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Incident Prevention Magazine

Mack Turner, CUSP

Overcome ‘Burnt Toast Syndrome’ to Improve Safety and Training Results

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I have a beautiful and caring better half. She is always there for me. One of the things she does for me is make breakfast. Now, I am an old country boy, so any old breakfast won’t do. I want meat, eggs, potatoes and toast, and she is happy to prepare them for me.

One morning as I sat down for the breakfast she had prepared, I looked at my plate and right on top was the toast … and it was burnt. Now, I do not like my toast burnt. How dare she, after all these years, try to feed me burnt toast? So, what did I do? I grabbed the jam and smiled, I thanked my better half for my breakfast, and I ate the burnt toast.

After breakfast that day, I got up from the table and left for work. While I was driving, I could not help but think that my burnt toast was somewhat symbolic of our employee safety programs and the behavior and culture of our employees.

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Mack Turner, CUSP

4 Actions to Combat ‘Sheepeople Syndrome’

I was recently consulting with a client’s safety committee about updating their safety handbook and standard operating procedures. During a discussion of work positioning and work methods, it was discovered that their policies were in violation of OSHA’s minimum approach distance rules. Their initial response was, “Well, we’ve always worked that way, and so do our contractors.” I’ve seen and heard that before out on the plains of my home state. I call it “Sheepeople Syndrome." It doesn’t matter how it started; what matters is that, at some point, everyone began following along without checking the rules or asking questions – like sheep. The danger is that the evolution and acceptance of the procedure, no matter how innocently it came about, did not make those actions right or safe.

MAD works to protect employees. MAD policies have evolved with the hazards of higher-voltage live work and take into account minimum air insulation distance, worst-case circuit conditions, framing configurations, accepted work methods and human error. Both MAD and the associated work rules also are the law. If that doesn’t convince you, then how about this: There have been far too many electrical contacts in our industry, but none of them were caused by proper cover-up and MAD rules.

The fact that Sheepeople Syndrome exists likely isn’t new or shocking information to regular readers of Incident Prevention. But the question is, what can we do – starting today – to correct our course and send sheepeople behavior out to pasture? 

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Mack Turner, CUSP

Feedback and Accountability in the Disciplinary Process

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Disciplining employees is always a tough task to handle, so it’s not surprising that many leaders and employees have a fear of the disciplinary process. However, discipline is a necessary part of business. That’s because sometimes, despite people’s best intentions, course correction must occur. As leaders who are tasked with doling out discipline, we should be careful to focus on the company’s needs in addition to the well-being of our employees throughout the process. We also need to keep in mind that our employees are our most valuable asset and should be treated with respect regardless of circumstances. In the end, although the disciplinary process can cause anxiety, fear and a host of other emotions, it can be a win-win for both sides.

When I started in this industry over 25 years ago, a nickname was bestowed upon me – I became known as “Grunt.” If I did anything that my foreman did not like, descriptive yet not-so-nice words escaped from his mouth, and I was threatened with unemployment. In another incident, I once watched a seasoned journeyman accidentally run a bucket into a phase, after which he was told by the foreman to grab his tool bag and lunch and get off the job. We know now that this kind of discipline and correction would never fly in today’s workplace – and it shouldn’t. Both leaders and employees deserve a disciplinary process that is fair and puts a focus on giving our employees – and the workplace – a chance for a positive forward direction.

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Mack Turner, CUSP

A Can of Soup: What We Say and How We Say It

If you look closely at the label on a can of soup, you likely will notice the ingredients section, which lists the soup’s contents from those with the greatest volume or weight down to the ingredient with the lowest volume or weight. This information is good to know before you decide whether to buy the can of soup.  

If you ask senior executives of a utility or contractor what their company goals or ideal “top ingredients” are, you often will receive responses such as “outstanding customer service,” “maximum return on investment” or “the best value for our customers.” And if you ask that same question to members of middle management or frontline workers, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of “keeping customers happy by keeping the lights on” or “making the bid units.”

These are admirable goals and valuable ingredients in the success of any utility organization, but are they the most critical ones? That’s debatable. Personally, I believe that protecting our most valuable resource – that is, our employees – should without a doubt be job No. 1, our top priority and the right thing to do.

As part of protecting our employees, one thing we must do is provide them with the right information about what is important for them to accomplish each workday. Where do our employees get this information? They receive direction from their leadership, but sometimes the wrong message may be delivered to them. Here’s an example of a somewhat common message employees hear from leadership: “We need to change out two hot poles today. We will have to work hard to get that done and, by the way, make sure you stay safe while you’re executing the job.”

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