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Tag: Tailgate Topics

Simplifying Tasks to Improve Worker Safety

The prevailing wisdom is that experience prepares you for what’s to come – that if we have done something in the past, we are better prepared to handle it when we must do it again. For the most part, I think that is accurate. It is the reason we tell our young children not to touch a hot stove, and, as they get older, we caution them not to drink too many happy hour specials. We have been there, done that, and we know the results were not always ideal. But, as with most things, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, I am currently teaching my youngest child to drive. This is my second...

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Powered Industrial Truck Safety

In the utility industry, we use various types of powered industrial trucks – also referred to as PITs and forklifts – to perform various applications. This equipment is used in material handling in warehouse operations as well as in field construction and maintenance operations. Safe operation of a PIT is critical to avoid injury, death, and material and equipment damage. For the year 2020, OSHA reported that forklifts were the source of 78 work-related deaths and 7,290 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work. From 2011 to 2020, OSHA statistics reveal that an average of 7,243 forklift...

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4 Questions for Continuous Improvement

As Jim, the owner of the company, walked the job site with the head of safety and quality, he said, “You know, we’ve made big gains in safety, quality and production, even as we’ve grown over 200% the past couple of years, but things have plateaued, and I don’t know what to do.”  This may sound familiar, or maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum – it seems that you are headed down the wrong path or perhaps have even hit rock bottom. The solution to both problems is the same: ask these four questions.  Question 1: What’s Good?   We want to double down on the good. We want to figure out...

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Chainsaw Safety Practices for Rights-of-Way

We all enjoy watching television or listening to music at home, perhaps while eating a hot meal or drinking a shake we made in the blender – all activities made possible through the wonderful power of electricity. But our enjoyment is dampened when the power goes out, which is sometimes due to a fallen tree or fallen branches breaking electrical supply lines. To help remove the debris and restore electrical services, line crews often use chainsaws. They have become essential tools, but it’s no secret that operating a chainsaw can be hazardous if the user doesn’t follow safe operating procedures....

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If I Could Do It All Over Again

Being retired from a 32-year career as an electrical lineman, I sometimes catch myself asking the question, “If I could do it all over again, what would I have done differently?” Then I start to think about how my shoulders ache on these cold Minnesota nights because of the arthritis in them. That pain is probably due to jacking up wire with a hoist thousands of times, or cutting steel guy wire with a big bolt cutter, or not using proper body mechanics when dragging heavy tree limbs while clearing rights-of-way for our power lines. I also think about the two artificial hips I have because I...

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The Rule of Should

I have been working in the health and safety realm for many years, and I enjoy sharing with others the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve acquired. I often distill my know-how into short pieces of advice that get my message across without sounding too preachy. Over the years, some people started calling my one-line safety slogans “RLisms,” and today I want to share with you two RLisms that go together. RLism Number One  The first RLism is that no one purposely violates a life-threatening rule. Now, most of you are aware of someone who was seriously injured, or worse, when a rule or...

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Plan on Going Home Tonight

Do you plan on going home tonight?  It’s probably something you don’t really consider as you go about your day. And if someone asked you, you might think, “What a weird question,” and then say, “Yes, of course.”  But stop for a moment. Think about those words: Do you plan on going home tonight? You come to work, you do the job, and then you walk back out that door to go home. But in between entering and leaving, you did what? Hoped you would make it home?  Hope is not a plan. In fact, not having a plan is exactly what puts us on the path to an accident. So often we hear someone say, “I wasn’t...

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Creating Good Safety Habits

A journeyman lineman is aloft in his bucket, helping a co-worker install a new transformer on a utility pole. For a second, his mind wanders to the argument he had last night with his wife. Then, suddenly, he hears his co-worker asking for help repositioning the transformer, which is now suspended in the air, attached to the boom winch line of the line truck. In response, the journeyman lineman overreacts and operates his bucket controls too quickly, hitting and lifting the bottom of the transformer. The sling loosens and comes off the lifting eyes, causing the transformer to drop to the ground....

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Strategies to Handle Workplace Conflict

“Jack, the people issues are just getting to be too much,” the foreman said. “If it’s not the landowners and members of the public throwing fits and coming into the work zones, it’s our own people getting into conflicts. At best it’s a distraction that steals our focus, and at it’s worst it becomes violent.” The superintendent replied to the foreman, “I hear you, Billy. Let’s come up with a plan on how to deal with this.” Three Important Questions In this month’s Tailgate, we’re going to review answers to three important questions related to workplace conflict and violence, and then we’ll look...

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Getting Shocked on a Structure?

It’s not static. And there’s a reason that’s important. Static is defined at www.dictionary.com as a stationary electrical charge built up on insulating material. The Britannica.com website defines static as a phenomenon in which charged particles are transferred from one body to another. For example, if two objects are rubbed together, especially if the objects are insulators and the surrounding air is dry, the objects acquire equal and opposite charges. So, why are these definitions of “static” important? Because what you are experiencing is not static – it is induction. Why is that important?...

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Avoid Injury When Lifting and Moving Objects

The foreman looked up and asked, “Jim, how are you feeling today?” Jim limped over and replied, “I’ll be OK, my back just goes out on me from time to time. I hurt it in my 20s, and it’s never been the same since. It comes and goes.” The foreman agreed, “Yeah, we always lifted way too much far too often back then. I wish we could go back in time and change that.

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Powerful Safety Messages: Spoken and Silent

In September 1994, my career in safety and human performance had yet to begin. At the time, accepting a temporary position in safety was my way to “get out of Dodge,” which was the Customer Information Center at the local gas utility. Having spent four years as a call center representative and another four as a supervisor in that same call center, I distinctly remember the day that the company’s safety and training manager offered me a temporary opportunity to help rebuild their safety program. He barely had the words out of his mouth – “How would you like to …?” – when I emphatically said yes....

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Battling Invisible Distractions

Over the years, the utility industry has spent countless hours and dollars on worker safety efforts. By now, I think just about everyone reading this Tailgate Topic has attended a safety seminar or meeting where a new concept was explained, a new acronym was released or a new form was rolled out. Personally, my bowl is full of alphabet soup and my file cabinet is full of documents with untold revisions. But what have these concepts, acronyms and forms really done for us? Yes, we have fewer accidents today than we did in the early days of line work. There have been major advancements in industry...

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The End of the Day

Safety is an around-the-clock job. However, there are certain times – like the end of the workday – when safety needs to be given extra attention. In the beginning of the workday, worker complacency is typically at its lowest. That’s because we may not yet be familiar with the day’s work, which keeps us on our toes. The job briefing or tailboard will help to focus the crew on the task at hand, the hazards present and the barriers to mitigate those hazards. Hopefully everyone on the crew is well-rested, and if you are like most lineworkers, you are looking forward to tackling the job. By the...

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Watch Your Step

Soft tissue injuries are very painful, and it takes a long time to heal from them. In addition to pain, they also can cause frustration and emotional distress. Big medical bills and a loss of wages may be covered by workers’ compensation, but that doesn’t reduce pain or cover lost overtime, and it certainly doesn’t compensate for lost family time or time away from outdoor pursuits, among other things. If slips and falls happen at home, workers’ compensation doesn’t help at all. Often, these types of injuries are self-inflicted, perhaps the result of rushing or not paying attention. So, it’s...

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Drive Safe. Work Safe. Save Lives.

Members of the OSHA Georgia Struck-By Alliance and the Associated General Contractors of Georgia Inc. (AGC Georgia) will join thousands of employers and workers during this year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), which takes place April 26-30. This year’s theme is “Drive Safe. Work Safe. Save Lives. Everyone plays a role in work zone safety.”

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Combating Drowsy Driving

Many years ago, a young fellow who I was great friends with was on a run to fix a truck up north. He called his wife on his way back to tell her that he would be home in about four or five hours. Well, it wasn’t long before she got word that he had fallen asleep while driving, gone over an embankment and sustained fatal injuries. Since then, I have heard dozens more drowsy driving stories, not from strangers, but from people I know. I have also been a victim of drowsy driving, waking up a few times in the past to the sound of slinging gravel. Once I actually woke up to the bright lights of a...

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Is Safety a Religion?

In the utility industry, we are often connected by families. By that I mean many lineworkers enter the profession because their father, uncle, mother or other relative worked at an electric utility. As for me, my dad was a Methodist minister. I sat in the pew many Sundays, listening to him speak from the pulpit and hearing the many ways he shared his beliefs. For years, I felt as though I didn’t follow in his footsteps. I mean, I’m in safety and he was a pastor. Then, one day, I realized something: Maybe our two worlds weren’t that far apart because we both wanted the same outcome; that is,...

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Are You Setting a Good Example?

Growing up, I was like most kids. All I cared about was horsing around and having fun. I also, like most kids, had people I looked up to for how they were living their lives. For example, I saw my dad work hard to provide for our family of seven. There also was my grandfather on my mom’s side, who did so much for us grandchildren. He took us hunting and fishing all the time and even was the one who gave me my nickname, “Rip.” Then there was my older brother, Bob, whose every step I watched and tried to imitate, even though he was four years older. Bob was good at everything he did, from schoolwork...

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Mitigating the Risk of Wildfire Smoke

Wildfires have become increasingly common in recent years, and many lineworkers have found themselves working around these fires – and their aftermath – as part of their jobs. Because of the hazards that wildfires present, it’s critical that these workers understand how to protect themselves. This month’s Tailgate Topic will address the hazard of wildfire smoke. Wildfire smoke is a mixture of small particles, gases and water vapor. The small particles are the primary health concern. The smallest particulate matter – and usually the most harmful – is called PM2.5 (solid particles and liquid droplets...

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How Does McDonald’s Marketing Apply to Your Lineworker Training?

Think of a hamburger. Now, pick a fast-food chain to get that burger from. Chances are you thought of McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s. It’s even more likely that McDonald’s was your first thought – but why? Probably because McDonald’s has been the number one fast-food chain in the world since 1975, only losing the top spot to Subway in 2011. McDonald’s typically spends $500 million to $2 billion a year on advertising. But why advertise if you are already at the top of the heap? The answer is TOMA, which stands for Top Of Mind Awareness. For McDonald’s, TOMA ensures that when someone thinks...

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4 Actions to Combat ‘Sheepeople Syndrome’

I was recently consulting with a client’s safety committee about updating their safety handbook and standard operating procedures. During a discussion of work positioning and work methods, it was discovered that their policies were in violation of OSHA’s minimum approach distance rules. Their initial response was, “Well, we’ve always worked that way, and so do our contractors.” I’ve seen and heard that before out on the plains of my home state. I call it “Sheepeople Syndrome.” It doesn’t matter how it started; what matters is that, at some point, everyone began following along without...

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Reject Risk Acceptance

The coronavirus pandemic is running wild, the economy is barely running at all, and I am running out of patience. I often hear people talk about the new normal, but personally, I am ready for the old normal: dinners out with friends, the Clemson Tigers on the football field and traveling with my son’s hockey team. All of this stuff runs through my head every day, and in some form or another, it’s likely running through your head, too. And if we are spending our time and energy thinking and worrying about everything that’s going on right now, do you know what we aren’t focusing on the way we...

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Situational Awareness, Mental Modeling and Developing a Coach’s Eye

This month’s Tailgate Topic discusses and explains the relevance of situational awareness, mental modeling and developing a coach’s eye. Situational AwarenessPoor situational awareness often is a contributing factor to events that cause or could have caused serious injuries and fatalities. It is rare that such an event occurs when everyone on the job is using their situational awareness skills. Based on information from various institutions and specialists throughout our industry – including safety professionals at our own companies – situational awareness can be distilled into three primary...

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Invest in Safety – You Can’t Afford Not To

The fact that you are reading this Tailgate Topic indicates that you probably spend considerable energy working to keep yourself and others safe. And all of us together, as an industry, dedicate vast sums of money and countless hours to this cause. Is it worth it? While many metrics have been developed to measure safety results, it is nearly impossible to prove a negative – that something could or would have happened but didn’t. We cannot state with certainty that a particular lineworker would have been badly burned had that extra piece of line hose not been installed at the insistence of the...

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Drug and Alcohol Awareness on the Job Site

It was a beautiful spring day when the call came in. “Jess, we need you out here. I’ve already called 911. One of the guys just died in the port-a-john. I think it’s an overdose. He’s a young guy who seemed healthy, and there’s a bottle of Percocet on the floor by his feet.” Yes, this is a real call I received several years ago at a company I used to work for. The fact is, drug and alcohol abuse has impacted almost everyone in the U.S. to some degree. Let’s take a poll. Raise your hand if you or a member of your immediate family has had to deal with a drug and/or alcohol problem. OK, now raise...

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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...

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Work-Site Safety: Get in on the Ground Level

When we think of line work, our thoughts often go directly to the action overhead that’s performed in hooks or from buckets. Upon further consideration, however, we realize a great deal of line work takes place at ground level. That’s also where many hazards present themselves and where we often assign our least experienced workers. In this installation of “Tailgate Topics,” let’s take a closer look at these ground-level hazards as well as some ways we can identify and mitigate them. Walking/Working Surfaces In response to injuries resulting from trips, slips and falls, OSHA recently released...

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Effective Two-Way Workplace Communication

In the electrical utility industry, we train employees to look for hazards as a part of their jobs. Some hazards, however, can be tricky to identify. Effective two-way communication is a key component of hazard identification and mitigation. When anything is uncertain on a job site, questions must be asked and answered. This applies across the board, regardless of role, title or company structure. We must constantly seek to understand as well as to be understood. In particular, it is the responsibility of those individuals in supervisory positions to ask the right kinds of questions. An honest...

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Battling Fatigue on the Job Site

The operator stared at the CAT 349 excavator that lay half in the trench. The cab had been partially crushed when the operator’s side of the trench wall had collapsed as he straddled it with the excavator’s tracks. “I don’t know, Jess,” he said to me. “It just seemed like the thing to do at the time, but now that I look at it from here, I don’t know what the heck I was seeing and thinking. I would normally never attempt anything like that. What’s wrong with me?” I could see genuine wonder and concern in his eyes, so I asked, “How many hours have you worked over the past two weeks?” His reply...

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Stop Work Authority is Everyone’s Responsibility

Our industry’s culture has changed considerably over the last 30 years. In the past, workers were trained to do as they were told by their supervisors – the command-and-control form of management – which kept some workers quiet even when they spotted potential hazards during the course of work. Fortunately, we have evolved over time and continue to improve our understanding of leadership and what it takes to work safely. But as far as we have progressed, there is still much room for improvement when it comes to stop work authority (SWA). Although many workers are empowered to and do use SWA,...

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The Human Body: A Forgotten Air Monitor

When working in any type of environment, employees may have concerns about the quality of the air they’re breathing. Air monitoring equipment can be used as a screening tool to help identify chemicals that are present, as well as their concentrations. There are a number of air monitoring technologies available today, from direct-read monitors that provide real-time measurements, such as a Jerome mercury analyzer, to equipment that is used to collect air samples that are then analyzed in a laboratory. But while these technologies can help keep a work site safe, employees sometimes forget about...

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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...

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The Value of Apprenticeships

I’m not much of a “Star Wars” fan, but I’ve never forgotten one of Yoda’s statements: “Always two there are; no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.” The U.S. Department of Labor defines an apprenticeship as a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction under the supervision of a qualified trainer or journey-level professional, during which the apprentice learns the theory and practical aspects of a specific type of work. In the electric utility industry, apprentices learn the theory and practical aspects of line work. Apprenticeship ProsAs with anything, apprenticeships...

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Building the St. Louis Arch

Construction of the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis began on February 12, 1963, and was completed in 1965. It was a unique project in scope, design and construction. Designed to be 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide, the arch is made of sections of stainless-steel equilateral triangles with 54-foot sides at the base, tapering to 17-foot sides at the top. Each section has an inner steel wall that allows for reinforced concrete to be poured between the skin of the arch and the inner steel wall. The north and south bases of the arch rest on concrete supports, with a visitor center built underground...

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Confessions of a Complacent Lineman

If you have been working in the same role for a while, you know your job. People look up to you because you know what you’re doing. They count on you to get the job done the right way. You have confidence in what you do, too. But have you noticed yourself taking a few shortcuts lately, telling yourself, “I’ve done this work every day for years – I know what I’m doing”? If so, it may be time to rethink things. It’s exactly that kind of complacency that got me in trouble. In early 2005, I was a lineman on a one-man service truck. I had been a journeyman for 20 years, so I was pretty comfortable...

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Using Checklists to Mitigate Error and Injury

Today’s utility crews are working in an increasingly complex and fast-paced environment. Utilities and their contractors have come under intense pressure to get work done quickly and to ensure that it is done without error or serious injury. With this increased pressure comes increased risk. So, how can we reduce the possibility of error on our worksites given such a demanding environment? One simple way is to use checklists. I realize this is hardly a new concept, but my colleagues and I have found that checklists, when properly written and consistently used, are a proven method to reduce risk...

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One Key Question Every LIFE Guard Must Ask

I never planned to be a safety director. Rather, I think my path was chosen for me through a series of circumstances that all started when I was 16 years old and landed my first official job. Back then I was a lifeguard at a public pool in my South Dakota hometown, and I continued to lifeguard during the summers of my college years. At the pool where I worked, the safety orientation always included the tragic story of a little boy who had drowned many years ago when the pool was overcrowded one hot summer day. The story gave me and the other lifeguards I worked with a sense of the importance...

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Take Off Those Blinders: The Importance of Situational Awareness

Some days I feel like a broken record with my apprentice. “Watch out for …,” “Keep in mind …” and, of course, the much more emphatic “Hey, hey, hey, you can’t …” Those of us who work in the field on a daily basis and are responsible for the training of less experienced workers know this feeling well. So, how do we train our workers, keep them safe and still be productive? To me, it comes down to one simple phrase: situational awareness. What is situational awareness? I am constantly using the analogy of blinders on a racehorse to describe it. All those horses care about is what is directly in...

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Writing Utility Work and Safety Procedures

With the great number of potential hazards in the industry, high-voltage transmission and distribution line work can be risky business. That’s a considerable part of why the T&D industry is rife with regulations, policies, procedures and work practices that electrical workers must adhere to. Work and safety procedures should be written so that there is a clear set of steps to follow in order to perform every task safely and in compliance with existing regulations. It is critical that training is in place for new procedures, and that information about the procedures is shared with affected...

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Remember Why Safety Rules Were Written

Recently I was thinking back over my career as a lineman. There was a man – we called him Big Jim – who was our safety guy from the time I started in the industry until I had been a lineman for about 20 years. Jim always sported a crew cut and a green hard hat that didn’t have a scratch on it; the rumor was he waxed his hat to keep it shiny. I’m unsure if he served in the military, but Big Jim behaved like a borderline drill sergeant on the job. He got right to his point and was a stickler for safety rules. For instance, Big Jim used to visit the crew to check on everything. He would start...

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3 Safety Measures to Mitigate Substation Risks

Any type of utility work can present a number of potentially fatal hazards, from arc blasts and flashes to extreme temperatures that can cause the human body to overheat or become hypothermic. And it’s not just severe hazards that can lead to injury or death – even the slightest negligence can bring about circumstances in which workers can get hurt. Regardless of the job or work environment, careful analysis of all risk factors is a must, along with initial and ongoing training and communication. In this month’s Tailgate, we’re going to take a look at three important safety measures that can...

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Training and Certifying Apprentices

Training today’s apprentice lineworkers has become a priority that no company, large or small, can afford to ignore. Most of the old-timers who trained us are all gone now, and we are now the old-timers who are left to get out the message. The message should not be about getting apprentices to follow safety rules. Rather, the message for apprentices should be about understanding what the hazards really are, knowing how to recognize them and having apprentices learn to think for themselves to avoid the traps that can injure them. Some apprentices believe they are 10 feet tall and bulletproof....

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Addressing Allergic Reactions on the Job

Power-line workers carry out their assignments in all types of outdoor environments and thus are susceptible to all of Mother Nature’s elements, good and bad. When humans expose themselves to those elements, some might experience allergic reactions, a safety-related topic that is rarely top of mind until a worker in the field is experiencing such a reaction. If you know you are allergic to something you may come in contact with while working, it’s critical that you make your colleagues aware of it and, more importantly, that they know how to respond. A Personal TaleThere are personal as well...

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Overcoming Slip, Trip and Fall Hazards on the ROW

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. It wasn’t too hot or too cold, and Jim, a new worker, was listening to the plan for the day with Jack and Mary as they walked on the right-of-way (ROW) to the drilling pad they would be working on. As they were walking, Jim stepped on a rock that caused his ankle to roll. Instinctively, he put his hand out to catch himself, but his arm didn’t quite make it to the right position before he hit the ground. Everyone heard a snap, and Jim felt the fracture in his left wrist. He knew that pain because he had sustained a similar...

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Production, Quality, Safety and the Bermuda Triangle

We’ve all heard or read about the Bermuda Triangle, a loose geographic area with Miami, Bermuda and San Juan, Puerto Rico, serving as the triangle’s three points. Legend has it that lots of strange things have happened in the Bermuda Triangle, mostly the unexplained disappearances of ships and airplanes that sailed or flew through the area. You may remember the story of Flight 19, a group of five torpedo bombers that disappeared on December 5, 1945, over the Bermuda Triangle while on a training mission. Fourteen airmen were lost in the incident. There is a part of the story that a lot of people...

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Four Things We Shouldn’t Say

Throughout my years of serving as a safety professional, I have seen safety grow from simply telling people to “follow the rules” to engaging people in building safety cultures. I’ve also seen employees and managers shift their thinking about safety as they engage in it for all the right reasons – so we can all go home tonight. It’s refreshing! Yet when an accident does happen, as much as we work to prevent it, I’ve also heard some questions and statements that make me wonder if we have truly advanced safety. I admit, those questions and statements might have been “the way we said it” in the...

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Construction Workers are Occupational Athletes

Why do professional athletes compete? Well, the obvious answer is that they compete to both win and earn a living. But athletes aren’t just found in the professional sports world. The construction industry has its own athletes; they’re known as “working athletes” or “occupational athletes,” people who physically move around to work and earn a living. Although a successful day for a construction worker may not be an actual win that gets recorded like a professional athlete’s does, it is a win nonetheless. A successful day for an occupational athlete who wants to win on the job includes a couple...

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If You Could Talk to Your Younger Self, What Would You Say?

“The Shawshank Redemption” is one of my favorite movies. In one scene, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, is sitting in front of the parole board. He is pouring his heart out to the members of the board when they ask him, “Do you feel rehabilitated?” Red tells them, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid … I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are.” I, too, wish I could go back and talk to my younger self about one thing in particular – it sure would be saving me some heartache today. I started working for an...

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St. Thomas Storm Restoration: Lessons Learned

Late last year, two powerful hurricanes – Irma and Maria – carved their way across the Virgin Islands and nearby Puerto Rico before turning north. Both hurricanes left behind substantial damage to the region, including debris, flooding, communication outages, power outages, and water and food shortages. As the first deployed line crews to arrive in the region, Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) linemen were tasked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair roughly 25 miles of 34.5-kV transmission lines on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the electric utility business,...

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Coaching the Crew Chief in Safety

Walk onto any job site and you will find that one person has been designated to be in charge. Although this person may have a different title from site to site – such as crew lead, foreman or crew chief – they are responsible for the work being done by the crew that day. What do you think is the crew chief’s most important action in their role? In Minnesota, we are making an effort to send one clear message – that the crew chief’s most important job is to prevent injuries. It is not a new message, but it is critical that it has been clearly communicated to the crew chief at every worksite. And...

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Into the Woods

Having worked in the safety field for more years than I care to discuss publicly, I am frequently reminded of the continual need to adapt existing safety policies and procedures to ever-changing work environments. The safety field provides ongoing opportunities to learn and improve our work practices, with the important goal of making job sites safer for everyone. Prior to my current role within the safety industry, my boots-on-the-ground field time occurred either within four walls or during the construction of those four walls. Delving into the utility industry and experiencing the sheer isolation...

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Overcoming the Effects of Short-Service Employees

“Are you calling his family, or do you want me to?” the superintendent asked. The project safety manager replied, “I’ll call his emergency contact after I find out where the ambulance is heading. Can you call the division manager and give her an update?” The superintendent shook his head as he surveyed the scene and said, “I’ll have to keep it short and simple for now, but tomorrow morning we’re going to need to be able to explain to everyone how a 19-year-old kid with three months of experience was able to jump into that piece of equipment and put it into an overhead power line.” Although...

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Going Into Battle

In August 2009, I was in Okinawa, Japan, preparing to depart with my unit to Afghanistan. As we were getting in our last hugs and kisses from family members, we were summoned to meet up to receive some news from our commander. Once our families were out of earshot, we were told that one of our Marines who had arrived in Afghanistan a couple weeks prior had been killed. Captain Matthew Freeman, a Marine helicopter pilot who volunteered to leave the relative safety of the flying community to advise Afghan National Army soldiers as an embedded trainer, had been shot during a firefight with the...

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Near-Miss and Good-Catch Reporting

An employee using a GFCI-protected extension cord had to push the reset several times to get the cord to work. The cord reset finally held, and he finished his task and returned the cord to the tool room. A few days later, another employee – using the same GFCI-protected cord – noticed the GFCI breaker on the cord was warm. He also had trouble keeping the cord from tripping when he plugged it in. The cord reset finally held, and the employee finished his task and returned the cord to the tool room. Within days, a third employee selected that same defective cord from the tool room. When he plugged...

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Managing Stress in the Workplace

I’ve worked in the electrical industry for more than 40 years, and the work has pretty much stayed the same. We set poles and towers, string conductor, build stations, dig trenches and install conductor in the ground the same way we did years ago, aside from some new tools and technology that have been introduced. The weather conditions we faced back then are pretty much the same, although maybe it’s a little warmer now. And we still get called out to work at all hours of the day and night, weekends and holidays included. Families are still intact and function the same way they always have....

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3 Safety Considerations for Cold Weather Work

Cold weather safety is a topic that should be discussed at length among utility workers who perform any outdoor job functions. That’s because, as with heat stress, cold stress can be a fatal threat. When you’re exposed to freezing temperatures for long periods of time, you run the risk of losing a dangerous amount of body heat, which, if not corrected immediately, could lead to frostbite, hypothermia and even death. There are a number of things to think about prior to and when working in the cold, and while we won’t talk about all of those things in this month’s Tailgate Topic, we’ll cover three...

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Defensive Driving: How’s That Working for You?

How is your company’s driving safety performance? If you are like most, you’ve conducted defensive driving safety training companywide, invested large sums of money into these driver training concepts, hired this or that company to improve your employees’ driving safety awareness, and still there have been collisions, near misses and customer complaints about driver behaviors. Most likely, you’ve implemented safe driving rules, using programs like the Smith driving system or others, stressed maintaining safe distances and probably have an organizational policy of not using cellphones while driving,...

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A Can of Soup: What We Say and How We Say It

If you look closely at the label on a can of soup, you likely will notice the ingredients section, which lists the soup’s contents from those with the greatest volume or weight down to the ingredient with the lowest volume or weight. This information is good to know before you decide whether to buy the can of soup.   If you ask senior executives of a utility or contractor what their company goals or ideal “top ingredients” are, you often will receive responses such as “outstanding customer service,” “maximum return on investment” or “the best value for our customers.” And if you ask that...

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Do More Rules Make Us Safer?

Let’s begin this month’s Tailgate with a short quiz. Ask your employees these two questions: When is the last time you read the company’s safety rule book? If you had to take a test on its contents, would you pass? It’s possible some of our employees are not as well-versed in the company’s safety rules as we would like because the rule book may be long and cover everything from office safety to working on overhead lines. Yet we base many of our safe work practices on our employees truly understanding these rules. It’s also possible that we have fooled ourselves into thinking our employees...

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Safety Concerns When Working In and Around Manholes and Vaults

Some utilities – including electric, cable and communications providers – have had both underground and overhead applications for many years. However, more and more of these utilities now are either primarily installing their services underground or relocating overhead services underground, for a variety of reasons. These include reliability and protection from weather conditions, as well as minimizing exposure to equipment, vehicular traffic and farming operations. In addition to these safety concerns, utilities are installing services underground due to customer requests to improve the general...

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The Power of a Tool and Equipment Inspection System

It’s a hot, muggy day in Missouri. A crew is preparing forms for a foundation that will be poured later, when it cools down a bit. Two employees are pounding in steel support stakes for the forms. They’ve used theses stakes forever, and the heads of the stakes have always looked like mushrooms due to their frequent contact with a 10-pound sledge. Santiago is on the sledgehammer, using all the force he can muster to drive the stakes deep into the earth. Jeff, waiting to hold the next support stake, momentarily removes his safety glasses to wipe the sweat from his brow. Santiago takes one last...

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Don’t Blame People for Human Error

The first lineman scaled the pole and tried to perform the task on the conductor. After a minute or so, the supervisor yelled, “You’re doing that wrong!,” told the lineman he was incompetent and sent a second lineman up the pole in his place. The second lineman started the task only to hear, “That’s not how it’s done!” before returning to the ground. A third lineman took a deep breath before he climbed. He looked over the job and started to work. Soon the supervisor bellowed, “What’s wrong with you? That won’t work!” This scenario illustrates the way the utility construction industry traditionally...

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The Benefits of Near-Miss Reporting

As members of the utility construction industry, we must spend ample time and effort working to prevent incidents and injuries from occurring through the use of proactive techniques and leading indicators. The goals for everyone are simple: zero injuries, zero accidents, zero claims. These goals are absolutely achievable, but they may be construed as unrealistic to the common craftsman. We have heard from this demographic that accidents are not always avoidable due to any number of factors, including scheduling pressures, financing, transient workforces, vendors and deliveries. In part, this...

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Learning from Potential Serious Injuries and Fatalities

Over the past century, there have been many changes in how companies manage their safety systems. Although fatalities were common and accepted as part of doing business in the 1920s, great strides were made throughout the following decades to reduce or eliminate unsafe conditions. Over time, safety measures continued to increase among various sectors, which led to a decline in serious injuries and fatalities. In the nearly five decades since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law, workplace deaths and reported occupational injuries have dropped by more than 60 percent, according...

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What is Your Why?

Do you have family members who rely on you? Would you like to provide a better life for your children than the one you’ve had? Is there a purchase you’d like to make with your hard-earned paycheck? Do you want to reward your hours of dedication to the company by taking a trip that’s long been on your bucket list? No matter the length of time you’ve been employed in the utility industry, I challenge you to answer the question, “What is your why?” What is it that motivates you to come to work each day and focus 100 percent of your energy on doing your job well and safely? It’s important to keep...

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Safety vs. Productivity

At a recent Line/EMT monthly safety meeting, co-workers and I discussed three separate incidents with a common theme. Incident 1A 12-kV primary separated into two sections and came down hot when a falling tree took it out. In a possible case of “rush to restore” mentality, an after-action assessment revealed that proper safe grounding procedures, as well as switching procedures, were not followed by our employees during the restoration process. Incident 2One of our meter readers slipped and fell on the steps of a backyard deck after he got his read. This resulted in injury to the employee’s...

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Saving L.I.V.E.S. is Our Daily Responsibility

Learning to see our jobs in the utility industry through the lens of safety is probably the most important task we can accomplish. Our employers, the customers we serve, our co-workers and – most of all – our families benefit when we safely arrive at and return home from our jobs each day. However, safely coming and going is not always easy; there are many hazards and distractions in the utility work environment that can and do make our work difficult. We respond to different surroundings each day, which requires each worker to be aware of his or her environment and abide by the proper rules...

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Are You an Active Communicator?

Famed playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that the “single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” This quote is no better demonstrated than in the classic telephone game I played in my eighth-grade civics class. The teacher would deliver a message in the back of the room to a student, and each student would whisper the message to the next student. The last student to receive the message would stand and deliver the message as he or she heard it. Invariably, the message that last student received would be quite different from the original. I thoroughly...

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Stepping Up to Safety

Every one of us has the ability to recognize hazards on our job sites. And in the moments when we notice those hazards, we must be our brothers’ keepers. Hesitating to say something could cost someone his or her life. By speaking up when you see something potentially dangerous, you’ll never live the nightmare of knowing you had the power to help change the outcome but failed to do so. Of course, the notion of being your brother’s keeper is nothing new. For many years we have heard safety professionals and management tell us to watch out for our brothers and sisters. In fact, it has been...

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The Importance of Situational Awareness in the Utility Industry

Years ago I read an account of an injury that took place on a U.S. Army base in California. I’m not sure if this account is truth or fiction, but it serves to illustrate a point about the importance of thinking a plan all the way through prior to implementing it. A private was assigned the job of removing broken Spanish tiles from a rooftop after a large tree fell on the building. He was ordered not to throw the tiles off the roof. The private drove a jeep to the site and assessed his work. There were lots of broken tiles, and it would take many trips up and down a ladder using the canvas he...

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The JSA: A Process, Not a Form

What is safety? How is it achieved? The bottom line is that competent, prepared employees rarely get hurt. That sounds pretty simple, but how often do we assume workers are competent and prepared only to learn – typically post-incident – that’s not the case? The job safety analysis (JSA) is the most basic tool to combat this issue. Unfortunately, the JSA can sometimes be viewed by the job foreman as one pebble in the mountain of daily paperwork to be filled out. To employees, it may be seen as just one more form to sign. On a job that’s behind schedule, it can be blamed for holding up the start...

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A Mother on the Job

We’ve all watched young mothers care for a newborn child. As the child learns to crawl, mom is meticulous in placing household cleaners out of reach. She ensures that dad installs locks on all drawers that have knives or sharp objects, and together they remove all objects that could fall on their little explorer if he should jiggle a table. The vigilance is endless. As the child grows older, mom and dad teach him to ride a bike, but always with a helmet, and always with the proper high-visibility clothing. They are constantly teaching the child to obey rules that will keep him safe. Soon the...

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Hazard Awareness for Substation Workers

When performing work at an electrical substation, the obvious hazard – electricity – must be identified and addressed. But electricity is just one of a number of hazards potentially present in this working environment that may also serve as an employee reporting center, control station or storage area. Other possible hazards include thermal stress; noise; slip, trip and fall hazards; animal waste; and nonionizing radiation. And around the country, especially in larger cities, substations may be enclosed or have large supervisory buildings, some of which were constructed in the early 20th century....

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Recognizing Summit Fever in the Utility Industry

“Summit fever” is a mountaineering term that describes the drive or compulsion of a climber to reach the summit of a mountain no matter what the cost. The climber has invested time, energy and resources into their goal, and by the time they have the summit of the mountain in their sight, they are so close to accomplishing the feat that they allow their judgment to be impaired. They make choices toward the top of the mountain that they almost certainly would not have made earlier in their journey. There are two factors that contribute to this impaired judgment: physical environment and psychological...

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Effective Tick-Repellent Strategies for Field Workers

If you read any job description for a lineworker, you are sure to see a reference to working outdoors in a variety of weather conditions. This is one of a number of requirements that draw people to the profession; most lineworkers enjoy spending time outside. And from time to time, every lineworker will have to work in tall grass or brush. One of the risks of working in grass or brush is, of course, exposure to ticks and the diseases they can transmit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dvbd/), tick-borne diseases – such as Rocky Mountain spotted...

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10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

Several years ago, when I was serving as chief investigator for the NIOSH-funded Missouri Occupational Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program, I was called to a scene where a 39-year-old journeyman lineman had been electrocuted while working for an electrical contractor. At the time of the incident, the lineman, his co-worker and the foreman had been working at an electrical substation. The city that owned the substation was in the process of switching their electrical service from a three-phase 4-kV system to a 12-kV system. There were several feeders on the structure, but only...

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Three-Way Communication for Utility Workers

The purpose of effective communication is to ensure understanding between two or more people. It is an important defense in the prevention of errors that can result in incidents. While the effects of mishaps due to ineffective communication will differ, the unfortunate organization can find itself facing legal, regulatory and financial consequences, and its people dealing with a significant emotional event as a result of a lost teammate. Many industries have established protocols for effective communication. For example, in the medical field, 66 percent of all sentinel events reported from 1995...

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Adding Value to Your Organization’s Safety Culture

Every person who reads this Tailgate Topic might have a slightly different idea of what drives a strong safety culture. But there is one thing every reader can likely agree upon: that all of a company’s employees have value and make valuable contributions to the organization, helping to create and maintain its safety culture. Valuable contributions come in an infinite number of forms. In the utility industry, they go well beyond employees simply getting the work done accurately and on time. One example of a valuable contribution is a new written work procedure that helps to keep crews safer,...

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Properly Securing Vehicle Cargo is Serious Business

Utility workers are required to receive electrical safety training on a variety of topics, including grounding, switching and tagging, de-energizing, live-line work, pole-top rescue and job briefings. Unfortunately, there are some training topics – like how to properly secure loads on vehicles – that are not always given the attention they deserve. For instance, when I first passed my commercial driver’s license test 25 years ago, I had to undergo training on proper inspection of commercial vehicles, physical limitations, record keeping and proper driving techniques. Part of the training discussion...

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Do Your Employees Know When It’s Time to Stop?

Have you ever reflected on the moment when an accident or injury occurred? During that period of reflection, did you think about the decisions you made that may have played a part in the incident? A common thread I have discovered among many incidents is that we sometimes make the choice to proceed with a certain step in a process or activity despite the fact that we are unsure of exactly how to safely and correctly do so. In retrospect, we know the step is one that we obviously should not have taken. It’s that simple. Instead of moving forward, we should have stopped and asked, am I really...

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Train the Trainer 101: Safety Cops and the Continuum of Safety

Words have power. We confirm that every day when we examine why people do what they do. Communication is often the root cause of accidents, particularly how the receiver interprets what he or she hears. That communication is not always something said in the moments before an incident; it can occur days, weeks or months in advance. I have discussed this issue with behaviorists on a number of occasions, and I am convinced that some of the words I – and many others – have repeatedly heard over the years have served to limit our success in the quest for a strong, positive safety culture. The real...

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Preventing Worker Injury and Damage to Vehicle and Equipment Doors in High Wind Conditions

It will soon be that time of year when wind speeds increase all across the U.S. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wind speeds typically increase in January, peak throughout March and April, and decrease during the summer months. The increase in wind speeds creates high wind conditions that, if not properly planned for, can potentially result in worker injury and equipment damage on job sites. Defining High Wind ConditionsHigh wind conditions are often a result of straight-line winds and are different from high winds caused by a tornado. Straight-line winds can...

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The 911 Dilemma

It’s happened to most of us. We’re at a job site and someone gets hurt. We’re not sure how badly the employee is hurt or if we should call 911. Sometimes when an incident occurs, we think it might be better to take the injured employee to a care facility rather than call 911 for emergency assistance. If you ever find yourself in this predicament, there are two simple guidelines to help you decide what to do. First and foremost, remember to do no further harm. If there is any chance that you could cause the employee additional injury by taking him or her to get medical care, call 911 for professional...

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Spotters: A Critical Element of Site Safety

Many OSHA regulations call for someone on the job site to make sure that people, equipment and the site don’t come together in the wrong way. Generally known as a “spotter,” this person provides guidance so people don’t get hurt and things don’t get damaged. However, the role rarely gets the respect or attention it deserves. Most people think that being a spotter is an easy job that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower, so the task is often handed to the “low man” on the site, or assigned to someone who’s not particularly busy that day. Either way, the person performing the role gets little –...

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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...

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The Safety Coaching Observation Process

In the 1980s, my main job responsibility was “gin-setting” power poles in backyards and rights-of-way in Maryland. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a gin pole is a supported pole that serves as a lifting device; it has a pulley or block and tackle on its upper end to lift loads. Without the luxury of a boom truck, pole-setting was one of the most demanding activities in line work. Over my 37 years of setting poles, some days were more memorable than others. On one occasion, a pole had to be set behind a row house. Access to the work site was so limited that the only solution was to maneuver...

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Human Performance and a Rat Trap

The rat trap is a fantastic combination of simplicity and efficiency. There isn’t much to it – just a wood pallet, a coiled spring, a latch and a bar – but the results are impressive. The rat trap we know today was originally patented in 1897 and has remained largely unchanged for more than a century for one reason: it works. However, the device comes with its own set of hazards for humans. The kinetic energy stored in the coiled spring is indiscriminate and comes at you in fewer than 0.004 seconds. Despite this fact, it’s easy to become complacent when handling a rat trap. The original patent...

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Distribution Switching Safety

Lineworkers face no shortage of hazards during the course of a day, but switching is among those that give me the most pause. Opening and closing circuits, tying circuits together, breaking loads, transferring loads, tying or breaking substations – if any of these procedures go wrong, the results can be catastrophic. And while it always pays to heighten your awareness while switching, it is especially important to do so during the summer. Air conditioners, pool pumps, fans and other appliances add load in hot weather that can make any switching operation more precarious. In addition, the heat...

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The Most Important Tool on the Job Site

Utility workers should be familiar with OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(c) and 1926.952, which require a job briefing before work begins. OSHA expects each briefing to include a discussion of hazards, work procedures, any special precautions, controls for energy sources and personal protective equipment needed for safe work. Performing such briefings provides basic regulatory compliance, but taking an additional step significantly improves worker safety. Prudent electric power transmission and distribution providers and contractors require crews on their job sites to perform a task hazard analysis (THA)...

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Thirty Years of Personal Perspective

Not long ago I ran into an old acquaintance I had not spoken to in more than 25 years. We shook hands and wondered aloud at where the last couple decades had gone. As we were reminiscing, my friend eventually asked what I do for a living. I told him that I’m currently a division maintenance manager for Western Area Power Administration. I also mentioned that, before becoming a manager, I had spent a good portion of my career as an IBEW electric utility distribution and transmission journeyman lineman and foreman. “Wow,” my friend commented. “Being a lineman must have been really dangerous.” “No,...

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The Power of Human Intuition

Some time ago, two of my students and I observed as two operators replaced fuses on a 6.9-kV electrical bus. Both operators were new to this task that had only recently been turned over to them from their company’s electrical department. When my students and I approached the bus from the front side, I noticed that it was energized. We started our observation in a bus cubicle where the breaker was racked out and de-energized. The operators replaced fuses in a compartment above the breaker cubicle without physically opening the breaker cubicle door, only the compartment above. This was accomplished...

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Overhead Utility Hazards: Look Up and Live

“Look Up and Live” is a catchphrase used by a utility provider that I know of to educate the public about how to identify overhead utility hazards. However, the phrase isn’t just useful for members of the public. Given the number of overhead incidents that have occurred on utility-related jobs, “Look Up and Live” is a phrase that should be used by all utility companies and workers in order to encourage awareness of overhead hazards. In this month’s Tailgate, I will walk you through an overhead incident that recently occurred and discuss what can be done to avoid similar incidents in the future. The...

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Safe By a Nose

Years ago I went to a horse-racing track with my co-worker Larry. Horse racing is his passion, so he spent hours choosing which horses he would wager on in the races that were on the slate that day. Larry taught me a lot about how the races work. In a nutshell, the track establishes the line on each horse in a race by reviewing lineage and the relationship the horse has with its assigned jockey. They calculate how well each horse runs on a particular type of track, such as turf or dirt. They also consider track conditions. Does the horse run best in wet or dry conditions? Is the horse better...

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Human Performance Tools: Important or Critical?

The critical steps of a work task are just that – critical. They are distinct from important steps and can cause immediate injury if not properly executed. If you research the definition of a critical step in relation to human performance, you will find that it is a human action that will trigger immediate, irreversible, and intolerable harm to a person or asset if that action or a preceding action is improperly performed. In other words, it’s basically the point of no return once the action is performed. On the other hand, many actions that you may need to take leading up to a critical step...

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Safety and Common Sense

Almost everyone in the world has heard the term “common sense.” Merriam-Webster (www.m-w.com) offers two definitions of the term:1. Sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.2. The ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions. Common sense, as it applies to workplace safety, is something that a lot of people take for granted. According to www.workplacesafetyexperts.com, “Common sense is something that everyone has but not everyone uses. There are thousands of accidents in the workplace that could have been prevented if the...

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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...

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The Perils of Distracted Driving

Numerous studies have shown that cellphone use while driving distracts drivers and reduces their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. While there are other driving distractions such as screaming children, flashing billboards and eating, the focus of this Tailgate Topic is distracted driving due to cellphone use. A Few FactsTo begin, let’s review some facts about using a cellphone while driving. Unless otherwise noted, all of the following information is provided by the National Safety Council. StatisticsAccording to a survey conducted in 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,...

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PPE: Much More Than Basic or General Protection

A groundman was working his third day on the job for a utility construction crew that was building a new three-phase circuit. His task that day was pulling rope by hand between the poles in order to pull in the conductors. While walking between two poles, he realized that he’d forgotten to return a pair of pliers to the lineman who owned them. The groundman pulled the pliers out of his pocket, just to make sure he still had them, and proceeded to drop the pliers on the ground. Because he was standing in a field with hay that stood nearly waist high, the groundman didn’t see the green metal fence...

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Accident Analysis Using the Multi-Employer Citation Policy

OSHA regulations are promulgated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, as amended. In accordance with the regulations, employers are obligated to provide both safe work and safe workplaces. They must adhere to requirements for training, supervision, discipline, retraining, personnel protection, job planning and job control. Section 5 of the OSH Act – also known as the General Duty Clause – requires both employers and employees to do their part to adhere to OSHA regulations. Although present statutes do not allow OSHA to fine employees who violate regulations, employees are required...

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