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?