stop an unsafe work practice. However, we must speak up if we want to make safety a habit and a skill. Near-miss reports are one effective way to teach others how to identify a potential hazard, report an incident and work together to correct hazards. 

2. Lead by example and learn from others.
Sharing your personal stories or ones you have heard from others is a great resource in the effort to convince others to work safely. After all, we do not want our co-workers to suffer the same consequences as fellow lineworkers who did not make it home. Crew safety meetings, routine inspections and one-on-one conversations are great opportunities to teach others – and to learn from them. As a safety supervisor, I make it a point to work alongside all employees and turn everything I can into a teaching opportunity. Doing this lets workers know that I want to keep them safe and that I care about them and their families.

Whatever habits and skills you demonstrate in your daily routine will be the lessons taught to those who observe your every move. Your example helps to determine whether your co-workers practice good habits or bad ones. I remember watching different apprentices in the past, and I could identify who had trained them by the quality of their work and the number of safe work practices they used.

3. Make safety the main message.
There should be a focus on safety throughout the companies we work for – not just for lineworkers. Here are a few ways to help make safety the main message:

  • Hang safety slogan signs with pictures of your employees around the company’s facilities.
  • Consider testing employees on the contents of your safety manual to see if they know the rules before an incident occurs.
  • Conduct safety meetings in every department. All line crews should be required to hold at least one safety meeting a month, and other departments should hold a quarterly safety meeting. Upper management must be involved in efforts to make safety the main message. 

Accept the Challenge
I want to challenge every person reading this to make safety a habit and a skill in all that you do. One of my mentors told me a long time ago that if we want someone to know what we know about safety, we must first let that person know how much we care about them. Safety has to come from the heart – we cannot just go through the motions. Most of us spend more time with our work family than with our family at home. So, care for each other at work the same way you would care for your family at home. 

About the Author: Terry Greene, CSC, is a safety supervisor at Nashville Electric Service in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the course of his career, he has worked for contractors, co-ops and municipalities as a journeyman lineman and safety supervisor. Greene earned a bachelor’s degree in occupational health and safety from Columbia Southern University.

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