Incident Prevention Magazine

Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Overcoming Conflict on the Right-of-Way

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A news helicopter circled overhead as the two ambulances left the job site. The deputy sheriff looked at the superintendent and said, “Tell me again, how did this happen?” The superintendent removed his safety glasses with a sigh as he surveyed the devastation left behind by the 345-kV contact. “Well, we had to set up for work directly under these lines because some local environmentalists wanted the wildflowers protected,” he said. “So, we did what we were asked. If you notice over there, those flowers are still looking beautiful, but it seems that the now-deceased landowner still didn’t like us being here, so he ran onto the right-of-way and tried to climb up onto the boom truck to stop our work. This must have caught our groundhand off guard, because instead of just stopping the work and notifying his supervisor, he attempted to intercept the man. All this commotion distracted the operator, causing him to contact the line. Once that happened, 345 kilovolts of electricity killed the landowner instantly, and our ground worker was severely shocked by what we call step potential.”

Although the preceding paragraph is an extreme worst-case example of how right-of-way (ROW) distractions and conflicts can impact our job sites, it’s not unrealistic. In this article, we will look at how members of the public and our own workers can create distractions and conflicts that jeopardize our ability to do our jobs well, and we will also consider safe ways to handle these types of distractions and conflict.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Overcoming Slip, Trip and Fall Hazards on the ROW

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. It wasn’t too hot or too cold, and Jim, a new worker, was listening to the plan for the day with Jack and Mary as they walked on the right-of-way (ROW) to the drilling pad they would be working on. As they were walking, Jim stepped on a rock that caused his ankle to roll. Instinctively, he put his hand out to catch himself, but his arm didn’t quite make it to the right position before he hit the ground. Everyone heard a snap, and Jim felt the fracture in his left wrist. He knew that pain because he had sustained a similar injury a few years before, and he knew that it would affect his work for the next six to eight weeks. But what he didn’t know until he saw the doctor was that he also had torn two ligaments in his ankle. Regrettably, the surgery required to fix this mess wouldn’t go as well as planned, which would put Jim out of work for the next six months. In addition, this injury occurred in a non-employee-friendly workers’ compensation state, and Jim and his family would face severe financial issues as his take-home pay would be cut from $1,100 per week to exactly $442.28. The end. Not all fairy tales have a happy ending.

In real life, the contractor I work for – Supreme Industries – grew by 42 percent in 2017, which required us to hire many new workers. Surprisingly, of all the issues that could have arisen from this growth, it was slip, trip and fall (STF) injuries that popped up on our safety radar. Upon investigation, we found that approximately 70 percent of these injuries involved workers who had been with our company for less than six months and may not have been accustomed to working on a ROW. In response, we developed an STF training program and rolled it into our onboarding process, a move that – despite growing another 25 percent in 2018 on top of the 42 percent growth in 2017 – has reduced our STF injuries to zero. We at Supreme want to share with you some of our knowledge gained and lessons learned so you can help your workers do the job right and go home unharmed.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Overcoming the Effects of Short-Service Employees

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“Are you calling his family, or do you want me to?” the superintendent asked. The project safety manager replied, “I’ll call his emergency contact after I find out where the ambulance is heading. Can you call the division manager and give her an update?” The superintendent shook his head as he surveyed the scene and said, “I’ll have to keep it short and simple for now, but tomorrow morning we’re going to need to be able to explain to everyone how a 19-year-old kid with three months of experience was able to jump into that piece of equipment and put it into an overhead power line.”

Although this is a fictional conversation, it may hit close to home for numerous industry workers, especially if your company is adapting to rapid growth by hiring new workers, also known as short-service employees (SSEs).

In its August 2017 issue, Incident Prevention published an article I wrote titled “Overcoming the Effects of Rapid Growth” (see https://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/overcoming-the-effects-of-rapid-growth), which described how leaders can use operational analysis and powerful communication skills to overcome the effects of rapid company growth. In this article, I’m going to expand upon that topic by shifting the focus to overcoming the effects of rapid growth through SSE onboarding, field mentoring and coaching. That’s because if the Crucial Conversations skills I wrote about in the last article made an impact, and you now have hired the additional people you need to accomplish your company’s ever-growing mission, then it’s likely you are facing a different problem: How do I get these new people up to speed so they meet our quality and safety expectations?

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Overcoming the Effects of Rapid Growth

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Once upon a time, there was a construction company that did great work. The employees delivered their projects on time without change orders, and they completed them without harming people or the environment. All their happy clients gave them more and more work, which the company gladly accepted, believing that surely the fairy tale would continue. But then the company discovered that this rapid growth had spread them so thin that their production, safety and environmental quality had faded away. This moved them from best to worst in the eyes of their clients, and the company almost went bankrupt due to injuries, lawsuits and loss of contracts. The end.  

Not all stories have a happy ending. And many of you well know that the current project-load reality in the utility construction industry certainly isn’t a fairy tale. However, there still can be a positive outcome for your company – even in extreme growth cycles – if you and your leaders master the skills of operational assessment and communication.

Earlier this year I ran Supreme Industries’ numbers and found that our work hours were up 56 percent over the same period last year (January-May). I was shocked – not because of the rapid growth, but because I didn’t receive any warning signals from our safety scoreboard. Don’t get me wrong, I knew things were busy, but other than the fact that I was ordering a lot more health, safety and environmental (HSE) supplies than last year, I didn’t see the magnitude of our growth in my daily life. But why didn’t I?

Flashback three years: I’m sitting with Nate Boucher, Supreme Industries’ vice president of civil and drilling, and Gavin Boucher, vice president of clearing and operations, and Nate says, “Jesse, our field leadership wants more professional development. We’ve done ‘StrengthsFinder 2.0’ and ‘Emotional Intelligence,’ but what’s next? We believe our divisions are going to be growing for the foreseeable future. Gavin and I are taking care of equipment and infrastructure planning, but we want you to prepare our field leaders professionally for what’s coming.” After that conversation, I took some time to outline what we needed to do in terms of future professional development.

Getting back to the present day, I believe the conversation I had with Nate and Gavin three years ago plus the actions we took after the conversation was over are the reasons why I didn’t notice a rapid growth cycle on our safety scoreboard earlier this year.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Raising the Bar, Lowering the EMR

Raising the Bar, Lowering the EMR

Today, many contracting companies in the maintenance and construction industries are facing mounting pressure from utility owners to rethink their health, safety and environmental (HSE) cultures and work practices, which in turn can lower their common HSE indicators. Those companies that fail to meet client demands often find themselves excluded from bid lists while they search for a catalyst of cultural change. In this article, we will explore how Supreme Industries – a contracting company that specializes in right-of-way (ROW) clearing, environmental and sedimentation controls, access roads building, site development and ROW restoration – lowered its experience modification rate (EMR) from 1.12 to 0.64 in just three years.

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