Utility Safety Leadership Development

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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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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Thomas Ray, CSP, CUSP

10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

Several years ago, when I was serving as chief investigator for the NIOSH-funded Missouri Occupational Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program, I was called to a scene where a 39-year-old journeyman lineman had been electrocuted while working for an electrical contractor. At the time of the incident, the lineman, his co-worker and the foreman had been working at an electrical substation. The city that owned the substation was in the process of switching their electrical service from a three-phase 4-kV system to a 12-kV system. There were several feeders on the structure, but only one was energized to provide service to the city. The lineman and his co-worker were on the steel framework of the substation when the lineman proceeded to work his way over to the incident point. He sat down on the structure next to the energized feeder and energized lightning arrestor and began to climb down the steel latticework. Typically the contractors accessed the structure with a ladder, but for one reason or another, the lineman chose to climb down using the corner latticework of the structure. At that point, the lineman contacted the energized arrestor with his forearm. His co-workers responded immediately and began CPR, and emergency personnel were summoned to the scene. Unfortunately, the lineman did not survive.

Despite our best efforts to protect workers in the field, incidents like these still occur and, as a result, you may find yourself leading an incident investigation. One of the primary goals of any investigation is to find out exactly what happened so that future occurrences can be prevented. With that in mind, I put together the following 10 tips designed to help you obtain quality information about each incident you investigate, put your interview subjects at ease, and determine an accurate account of what occurred before, during and immediately after each incident.

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Michael Burnham, CSP, CUSP

The Job Brief’s Hidden Influence on Utility Safety

The Job Brief’s Hidden Influence on Utility Safety

On your way to work today, how many dashed lines in the middle of the road did you pass? What ornaments decorate your dentist’s office? How many people wearing glasses did you see last month?

If you’re like most people, you don’t know the answers to these questions, and that’s a good thing. In his book “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” author Daniel J. Levitin states that the processing capacity of the conscious mind is estimated to be about 120 bits per second, barely enough to listen to two people talking to you at the same time, yet in our waking lives most of us are exposed to more than 11 million bits of information per second, according to Leonard Mlodinow’s “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.” Without what psychologists call an attentional filter, we’d be able to recall the minutiae around us, but left without the mental capacity to draw reasonable conclusions about what we perceive, and therefore left without the ability to lead normal lives.

The problem with an attentional filter, however, is that it occurs on the subconscious level. Our brains decide what we notice without any conscious input from us. Of course, we can always force ourselves to notice small details by applying mental resources to count and memorize them, but that only happens with concerted effort.

In a utility setting, our attentional filter can create a conflict between what we do perceive and what we should perceive. Fortunately, the utility industry has an effective solution to our cognitive limitations: the job brief.

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Dave Sowers

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Early in my marriage, my wife asked me to pick up some groceries on my way home. This task seemed easy enough; after all, I had been feeding myself for years. How hard could it be? We needed food and the grocery store had food for sale. The path to success appeared to be pretty well laid out. All I needed was a method of payment and a shopping cart with four functioning wheels.

As I negotiated my way up and down the aisles of the grocery store, I put great thought into what I added to my cart. I made sure to get the basics, including bread, milk and eggs, and I rounded out the cart with some other reasonable dining options. Mission accomplished – or so I thought. When I returned home and we began to unload bags full of bachelor staples, such as chicken wings and Cap’n Crunch, my wife came to realize that my future trips to the grocery store would require more specific guidance. It was clear that my idea of “mission accomplished” was vastly different from hers.

How did a task that seemed so simple go so wrong? Why was it that my wife’s job-specific expectations did not align with my understanding of how I should successfully complete the task? Was this misalignment a failure on my part or was poor communication to blame? When I was given every option in the grocery store to choose from, could my wife truly be upset when I filled in the blanks and chose the options that looked right to me?

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Mike Caro, CUSP

Field-Level Hazard Recognition Training That Works

Field-Level Hazard Recognition Training That Works

As a safety professional or operations leader in your organization, one of your primary responsibilities is to ensure your employees can and do complete their work safely. People don’t want to get hurt and you don’t want them to. With that as a given, the question then becomes, how do you accomplish this? You can’t be everywhere watching everything all the time. You can’t point out every hazard on every job site for every worker. So, how do you rest easy in the belief that your employees are recognizing and mitigating hazards and working as safely as possible when you are not around?

I’m going to assume – not always a wise choice, but I’m comfortable with it in this case – that if you are reading this article, you have a system in place for conducting pre-job briefings to discuss the known and expected hazards on your jobs. That is standard procedure in the utility industry. And since many of the jobs utility workers perform each day are very similar, these job briefings can become mundane and lifeless. A briefing becomes a rote process that is almost copy-and-paste from work site to work site. The danger in this is the complacency it can breed. The examination of the job site and the communication and mutual discussion of the hazards present are meant to be the primary preparation for safely completing the assigned tasks. If the process becomes mundane, what are the chances that some of the hazards – especially ones that aren’t typical of the work – will go undiscovered until it’s too late?

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Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP, and John Price, B.Kin., CRSP, CUSP

The CUSP Program Expands to Canada

The CUSP Program Expands to Canada

We are pleased to announce that the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network has developed a version of the Certified Utility Safety Professional program that directly serves utility workers employed in Canada. Starting this summer, individuals will have the opportunity to enroll in the two-day utility safety leadership review course and sit for either the CUSP Blue or CUSP Green exam.

The USOLN was founded in 2009 to advocate for a safe, productive utility work environment. In 2010 the organization offered the first CUSP program session in Denver. The program continues to be the only one of its kind that offers a utility safety-specific credential to professionals employed by utilities, contractors and communication providers. By earning the CUSP credential, employees help to assure their employers that they have the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities to safely and correctly execute their roles in the utility work environment. Not only that, those who earn and maintain the CUSP credential have access to a network of nearly 800 other safety professionals who have earned the designation.

As the CUSP program has evolved over the past seven years, there has been increased need and interest in bringing the program to Canada. Given the variation in occupational health, safety and utility regulations among the Canadian provinces, the focus of the new Canadian CUSP program is the development of industry best practices with due consideration given to the provincial internal responsibility systems. In the electric utility industry, safety is one of the greatest benefits derived from the use of best practices. Another benefit is that – unlike OSHA and other regulations – best practices offer a level of flexibility; they are continually changing as new information and technologies are brought to the table.

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Neil Dempster, CSP, MBA, Ph.D.

Understanding Your Safety DNA

Understanding Your Safety DNA

Last summer my extended family planned and hosted a long-overdue family reunion. This one was particularly special because my Uncle Roy, who is now in his 80s, was there, and it was the first time in many years that I had the opportunity to see and spend time with him. Prior to his retirement, Uncle Roy was a railroad engineer in charge of and responsible for driving a freight train engine. From a safety perspective, I should explain a few details about trains before I continue. First, a typical freight train can be 120 to 140 cars or approximately one-and-one-half miles in length. Second, if a train is traveling at a moderate speed of 55 mph, it will take more than one mile – or 18 football fields – before that train comes to a stop. And finally, a train can’t swerve to avoid an object in its path. The aforementioned facts should give you a clue as to where we are heading with this article.

After getting reacquainted with Uncle Roy at the reunion, I asked him to tell me about his days as a train engineer. His face lit up at the question, and he proceeded to tell me about his love for the railroad. Uncle Roy probably could have gone on for hours, but at a certain point – and I’m not entirely sure why I did this, except that I have spent quite a bit of time focused on safety efforts in diverse organizations – I asked him if he’d ever hit anything while driving a train. Uncle Roy’s demeanor changed as he described the multitude of times his train had hit objects on the tracks, including animals, chairs, coolers, camping equipment and even cars. In one instance, the driver of a car was clearly trying to get across the tracks as the train approached, even though the gates were down and the lights were flashing. Unfortunately, the driver was not successful in his attempt and another unnecessary fatality occurred that night.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Safety Cops and the Continuum of Safety

Words have power. We confirm that every day when we examine why people do what they do. Communication is often the root cause of accidents, particularly how the receiver interprets what he or she hears. That communication is not always something said in the moments before an incident; it can occur days, weeks or months in advance. I have discussed this issue with behaviorists on a number of occasions, and I am convinced that some of the words I – and many others – have repeatedly heard over the years have served to limit our success in the quest for a strong, positive safety culture.

The real problem is that what we say to soften our approach and encourage safe work has the exact opposite effect of our intention. Many of us – and yes, I have done it, too – don't want to be criticized or worse when we ask crews to do something differently. Sometimes we think our request is going to sound accusatory or like an insult to their professional skill level. Other times we know from past experience that the issue that needs to be addressed is contentious. Maybe we worry that our message is going to be challenged, or perhaps we are not confident in our delivery. There are any number of reasons, but it boils down to this: Safety professionals are human, and humans don't want to be challenged or rejected. Therein, as they say, lies the problem.

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Carla Housh
It works
Friday, 19 February 2016 11:47
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Matt Edmonds, CHST, and Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSP

Understanding Safety Culture Through Perception Surveys

Understanding Safety Culture Through Perception Surveys

If you asked workers at your company who is responsible for their safety, how do you think they would answer that question? Would they say the safety director is responsible, or would they tell you they’re personally responsible for their own safety? You might be surprised by the answers you receive. While the reality is that we are all responsible for our own safety, some employees may perceive that the safety director bears that responsibility.

What if you asked them about your safety program in general? Do employees think it’s strong or weak? Again, you may receive answers that widely vary. For example, management may perceive the company’s safety program to be among the best in the industry because very few accidents have occurred. On the other hand, field employees may feel like no one cares about them or their safety.

In a nutshell, an employee’s perceptions often dictate his or her attitude toward on-the-job safety. And if perceptions about safety in your organization differ greatly from employee to employee, this can indicate that your company’s safety culture isn’t as strong as it needs to be.

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Kate Wade

2015 USOLN Safety Award Winners Announced

2015 USOLN Safety Award Winners Announced

On September 28, the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network held its annual awards ceremony at the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo in Louisville, Ky. During the event, USOLN board members presented the John McRae Safety Leadership Award to Robert “Bo” Maryyanek, CSP, CUSP, MBA, and the Carolyn Alkire Safety Advocate Award to David McPeak, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP. Maryyanek currently serves as eastern regional safety manager for Asplundh Construction Corp. McPeak is director of corporate safety programs at Pike Enterprises LLC, as well as director of Stay Safe Solutions LLC.

The John McRae Safety Leadership Award was created to honor McRae, a fourth-generation lineman who enjoyed a 42-year career before passing away July 27, 2010. He was active in the military reserves for nearly 30 years and instrumental in establishing the Massachusetts Municipal Lineman’s Association. McRae, a member of San Diego’s IBEW Local 465, spoke across the country about electrical training and went on to assist in the launch of Incident Prevention magazine.

Maryyanek was chosen to receive this award because of his commitment to workplace safety and heavy investment of time and energy in industry safety organizations including the USOLN. “To personally know Bo is to understand his passion for safety,” said Carla Housh, USOLN executive director and publisher of Incident Prevention magazine. “His intensity and dedication to building a safer utility work environment come straight from the heart. Bo is a tremendous supporter of the Certified Utility Safety Professional program, and he also had the pleasure of knowing John McRae as a member of IUOTA. I know John would be extremely pleased that Bo is the 2015 recipient of his namesake award.”

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Jerry Havens, COSS

Recruiting and Training the Next Generation

Recruiting and Training the Next Generation

The electric utility industry has a big problem on its hands. A great number of lineworkers born between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s either have reached or are nearing retirement age. As these individuals age out of the workforce, the industry will continue to experience an inevitable downturn of knowledge and talent.

The proof is in the numbers. According to a February 2015 report in Power Engineering magazine (see www.power-eng.com/articles/npi/print/volume-8/issue-1/nucleus/who-will-replace-nuclear-power-s-aging-work-force.html), approximately 20 percent of workers at U.S. electric and natural gas utilities are currently eligible for retirement, and 40 percent will be eligible in the next five years. The report also cited U.S. Department of Labor statistics, which indicate that up to 50 percent of the country’s utility workforce will retire in the next five to 10 years.

The burning question is, who’s going to step in to replace these workers? And once they’re hired, what’s the best way to go about training them to safely perform their job tasks?

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Phillip Ragain

Shifting Your Organizational Safety Culture

Shifting Your Organizational Safety Culture

In one way or another, culture helps to shape nearly everything that happens within an organization, from shortcuts taken by shift workers to budget cuts made by managers. As important as it is, though, it can seem equally as confusing and hard to control. Culture appears to emerge as an unexpected byproduct of organizational minutiae: A brief comment made by a manager, misinterpreted by direct reports, propagated during water cooler conversations and compounded with otherwise unrelated management decisions to downsize, outsource, reassign, promote, terminate and so on.

Culture can either grow wild and unmanaged – unpredictably influencing employee performance and elevating risk – or it can be understood and deliberately shaped to ensure that employees uphold the organization’s safety values.

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Keith Lindemulder

Stepping Up Steel Safety Education

Stepping Up Steel Safety Education

It’s estimated that between 2 million and 4 million utility poles are replaced annually in the U.S., and in almost every region of the country, many of those replacement poles are now made of steel. In fact, more than 1 million steel distribution poles have been installed by electric utilities across the country in the last decade. That number is expected to rise considerably as utilities strive to keep up with the need for new lines, replace aging and damaged poles and harden existing lines.

The increased use of steel utility poles in distribution lines has created a need for new training and coursework for student, apprentice and journeyman lineworker programs nationwide. For years, the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) has developed training standards and guidelines, and in 2013 it teamed with several respected leaders in utility safety and line work training to update and bring new materials to the trade. Among the organizations SMDI collaborated with are the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction (ISPC), based in Alexandria, La., and Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Omaha, Neb., which offers a leading utility line technician program. Through these partnerships, steel pole training programs have become well-established, and both coursework and program participation continue to evolve.

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Kekai Batungbacal, CUSP

Facing Unique Challenges

Facing Unique Challenges

Established in 1891 by a royal charter from King David Kalakaua, today Hawaiian Electric provides electric service to 95 percent of the state of Hawai‘i. The company has approximately 1.4 million customers on five islands, with Hawaiian Electric providing service to O‘ahu; subsidiary Maui Electric providing service to Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i; and subsidiary Hawai‘i Electric Light providing service to Hawai‘i Island.

The state of Hawai‘i is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 2,000 miles away from the coast of the continental United States. This isolated geographic location, combined with the state’s clean energy initiatives, continues to pose unique challenges to Hawaiian Electric as the company strives to meet the demands of customers and the state’s Public Utilities Commission for lower bills and increased levels of renewable energy.

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Phillip Ragain

The Safety Side Effect: How Good Supervisors Coincidentally Improve Safety

The Safety Side Effect: How Good Supervisors Coincidentally Improve Safety

Why do those supervisors whose employees are the most engaged, productive and efficient also seem to elicit the best safety performance? Without having to climb atop their safety soapboxes, boisterously wave the banner of safety or plaster every surface with “Safety First” stickers, their style of leadership coincidentally generates safer performance. It is a side effect of the way that good leaders facilitate and focus the efforts of their subordinate employees. But what, specifically, produces this side effect? As it turns out, supervisors who lead in a certain way create a climate in which their employees are more likely to do something that improves safety: take initiative.

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David W. Bowman

Growing a Human Performance Culture

Growing a Human Performance Culture

Human performance methods help us to understand some key aspects of business: accountability, conservative decision-making, and overall commitment to goals and values. These fundamental principles comprise a larger objective known as organizational alignment.

The concept of organizational alignment derives from years of studying, using and teaching human performance techniques, and even from an old TV rerun, which I’ll soon discuss. The constant challenge is demonstrating to employees how to relate to management and vice versa. I have continued to search for the reason why there are disconnects. It seems that everyone wants the same things, but the processes to achieve them do not reflect these shared goals.

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Kate Wade

2014 USOLN Safety Award Winners Announced

2014 USOLN Safety Award Winners Announced

During the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo held this November in Costa Mesa, Calif., representatives from the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network presented the 2014 Carolyn Alkire Safety Advocate Award to John Morton, CUSP, of Willbros Utility T&D, and the 2014 John McRae Safety Leadership Award to John Price, CUSP, of ENMAX Power Corp.

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Mike Caro, CUSP

Behavior-Based Safety: What’s the Verdict?

From its infancy in the late 1970s and early 1980s until now, behavior-based safety (BBS) has been a source of conflict in the safety profession, among company and union leadership, and even between practitioners. Nonetheless, after 30-plus years of use at companies that run the gamut of industries in dozens of countries around the world, it seems safe to assume that the theory and practice of BBS are here to stay. And since that is the case, this reality begs several questions. What is it about the BBS system that companies, safety professionals and practitioners find appealing? What are the criticisms of BBS and are they valid? How have the proponents of BBS answered them? How is BBS different or better than it was 30 or even 20 years ago? What is its future?

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Richard J. Horan Jr., CSP, CUSP

Elements of an Effective Safety Committee

There are a number of components necessary to create and maintain a strong, effective safety committee. Key among them are employee involvement and evolution – that constant search for ways to improve both how the committee functions as a group and the results committee members produce. Other ingredients for success include ownership at all levels of the organization, a clearly defined committee charter, sponsorship, effective committee facilitation, and companywide communication about committee activities and progress.

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