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Train the Trainer 101: The Value of a Site-Specific Health and Safety Plan

If you follow OSHA’s guidelines, you train your workers to perform hazard analysis. You probably have a tailboard process as well, although your company might have a different name for it. Tailboards and crew hazard analysis are fundamental leading indicators of a good safety program. But hazard analysis and tailboards are only two elements of what really makes a difference in a safe approach to work. A health and safety site-specific plan (HASSSP) and the HASSSP process bring with them innumerable benefits – not just prevention of unwanted incidents.

When I was a contractor safety manager, I wrote a site-specific plan for every project. I started doing so about 15 years ago, after a series of preventable incidents and conditions that wouldn’t have occurred if I had provided prevention information to the supervisor and crew prior to the events. It occurred to me that for all the planning our company did, we missed some pretty big issues – issues that cost us pain and treasure.

A health and safety site-specific plan is not just a contractor tool. Many utility projects will benefit from a HASSSP since the level of detail for the plan itself is relative to the type and complexity of the work. Contractor HASSSPs typically are more detailed and developed if the local area is new to the company and particularly if the contractor is hiring new personnel for the duration of the project. The HASSSP is the product of prework research and analysis of the worksite and conditions that can or will affect crew performance or success.

In the Beginning
For the contractor, the site-specific plan begins with the invitation to bid. The writer of the site-specific plan examines the bid documents, identifies the geographical area and performs an analysis of resources. This early evaluation seeks to determine both for the estimators and the safety plan whether there are going to be any unusual requirements for project safety support. For instance, in many remote areas, there may not be specialist occupational medicine providers. That means drug tests could require hours in roundtrip travel that don’t add up to income or profitable project time. That cost still has to be accounted for, and those services still have to be provided. In my case, when they were reasonably available, I used both local occ-med specialist and walk-in clinics for first-aid duty. I learned a long time ago that medically delivered first aid is much more reliable than a crewmember’s paper towel and vinyl tape, and it prevents a simple wound from becoming a recordable infection. It’s well worth the cost. Preplanning also can mean taking time to make better arrangements. On several occasions, I was able to recruit a local family medical clinic with a visit and time spent with the managing partner. The clinic got a promise to get all of our first-aid business and got themselves qualified to handle our drug testing for the duration of the 18-month project.

Rescue is another important issue, especially in remote areas. The first page of my HASSSP has the rescue plan at the top of the page, which includes 911 or alternative instructions, and the addresses and phone numbers for the clinics and hospitals set up for the project. When we planned to have helicopters on-site, I included GPS information for hospital helipads so that we could use our helicopter for alternative transport to a hospital. At the back of the HASSSP, I include Google Maps’ aerial photos of the hospitals with clear indicators for the emergency entrances. The site-specific plan identifies how long responders will take to reach the project site. I once learned from a preplanning phone call that the local fire department/EMS did not have the motor equipment to reach our remote desert location. With that information, the level of preparation for first-aid training and supplies is established. If you are 40 minutes from rescue, your crews need to be trained and equipped to support a badly injured person for the time period between injury and arrival of rescue responders.

By the way, the most effective way to get that information is to go to the most remote area of your site and call 911 from there by cellphone. When the operator answers, explain that it is not an emergency and you are testing the emergency resources to develop an emergency response plan for your crews. I have done this hundreds of times and have always been warmly responded to and provided the information I need. There have been numerous occasions on which the 911 supervisor has provided the cellphone contact for the EMS chief. We then have an opportunity to explain the nature of our work and risks. We often find EMS personnel very cooperative and even willing to shift resources to provide better coverage for our higher-risk area during the working days. That call also will tell you if you have cellphone coverage. If you do not, you will know soon enough to get satellite phones on-site. These phones are not error-proof, and training also needs to be done to make their use effective. In addition, satellite phones require that you coordinate with local rescue for a direct-dial number since 911 by satellite has to be rerouted manually by land-based operators. When you are building lines that include new roads, this is the opportunity to provide information to local fire department and law enforcement personnel so that they are aware of access and the routes they can use in an emergency.

Work Methods and Procedures
Preplanning with construction managers allows time to develop a site-specific grounding plan, ensuring that the plan is properly designed and equipped to provide the best protection specific to the hazards and construction involved. I also typically include weights and estimated strain tables for the particular conductors and spans involved to help ensure effective rigging strategies. When you know how construction managers are planning to execute the project, you also can include procedural information that will be used in onboarding, such as how to handle retired porcelain and delaminating fiberglass insulating rods. I once failed to learn about the use of epoxy backfill that was going to be utilized. As a result, I didn’t provide training or disposable protective sleeves or leggings until after one of the helpers received chemical burns. And yes, there was MSDS information and instructions on the buckets of epoxy.

Geographical Issues
In many cases with contractors, your crews are not from the region where the work will take place and may not be aware of hazards posed by indigenous plants and wildlife. I’ve worked in every state in the U.S., but I am still surprised how limited some newer workers’ familiarization is with regional differences in flora, fauna and weather threats. Your site-specific plan identifies those hazardous conditions and provides information and training on identification and prevention. Poison oak, Africanized bees, mosquitoes bearing the Zika virus and buckets of rattlesnakes have their own issues that vary from region to region, but they are no deadlier than weather. Fast-moving tornadoes or sudden hail storms can do disastrous damage to crews who have never worked in Tornado Alley and have no clue about what to do if these hazardous conditions pop up. In the West and other regions of the country, rain inundation miles away creates flash floods and often traps people unaware of what locals recognize and avoid. These regional peculiarities can be identified and planned for in the site-specific plan.

Heavy Equipment
Risk analysis for equipment to be used will prevent safety-related incidents, and it also has the potential to prevent impact on the project budget due to unexpected losses and repairs. You may expect to get 160,000 miles out of that crew truck or 2,000 hours out of a digger derrick before major component replacement, but that’s not going to happen if a line crew drops it off a mountain. I once witnessed the remains of a digger derrick that was lost while being winched up a mountainside for a wilderness construction project. It was unoccupied when the slings attaching it to the D8 crawler dozer failed. At the bottom of the mountain, the winch hook was the only recognizable part. A few years later, I had flashbacks when I heard our construction manager negotiating with our right-of-way clearing manager for the loan of one of their D9s to haul equipment up a mountain. My interest was safety. But in the process of planning for safety, we gained a valuable lesson in equipment preservation. I got involved with preplanning for mobilization and learned how construction managers planned to perform the project. It was a new line. Right-of-way clearing was being done by another contractor. There were no roads, so access was the challenge. The terrain was very steep at a couple locations.

Prior to the start of the work, I conferred with fleet management. Tow rigging connections are an issue on most equipment. Digger derricks and bucket trucks sometimes come with bumper-mounted factory tow hooks. These bumper hooks are sufficient for getting equipment out of sand if it gets stuck, but they are not necessarily appropriate for a half-mile haul up newly cleared, soft terrain. Because safety personnel brought up the issues, fleet asked the truck manufacturer about getting design parameters for the bumper and frame to come up with a modification for towing.

Working with safety and operations, fleet then selected flatbed chassis derricks and buckets as the lightest for towing and rigged front hooks accordingly. They custom ordered four 60-foot-length 3/4-wire-rope slings for towing calculated at a minimum 3:1 ratio over the trucks’ weights. They also got details on the frame-mounted eyes on the back of the D9 that would be doing the haul up the hill. The last issue was a backup plan, which meant determining in advance what could be done to keep the truck from rolling backward down the hill if something went wrong. Trucks can’t be towed with the brakes on, and we didn’t want a driver in the cab. Fleet came up with a simple but ingenious rig that saved the day.

Training and Backup Plans Matter
As we learned, however, it turns out that the best procedures are only as good as the training that goes along with their implementation. In the scenario described above, somebody didn’t get the part of the plan about rigging to the eyes on the D9. A couple hauls, including the one that failed, were done from the winch cable on the back of the D9. That cable was 5/8-inch plow steel designed for hauling trees – and it had hauled many trees. The good news is, all the safety/fleet planning time was not wasted because the backup plan worked.

An 11-foot-long, 10-inch-by-10-inch square pine beam was rigged behind the rear wheels on each haul. The log was chained to the bed on both sides so that if the truck rolled backward, it would hit the beam and stop. It worked. The winch cable did fail, and the truck being hauled dropped backward against the log and stopped.

The catch-rig story here is not a recommendation for readers. This one worked, but it may not have been effective given a different dirt type or condition, a different wheel size or other variations. With a little imagination, workers might come up with a number of backup plans, such as using safety cables similar to boat trailer chains parallel to the strain rigging. The point here is if the crew had used 3/4 IWRC cable rigged to the eyes on the D9, the haul rigging wouldn’t have failed. That’s the point, and the lesson learned is two parts: Site-specific planning can prevent loss if not disasters, and training the site crew to the plan is just as important as the plan itself.

From that event on, I have always planned for site-specific equipment review as well as safety. It begins with the bid process and a site visit. A couple questions to the project managers reveal the work execution plan. If there are going to be unusual conditions, plan for them. Write a site-specific plan, and then train every crew member on the plan and the procedures to be employed. For example, anybody who has ever worked in the grassy plains of Texas knows you likely will need a fleet of dozers to get your buckets from pole to pole in that soft Texas dirt. If you don’t provide rigging points and a plan, you’ll get equipment back with bent pintle hooks and missing or bent bumpers, or, even worse, broken leaf springs or spring hangers.

Fleet Safety Planning Also Pays Dividends
There are other benefits of equipment plans. A site visit by a fleet professional can prevent overweight tickets and job delays. In another life-learning instance, during a site visit in the bid stage in the Midwest, estimators failed to notice local weight limits on roads to the right-of-way. The company I was working for got the job. On the third day of equipment mobilization, state police ticketed a lowboy for being overweight. The patrol hung around to make sure the trucks did not return to those roads. The project was shut down for several days while lighter trucks were delivered, and materials were broken down to meet the restrictions. The job had to absorb the cost for mobilizing the original trucks, the lost days and mobilizing the lighter trucks, as well as double material-handling costs. A fleet professional likely would have noted the access issues and prevented the loss.

Site-specific planning also can ensure fuel and maintenance access is appropriate for what you want for your equipment. Crews are going to get the work done no matter what. A job in Georgia went under on fines when the crews used ag-dyed fuel in bucket trucks because they couldn’t get bulk fuel on-site through an unreliable supplier picked by project managers. When the state caught them, they based the fines on fuel purchased and miles that could have been driven. The fines for the nine trucks found with ag-dyed fuel were higher than the profit estimate for the job. In Arizona, crews were stopped by the Department of Transportation when a trooper noticed a bucket truck filling up at an auto-fuel dispenser. That’s not allowed in Arizona and other states for tax-related reasons. This wasn’t news to the fleet manager when he got the call from the Arizona Fuel Tax Evasion Unit, but apparently the crew didn’t know the rules.

Estimators and planners are not the best at planning critical resources for equipment support. But everybody knows your phone number when pressure diggers are down in the middle of nowhere. If you identify resources and lead time for those resources prior to the start of work, you will prevent headaches when the inevitable hose break occurs.

Getting involved with estimating and planning is a good management tool. A little time and planning at the front end keeps you in the loop for what is coming up. It allows you to be sure the right equipment gets to the job, and preplanning prevents those days of firefighting to solve problems. And not only do planning and training help to prevent issues, but if issues do arise, planning ensures an effective response gets crews and jobs back online quickly.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

Worksite Safety, Train the Trainer 101

Jim Vaughn, CUSP

After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 24 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at