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Incident Prevention Magazine

Alden B. Davis

I’ve Got Your Back: Lessons in Socio-Biomimicry


Creating a safety mindset and a culture of caring can be facilitated using the process of socio-biomimicry. Simply put, biomimicry is a way to solve engineering and other problems by looking to nature. The term was popularized in 1997 by Janine M. Benyus in her book, “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.”

Nature can also be used to inspire a fresh look at social systems and how other life groups manage safety. I developed the Safe-ari process of socio-biomimicry to solve a client’s problem of fading situational awareness. Fourteen learning points on situational awareness were distilled from safari photos – some of which we’ll take a look at in this article – and woven into employee meetings. In one representative session with a group of 48 people, using pre- and post-surveys with the Likert scale (1-7 rating) plus comments, the following results were delivered:

  • 30% improvement in understanding what situational awareness means
  • 90% improvement in listing three situational awareness concepts
  • 40% improvement in helping other people think about their own awareness
  • 50% improvement in comfort of leading a toolbox talk on situational awareness
  • 90% improvement in generating a year’s worth of situational awareness topics
  • 50% improvement in listing three ways people are not situationally aware
  • 50% improvement in knowing how to incorporate situational awareness into daily actions

Results such as these suggest that socio-biomimicry is a successful methodology for raising safety consciousness and creating touch points for easy recall of safety messages.

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Dwight Miller

Lessons Learned from the Tenerife Airport Disaster


On March 27, 1977, two 747 passenger jets crashed on a runway on the Spanish island of Tenerife, killing 583 people. It remains one of the worst disasters in aviation history.

Human performance has evolved as a valuable incident prevention strategy in the utility and contractor industry. If you have studied human performance and safety management, you will see how the right training could have prevented the Tenerife incident. The purpose of this article is to explain the details of the Tenerife airport disaster and then draw lessons that can help crews in the utility industry work even more safely.

Perhaps the first thing you should know is that Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten – who piloted the Dutch KLM 747 that was involved in the crash – had served as a role model for other airline pilots. He was considered the best of the best. Having moved up to top management at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, he was even the head of safety for the company. However, van Zanten had a problem: His revered skill and knowledge made him think he knew better, which ultimately was a major factor in the Tenerife crash.

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Patrick F. McAtarian

Safe Transportation of Leaking Transformers


“Back in the day, we put leaking pots in a trash bag, and we were good to go!”

For hundreds of Incident Prevention readers, that remark isn’t totally unheard of. And in reality, it’s not far off from what some do when leaking transformers are transported or stored prior to reclamation or disposal. However, that will not save a utility from the fines and reclamation actions it could face if transportation or environmental regulatory authorities get involved.

Utilities fall under numerous environmental regulations, including the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Since the 1970s, public demand for environmental safety also has led to numerous additional requirements. The problem is that the various agencies, with their overlapping environmental requirements, don’t specifically or clearly detail the issues that utilities face with aerial and padmount transformers and other line equipment that are insulated with a variety of fluids or oils. Individual states also may have regulations that exceed federal standards, potentially increasing utility exposures. What is clear is that if you dump oil, no matter what kind it is, you will face fines and reclamation costs far beyond what the cost of compliance would have been.

Ultimately, utilities must be concerned about the greatest exposure to environmental enforcement, and that is field-employed transformers and switchgear that contain chemicals. Transportation and storage of fluid-insulated apparatus are covered by numerous U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as well as standards from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. But even more important than regulations may be your customers’ impressions of your environmental stewardship. These days, the public has become more sensitive to environmental risk exposures. Oil dripping from trucks or apparatus impacts the public perception of a utility.

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Jace Kerby

Safety Success During an Insulating Boom Flashover


Salt River Project, or SRP, is a power utility located and operated in the greater Phoenix area. Created as part of the federal Reclamation Act of 1902, it was originally established to help secure a reliable water source to the desert valley. Today, SRP not only provides reliable water – it also supplies reliable power to over 1 million customers, operating and maintaining all of its own assets, including generation, transmission and distribution.

The utility has a successful 500-kV barehand/live-line program that dates back to the late 1970s. In the fall of 2018, SRP experienced a boom flashover event during preparation for 500-kV barehand work. The procedures the utility had developed over the history of its barehanding program, and the crew’s careful execution of those procedures, saw everyone return home unharmed on the day of the incident.

Safety procedures sometimes are developed following an injury or incident that may have occurred a long time ago. In our industry, we often adhere to procedures without having personally witnessed why they exist. The 2018 event is one case where we got to see up close and personal why SRP’s safety procedures are so valuable. We have a very tight-knit group where you don’t just know the crew members; you know their families, too. Our safety culture exists in service to a broader community.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

A Practical Review of the C2-2017 National Electrical Safety Code

In the June-July 2020 issue of Incident Prevention magazine, I made a mistake in the Q&A. I stated that there is no consensus on a particular procedure when, in fact, there is. It is new in the most recent edition of the National Electrical Safety Code, but I missed it when it was published in 2017. In light of my error, I decided I should take a closer look at the most recent revision of the standard and present my findings here for the benefit of iP’s readers.

The NESC is one of the consensus standards that I regularly recommend as an important resource – every safety professional should have a copy of it in their library. Here’s some important information about the use of consensus standards: First, the standards are more procedural than the OSHA performance language. “Performance language” means that a rule is written in a format that tells the reader what must be accomplished. Procedural language, on the other hand, tells the reader how to accomplish something. Second, OSHA classifies consensus standards into two categories, adopted and referenced. Consensus standards that are adopted are incorporated into the OSHA standards by references listed in 29 CFR 1926.6 for construction and 1910.6 for general industry. Referenced standards are adopted into the OSHA rules with the force of law and can be cited in compliance actions against employers. Consensus standards that are referenced are helpful to the employer, as OSHA puts it in the introduction to Appendix G of 1910.269. OSHA defines “recognized” consensus standards as “helpful in understanding and complying with the requirements contained in § 1910.269. The national consensus standards referenced in this appendix contain detailed specifications that employers may follow in complying with the more performance-based requirements of § 1910.269.” You will find the same referenced standards in Appendix G to the 1926 Subpart V construction standards.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Is it Maintenance or Construction?

Is it maintenance or construction? That’s a question that was asked regularly by industry workers for many years. These days, we can thank David Wallis and the committee members who diligently worked on the OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V final rule published in 2014 for clearing things up.

To better understand the value of the final rule, let’s review some brief history of the two standards. In 1972, the construction standard for building transmission and distribution systems was completed. Did you notice there was no mention of generation in that standard? We will address that shortly. Nearly 20 years later, around 1992, the 1910.269 electric power generation, transmission and distribution standard was completed and published in the Code of Federal Regulations. That was a significant event since it had taken two decades of research by OSHA construction committees and an unknown number of stakeholder meetings in which utility end users, contractors, cooperatives, municipals and investor-owned utilities expressed their concerns.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

August-September 2020 Q&A

Q: I read what was written about an air gap for worker protection in the June-July 2020 issue of Incident Prevention magazine, but one of our engineers who sits on a National Electrical Safety Code advisory committee brought something to my attention. NESC C2-2017 444.2 states,  “Air gaps created (e.g., cut or open jumpers) for de-energizing equipment or lines for the purpose of protecting employees shall be tagged and meet minimum clearances as specified in Table 444-1 or separated by a properly rated insulator.” What are your thoughts on this matter?

A: Thanks for your question. Our thought is that your colleague is right regarding the table and we missed it.

To remind iP’s readers, in the June-July 2020 Q&A, we addressed what constitutes an air gap and stated that some utilities build their gap rules around minimum approach distance. We pointed out that MAD is a combination of minimum air insulation distance (MAID) and unexpected movement, which is 24 inches for distribution. We gave the example of a dropout switch that has an 8- or 10-inch-plus gap being acceptable where the MAID in a 15-kV distribution exposure is fewer than 2 inches for phase to ground. We could have worded it better, so we hope we didn’t give anyone the idea that MAID is all that’s necessary. In any case, we don’t want anyone to be misled by what we publish. 

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Decision Making: Make Balanced Decisions and Avoid Biases

Do good decisions exist? Think about that question for a moment and allow me to explain the intent and purpose of this article. In these pages, I will take the position that good decisions do exist, but people define “good” differently, and that definition changes based on circumstances. That has huge implications for leadership and safety.

Take a look at the following questions. What decisions would you make? I can guarantee that some of you have disagreed with family members or friends about these very same topics. When it comes to certain decisions, we have strong opinions; with others, we simply don’t care.

  • Should you rinse off the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher?
  • You are traveling to a destination that is a seven-hour drive from your house. Do you make the drive or fly there instead? If you decide to fly, do you check bags or carry everything with you onto the plane? How early should you get to the airport?
  • It’s time for vacation. Beach or mountains? Do you want to relax or head for the thrill rides? Should you rent a hotel room or a house?
  • You are ready to eat dinner. Should it be a hamburger or a salad? Healthy or not? Delivery or carryout?
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