Incident Prevention Magazine

Thomas Arnold, CSP, CUSP, MBA

Optimizing Your Safety Observation Program

Optimizing Your Safety Observation Program

World-class organizations do not achieve sustained safety excellence without a process in place that identifies risk exposure well before an incident or injury occurs. Yet countless companies have established observation programs without measurable success. In the paragraphs that follow, my goal is twofold: to provide readers with a greater understanding of the importance of employing a proactive safety observation strategy in the workplace, and to offer a step-by-step guide to ensure its effectiveness.

Broken Windows
To begin, I want to provide two examples of a topic that has significant influence on the human thought process and is a focal point of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” a must-read for those interested in changing safety culture.

In a March 1982 article published in “The Atlantic” (see www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/), George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson introduced what has come to be known as the broken windows theory, which suggests that context plays a material role in how people act. Specifically, if a neighborhood is plagued by buildings with broken windows, people will conclude that no one in the area cares or is in charge, and more windows will be broken. These minor infractions will then lead to major crimes and a steady decline of the neighborhood. Conversely, an orderly neighborhood free of property damage and litter indicates an environment where such things are not tolerated.

The second example dates back to the mid-1980s, when crime was escalating in the New York City subway system. City leadership put the broken windows theory to the test; if a subway train was tagged with graffiti, the graffiti had to be removed within 24 hours. The rationale was that in order to win the battle against crime, the environment has to be changed, especially the environment that people can see. After the graffiti rule was implemented, New York City subway crime fell throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In his analysis of these events in his book, Gladwell stated that the city had reached a “tipping point” that caused crime trends to dramatically reverse.

These examples help to demonstrate that there is a powerful connection between context and behavior, and it is one that applies to all industries. In our work as safety consultants, my colleagues and I have found that when leaders proactively focus on the observable safety aspects of a work site, they will positively influence the decisions of individual workers and ultimately change the organization’s safety culture for the better.

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Dr. Andrew Murro, DC, DABCO

The Causes and Prevention of Shoulder Injuries in the Electric Distribution Field

The Causes and Prevention of Shoulder Injuries in the Electric Distribution Field

It’s 3 a.m. Once again the dull ache stirs you from sleep. The first time was at midnight. Now the ache in your shoulder is telling you it’s time to roll onto your other side. Hopefully this will be the last time this happens tonight.

For far too many lineworkers, this has become a nightly ritual. In 2004, Business Health Resources conducted a symptom survey of 224 overhead electric employees who worked for one public utility, and it revealed that 56 percent of them experienced shoulder pain a couple times a week or more often. Many experienced shoulder pain on a daily basis. Because shoulder problems are so common, most lineworkers have come to believe they are just part of the job. Are they really, or can they be prevented?

Shoulder conditions can occur as a result of acute trauma injuries like falls or car accidents, or they can occur from cumulative trauma, which is the slow wear and tear that takes place over time, usually due to performing repetitive and physically demanding tasks using stressful working postures. The problem with cumulative trauma is that as the damage accumulates, you always feel pretty good – right up to the moment you are in pain. It’s a sneaky problem.

To understand what leads to cumulative trauma, we first need to cover some basic anatomy of the shoulder joint. It is a loose ball-and-socket joint, making it highly mobile so we can put our hands wherever they are needed. The price we pay for all of this mobility, however, is a loss of structural stability.

If you place your fingers on top of your shoulder, the bony little lump you feel is the acromioclavicular – or AC – joint, which is the joint between the collarbone and your shoulder blade. It is the only bone-to-bone connection between your arm and the rest of your body. The AC joint is about the size of the joint at the base of your thumb, and yet it has to safely transmit all of the stresses from your arms to the rest of your body. This design makes the shoulder far more susceptible to wear-and-tear injuries, especially when it is subjected to abnormal stresses, like those that come from performing line work using stressful techniques.

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Brad Stout and Jesse Gibbon

The Road to an Innovative, Award-Winning Safety Program

The Road to an Innovative, Award-Winning Safety Program

Monday mornings at Coutts Bros. – an electrical line construction and maintenance contractor – begin the same way they have for more than 50 years. The crew meets on the old Coutts family property in Randolph, Maine, before 6 a.m., coffee and lunchboxes in hand, wearing shirts and hats that sport a variety of company logos from the last few decades. Conversations are lighthearted; depending on the season, discussions range from the weekend’s Red Sox, Bruins or Patriots game to embellished fishing and hunting stories, complete with cellphone pictures to prove the tales are mostly true.

This family atmosphere has been at the heart of the company since it was incorporated in 1963 by the first generation of Coutts brothers, Stan and Bill, who initially ran the business out of their family barn – which is still in use as a garage – using a John Deere tractor. The company got their first taste of utility work when the brothers began using the tractor to haul, dig and set poles for the local power company. Eventually the tractor was upgraded to a bulldozer, and today Coutts Bros. manages a fleet of excavators, bucket trucks and assorted equipment used for utility maintenance and construction projects.

Safety Program Evolution
Throughout the years Coutts Bros. has been in business, their processes have evolved considerably, primarily with regard to safety. Those early morning conversations are cut short when a crew member sees that the clock has struck 6 a.m. – this means it’s time to stretch. “Chin tuck!” is shouted from inside the garage, and 30 heads drop with a thumb to their chins. The stretching program is one of many safety initiatives that Coutts Bros. launched three years ago as part of a comprehensive safety-focused effort.

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Jarred O'Dell, CSP, CUSP

Tricks of the Trade to Improve the Trenching Environment

Tricks of the Trade to Improve the Trenching Environment

This is the final installment in a four-part series on trenching and excavation. “Trenching by the Numbers” (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first article in the series, presented a simple method for recalling OSHA’s trenching and excavation requirements. The second article focused on soil mechanics (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/soil-mechanics-in-the-excavation-environment), taking an in-depth look at the behavior and characteristics of different soil types and their relationships with water and air. In the June 2016 issue of Incident Prevention, I covered “Protective Systems for Trenching and Excavations” (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/protective-systems-for-trenching-and-excavations). To close out the series, I will present techniques for creating a safer, more productive trenching environment, and then provide some food for thought about how to sell these techniques to management.

Dewatering Using Well Points
It’s no secret that water can greatly contribute to the success or failure of any trenching and excavation activity. OSHA requires that employers take steps to keep workers from being exposed to standing water conditions. One of the more proactive approaches to dewatering a site is to install well points. A hole is augured into the ground, and a perforated pipe is inserted into it. Then, a submersible pump is placed inside the pipe. This technique can be especially effective in sandy soils.

However, there are two caveats to keep in mind with this technique. First, it works best when performed three to five days before excavating begins. This is because water is self-leveling; thus, when a void is created by the pump, the water in nearby soil leeches into the work area. If excavation activity takes place too soon after the well point is installed, one could misguidedly conclude that well points make conditions worse when, in reality, poor planning and a misunderstanding of the process are to blame.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Practical Personal Grounding in Underground Work

Incident Prevention has been covering personal protective grounding (PPG) for many years. Most of the emphasis has been on overhead applications for transmission and distribution. Lately, however, iP and many consultants associated with the publication have been receiving more and more inquiries from utilities seeking to understand the issues related to PPG applications in underground.

Part of the issue with PPG is that, as I mentioned, most training and rules seem to coalesce around overhead applications. The majority of the written standards – both OSHA and consensus – are found in sections dealing with overhead scenarios. It’s anecdotal, but it seems that most of the injuries or accidents discussed in the industry are also related to overhead. Still, the OSHA standard has requirements for PPG that do not specify or exempt underground applications, such as 29 CFR 1910.269(n), “Grounding for the protection of employees.” Employers have recognized that the risks we are discovering related to current flowing in grounded systems exist in underground, too. As responsible employers, they are seeking information, and not all of the information out there is good.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: OSHA Requirements for Step Potential Protection

When OSHA updated 29 CFR 1910.269 and merged almost all of its requirements with 1926 Subpart V, the requirement to protect employees from step potential was enhanced. In the months following the publication of the final rule, this change was rarely mentioned in the major webinars conducted by several prominent utility industry groups, so I want to take this opportunity to cover what you need to know.

First, let’s talk a bit about the basic fundamentals of Ohm’s law and Kirchoff’s law of current division in order to ensure you understand the seriousness of step potential hazards. Ohm’s law states that electricity will take any and all conductive paths, and Kirchoff’s law of current division states that the amount of current flow is dependent on the resistance and impedance in the current path.

As I travel around and conduct training, I find that many electric utility employees – much like me in the 1970s – do not understand these and other basic laws of physics that determine the number of hazards we face. The human body is not much more than a 1,000-ohm resistor when put into an electrical circuit. If a human body is placed in an electrical path/circuit, the amount of electricity that enters the body is about 50 volts AC. During this type of occurrence, the soles of normal work boots and shoes will provide an employee a small amount of protection, but if the employee were to kneel down and touch a vehicle grounded to a system neutral, or place a hand on a grounded object, the amount of protection would be significantly reduced.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

August 2016 Q&A

Q: We have heard that OSHA can cite an employer for violation of their own safety rules. How does that work?

A: OSHA’s charge under the Occupational Safety and Health Act is the protection of employees in the workplace. The agency’s methodology has always assumed the employer knows – or should know – the hazards associated with the work being performed in the employer’s workplace because that work is the specialty of the employer.

OSHA’s legal authority to use the employer’s own safety rules as a reason to cite the employer is found in CPL 02-00-159, the Field Operations Manual (FOM), which is published by the agency for compliance officers (see www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-00-159.pdf). The explanation is in the FOM section about the elements required for a citation under the General Duty Clause, in particular Chapter 4, Part III, Section B, Entry 6(a). This part covers the required element of employer recognition. If there was no reasonable expectation that the employer could recognize the hazard to the employee, the employer cannot be cited for a violation. The FOM specifically states that employer awareness of a hazard “may also be demonstrated by a review of company memorandums, safety work rules that specifically identify a hazard, operations manuals, standard operating procedures, and collective bargaining agreements. In addition, prior accidents/incidents, near misses known to the employer, injury and illness reports, or workers' compensation data, may also show employer knowledge of a hazard.”

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Kate Wade

August 2016 Management Toolbox: 10 Books to Help You Strengthen Your Leadership Skills

August 2016 Management Toolbox: 10 Books to Help You Strengthen Your Leadership Skills

It has never been easier than it is today to access resources to help you develop your leadership skills. In fact, you may feel overwhelmed by all that is available. How do you go about selecting the materials that will be most valuable to you? If you aren’t sure where to begin, start with this list of books – and related resources – that can be found in executive suites and MBA programs across the country.

1. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
Author: Simon Sinek
Read It Because: You want insight into what successful leaders and organizations – think Apple, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Wright Brothers – do differently to motivate others and achieve excellence.
If You Like It: Check out Sinek’s popular 18-minute TED talk (www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action) and follow him at www.facebook.com/simonsinek.

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