Incident Prevention Magazine

David Spooner

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 by going through the bins on the trucks. If he found a chainsaw or saw blade with no cover, he would toss it on the ground and continue his inspection. If tools were worn out or in need of repair? That was a big problem – he would remove them from the truck and toss those on the ground, too. Hooks with no gaff guards? You knew you were dead meat. After Big Jim was done with the bin inspection, he would interrogate us about why there were no blade or gaff guards, and why faulty tools were still on the truck.

Sometimes Big Jim would watch the crew and ask us questions: Was the line grounded properly? Were we using the handline instead of going up and down to get materials? “No seesawing that bucket, guys” was one of his favorite things to say.

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David Spooner

How Hawaii Electric Light Co. Protected Employees During a Lava Flow


On May 3, 2018, Hawaii Electric Light Co., the company I work for, discovered we had a problem. Lava flows were popping up in the middle of a residential neighborhood in our service territory. This wasn’t the first time Hawaii Electric Light had experienced a volcanic eruption, but it was the first time one had begun in the middle of a densely populated area. We wondered, how would we keep our employees safe during this event? How would we keep the lights on in the affected area? These were the questions that had to be answered very quickly given the circumstances.

Hawaii Electric Light is the electric utility that serves the island of Hawaii, the biggest of all the Hawaiian Islands. Of the five volcanoes on the island, the three that are considered active are Hualalai, which last erupted in 1801; Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984; and Kilauea, which has been continuously erupting since 1983 and was the volcano that erupted in May.

In the Hawaiian culture, Kilauea is the home to Madame Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. As the legend goes, from her home in Halema’uma’u Crater at the summit of Kilauea, Madame Pele determines when and where the lava flows. She is the goddess who shapes the sacred land. Hawaiians say that she has a reputation for being as fickle as she is fervent. She proved many times during the May 2018 eruption that she was indeed in charge.

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David Spooner

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 electric utility, SCE&G, in 1979, and I have pretty much been outside in the sun every day since. When I started at SCE&G, I worked on the coast near Charleston, South Carolina, where summers are hot and humid, and the sun is direct. Many days after work, my clothes were soaked with sweat, all the way down to my underwear and socks. I even had to dry my boots out every now and then.

When I made lineman in the 1980s, many lineworkers wore long-sleeved shirts and extra-wide shades on their hard hats. They also used company-provided sunscreen. I thought the long sleeves were for protection from creosote on the poles, and the hard hat shades were to shade workers’ eyes. I even asked my foreman, an old-timer named Ronald, “Why do you wear long sleeves? Is it to keep the creosote off your arms?”

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