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Incident Prevention Magazine

Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Is Safety a Religion?

In the utility industry, we are often connected by families. By that I mean many lineworkers enter the profession because their father, uncle, mother or other relative worked at an electric utility. As for me, my dad was a Methodist minister. I sat in the pew many Sundays, listening to him speak from the pulpit and hearing the many ways he shared his beliefs. For years, I felt as though I didn’t follow in his footsteps. I mean, I’m in safety and he was a pastor. Then, one day, I realized something: Maybe our two worlds weren’t that far apart because we both wanted the same outcome; that is, he wanted people to believe, and I do, too.

So, in this month’s Tailgate Topic, I’d like us to explore some statements that come from my dad’s world yet also make sense in the safety world as we try to do and be better. I will also share some questions you can ask yourself at the end of each day so you can continue to grow in safety.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

One Key Question Every LIFE Guard Must Ask

I never planned to be a safety director. Rather, I think my path was chosen for me through a series of circumstances that all started when I was 16 years old and landed my first official job. Back then I was a lifeguard at a public pool in my South Dakota hometown, and I continued to lifeguard during the summers of my college years. At the pool where I worked, the safety orientation always included the tragic story of a little boy who had drowned many years ago when the pool was overcrowded one hot summer day. The story gave me and the other lifeguards I worked with a sense of the importance of our job – hearing it was an opportunity to remind ourselves that we were LIFE guards.

Fast-forward to today and I find myself still hearing stories about on-the-job tragedies, as I’m sure you have, too. We don’t want these tragedies to continue to happen, so what can we do?

I believe stories can shape our thinking and instill in us a stronger commitment to do better. Yet this commitment can only arise when stories are treated as learning opportunities. If they are merely told and then promptly forgotten about, the point is missed, the opportunity is gone, and we haven’t made our world any safer. We didn’t do anything with the story.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Four Things We Shouldn’t Say

Throughout my years of serving as a safety professional, I have seen safety grow from simply telling people to “follow the rules” to engaging people in building safety cultures. I’ve also seen employees and managers shift their thinking about safety as they engage in it for all the right reasons – so we can all go home tonight. It’s refreshing!

Yet when an accident does happen, as much as we work to prevent it, I’ve also heard some questions and statements that make me wonder if we have truly advanced safety. I admit, those questions and statements might have been “the way we said it” in the past, but they can no longer be accepted if we are to grow our safety culture. Here are four things I believe we should never say again – and explanations as to why we should avoid them.

1. “Why don’t they just follow the rules?”
I can give you at least 10 reasons why people don’t. In fact, we have had rules in place for many years, yet we still are having accidents. Maybe the safety rules are vague, misunderstood or lengthy, leading to shortcuts. What we need to ask is if the rule system we have in place is effective – do employees know what’s expected of them? If they don’t know our rules, how can we expect employees to follow them? One solution is to move to basic life-saving rules. These are the rules we need people to know and follow.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Coaching the Crew Chief in Safety

Walk onto any job site and you will find that one person has been designated to be in charge. Although this person may have a different title from site to site – such as crew lead, foreman or crew chief – they are responsible for the work being done by the crew that day.

What do you think is the crew chief’s most important action in their role? In Minnesota, we are making an effort to send one clear message – that the crew chief’s most important job is to prevent injuries. It is not a new message, but it is critical that it has been clearly communicated to the crew chief at every worksite. And you can’t simply tell the chief that preventing injuries is their No. 1 priority – that person needs to be coached in safety. Just as in football, we don’t send the quarterback onto the field with their team if we have only shown them films and talked about how to play the game. In addition, the coach watches from the side of the field and guides the quarterback as to what skills they must use to do the job, to win the game. So, in this month’s Tailgate, let’s explore what it takes to coach a crew chief in safety.

An Overview
To begin, pair the crew chief with the designated coach; they should expect to spend a half-day together. The coach should be present at the start of the job, and their role is to observe the crew chief and interact with them as necessary, while staying conscious of whether or not the work at the site is being done safely.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Do More Rules Make Us Safer?

Let’s begin this month’s Tailgate with a short quiz. Ask your employees these two questions:

  1. When is the last time you read the company’s safety rule book?
  2. If you had to take a test on its contents, would you pass?

It’s possible some of our employees are not as well-versed in the company’s safety rules as we would like because the rule book may be long and cover everything from office safety to working on overhead lines. Yet we base many of our safe work practices on our employees truly understanding these rules.

It’s also possible that we have fooled ourselves into thinking our employees have read the rule book, know and understand it, and believe in the written safety rules. The truth is, your company’s rule book could be causing problems when it comes to safety. How? Here are some possibilities.

Not all rules are known or followed. I’m aware of a cooperative that disciplined an employee for not adhering to a safety rule; the employee honestly stated, “I didn’t even know that was a rule.” In another instance, I asked a line superintendent about his cooperative’s grounding practice and then read him the rule from the cooperative’s rule book. He responded, “Oh, we don’t do it that way.”

The book includes rules that don’t tell you anything. One rule book I reviewed stated, “Disposal of trash and debris shall be done in an approved environmentally safe manner.” Yes, but what exactly does that mean? What is a worker supposed to do?

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