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Words of Wisdom from a Longtime Safety Man

I first got into the electric utility industry in 1965 when I was hired to work as a lineman’s helper. Lineman’s helpers were also called by another name: grunt. At that time, you were not considered a grown adult until you were 21 years of age. I was just 18 in 1965. I could not drink, I could not vote, and I could not be a lineman, but I could be a grunt. So, I grunted for a couple of years and then went into the U.S. Army for a tour. The job the military chose for me was light weapons infantryman, so I was essentially still a grunt.

When I finished my tour of duty, I went back to the power company I had started with; they gave me back my old job. I was finally 21 and able to begin my apprenticeship to become a lineman. I successfully completed that and afterward went on to work as a top lineman, troubleshooter and foreman.

At one point I was offered the job of safety man, so I tried that, too. I soon found out that it beat working for a living, so I have now been a safety man for almost 40 years. During this time, I have used a wide range of phrases to express my views. Some people started calling them RL-isms, and I want to share some of them with you today in hopes that they will make a difference in the safety of your crews and work sites.

1. You do not have the right to expect zero incidents. This statement normally gets some attention, so I generally follow it up with the second RL-ism I want to share, which you’ll find below.

2. You have the right to demand zero incidents. There are laws and regulations that ensure that right. Does your company have an effective stop-work policy?

3. We do not work in unsafe environments, but we do work in hazardous ones. However, we can make any environment unsafe when we do not mitigate our hazards.

4. No one plans to fail. However, we sometimes fail to plan. Have you experienced this? I suspect you may have, either directly or indirectly. The solution is to make sure you always devise a plan for the work, and then work your plan.

5. No one violates a life-threatening rule. You may have witnessed or experienced a serious incident where a rule was violated, but almost no one intentionally violates a life-threatening rule. Read RL-ism 6 for more.

6. Always follow The Rule of Should. When you think things like, “I should install more cover” or “I should test to see if voltage is present” or “I should install grounds,” that indicates you may be about to violate RL-ism 5 above. Instead of violating a life-threatening rule, pay attention to what your thoughts are trying to tell you. Then, install more cover, test to see if voltage is present or install those grounds for your safety.

7. The hazard assessment never ends. Has the job ever looked one way from the ground but different from high above the ground? If so, you had to perform a new hazard assessment. A new assessment is needed anytime something changes – and things are always changing.

8. Raise the level of awareness when the task is perceived as not likely to cause an accident. Remember the first time you performed hot work? You were being very careful and following all the rules. It may have been a simple streetlight circuit; today, that’s a job you could do in your sleep. But what if the hot work is a tight corner where there are several things that could go wrong and potentially injure you or the crew? Don’t let ego and complacency get the best of you. No matter how many times you’ve performed a particular task, you must always be careful and follow all the safety rules.

9. Never put anything under a load that you can’t afford to lose. You were given two hands as an infant. If you want to donate one to the company, that’s up to you. And if the foreman says it’s alright to suspend the load over his truck, that’s his decision. Just make sure both of you can afford to lose those items if something goes wrong on the job.

10. Violating a safety rule has never saved me much time, but it could have gotten me killed. Shortcuts often don’t save us a lot of time and can cost us dearly. Avoid them in favor of doing the job the right, safe way.

11. Be the reason everyone goes home safely. We are all known for something. It could be getting the job done quickly or correctly. Strive to be known as a reason crew members go home safely.

12. If you don’t intervene, you condone the action. This is the big one. It’s easy to be intimidated by someone with more experience than you. When I started in this profession, I worked for and with the Greatest Generation, the people who won World War II. Those were some hard men and rightfully so; you learned quickly grunting for them. But they also understood that I could see some things from a different perspective than they could, so I knew I had the obligation to make them aware of an unsafe condition or act.

About the Author: Rayford “RL” Grubbs, CUSP, is a health and safety manager for Think Power Solutions (

Rayford “RL” Grubbs, CUSP

About the Author: Rayford “RL” Grubbs, CUSP, is a safety and health manager for Think Power Solutions (