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Incident Prevention Magazine

3 minutes reading time (686 words)

Making Safe Choices

In the high-risk world of utility operations, safety depends greatly on the choices that are made at all levels of an organization. The decisions that are made as to how we will handle a particular situation determine how safe everyone involved will be. In utility operations especially, when a situation occurs that is governed by safety procedures, the person in charge and the people performing the work must take those procedures into account when making the decision as to how to perform. Unfortunately, this is where breakdowns in safety normally occur.
 In 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, industry in the United States reported 5,188 fatalities. Dr. E. Scott Geller, a noted industrial psychologist, states that 95% of all incidents occur through human behavior, because someone made a choice or decision that caused an incident. When we investigate these incidents we find that a decision was made that placed the injured party in harm's way. There are many reasons for this behavior, but the one that has proven consistent throughout my history of investigations is this— the wrong decision was made for the situation at hand.
How many times have you heard someone say, "I've done it this way a hundred times and have never had an accident." Or, "I was only going to be there a few seconds."
When decisions or choices are made because of convenience and not according to the procedures in place, an injury is sure to happen.
 Perhaps it's human nature, but when placed in a situation, especially one that is stressful, people will revert to what worked for them before. In utility operations, this "habit" can quickly lead to errors in the decisions or choices we make. Then it is only a matter of time before an incident occurs. To help avoid this situation, it's important to recognize the things that form our habits:
Knowledge—Understanding the task and safety processes or procedures for that task are paramount to forming good safety habits. We can educate people to the correct way to perform tasks and the best way is to teach them early on in their career. Continuing education and refresher courses also aid in keeping people on the right track with their knowledge.
Skill—The ability to perform a task safely includes experience with that particular task. Many line workers have been injured because they were given a new task they had not performed before and tried to accomplish it by "bluffing" their way through.
Attitude—The desire or "will" portion of the safety equation, attitude is about the person whose safety or life is on the line. Supervisors should have open communications with workers, which allow employees to come to the supervisor with problems that could affect their performance. People could be having personal problems at home or at work, which distract or even change their perspective of how they feel toward the company. Employees may be angry because of some sort of discipline or decision that was made by the company that adversely affects them.
One other area related to attitude is about the employee who just is not going to follow procedures no matter what anyone says. This is a dangerous situation. During an investigation I have heard supervisors say that the person involved was their best employee, even though they "bent" a few rules. My answer is simple. If that employee is your best, then that tells me how deep the safety problem is in your organization.
Safety rules and procedures do not prevent incidents. It is the following of those rules and procedures that increase the chances an incident will not occur. Make the right choices about safety and do not let your fellow workers make decisions that you know could cause injury, and everyone will have a safer operation. ip

Rick Tobey has been in the electrical utility/contractor business for 41 years. His background includes serving as a lineman, foreman, trouble man, T&D switching trainer, and supervisor of safety, apprentice training supervisor and loss prevention manager. Tobey, who holds a C.U.S.A. certification from the National Safety Council, now operates a consulting business specializing in T&D safety and training.

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