Look around your job site. There are hazards including suspended loads, moving equipment, heat, electricity, insects, falling objects, poison oak and traffic. Assuming you work for a company with an effective safety program, they have trained you in hazard identification and mitigation. Your mitigation plan to control some hazards includes PPE. You inspect it, store it properly and wear it as directed. In short, you protect it so it can protect you. You are covered in PPE from head to toe and ready to go to work. Or are you? Have you forgotten the most important PPE you will ever use – a mirror?
You have probably never seen a mirror included with your PPE on a job hazard analysis or pre-job briefing form and probably are not trained in mirror use, so let’s examine why a mirror is an essential component of your PPE along with how and when it should be utilized.
Mirrors are an important component of PPE because you can be the biggest hazard on your job site and a mirror is your only protection. To utilize a mirror properly, position yourself directly in front of it and think about the following.
Fit for Duty
What is my physical fitness level? I should probably stretch before doing strenuous work. Did I sleep well? When was my last meal? It’s hot; am I drinking enough water? Should I tell my supervisor about this prescription medication I am taking?
What’s happening in my personal life? Am I focused on the task at hand? I’m leaving for vacation as soon as we get done today. Better hurry.
What are we doing today? Am I trained for this? Do I understand my role? What questions do I need clarified before we start work?
Have I performed this task so many times that I take it for granted? What are the risks versus rewards of me taking a shortcut? Am I scared to speak up if something doesn’t seem right or if I don’t understand my task? Did I just go through the motions on that pre-job briefing or does my crew understand what we are doing?
I’m tough. I don’t need help picking this up. Yes, it’s hot, but I’m not drinking water. Sissies get sick. I don’t like my foreman – I’ll show him. I’ve been doing this longer than he’s been alive. No way is he telling me I can’t use my pocketknife to skin this wire. I’m so good at this task I don’t need PPE.
Mirrors and Hazard Identification
You should use a mirror before you do anything else. Typically, the first thing a utility worker does each day is participate in a pre-job briefing. Among other things, these briefings are conducted to identify hazards. Think about your role in hazard identification and why using a mirror is important in your perception of hazards. You perceive hazards differently as you process them through internal filters based on factors such as experience and attitude. If you’ve ever thought, “I’ve done this 1,000 times – there is no way I’m getting hurt,” then you should have used a mirror.
As is the case with any PPE, a mirror has its limitations. No matter how self-aware you become, you are still subject to distractions and will perceive hazards based on internal filters. Work as a group to identify and mitigate hazards, utilize a qualified observer during critical tasks and communicate with echo protocol for mutual understanding.
You won’t have to look far on the bulletin board or in your safety manual to find something printed that says you are responsible for your own safety. In the General Duty Clause, OSHA even has a rule requiring you to work safely.
That all sounds really good until you hurt your back helping your sister move over the weekend and now it’s Monday morning. You can’t afford to miss work and you are tough. There is no chance you’ll ask your foreman to take it easy on you today. Use your mirror and ask yourself this practical question: Would my company rather lose a little production from me today or have a workers’ compensation claim?
In conclusion, are you a risk to yourself and your crew? Take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and eliminate yourself as a hazard.
About the Author: David McPeak, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP, director of career development at Pike Enterprises, has years of experience in electrical utility safety. He holds multiple certifications and was recognized in 2010 by the National Safety Council as a Rising Star of Safety. McPeak has also been recognized by the North Carolina Department of Labor for outstanding contributions to apprenticeship. In addition to managing the StaySafe program, Pike’s safety and health management system, he represents Pike on Task Team One of the OSHA Electrical Transmission and Distribution Strategic Partnership.
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