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Tailgate Safety Topics

Luis Ortega, CUSP

Watch Your Step

Soft tissue injuries are very painful, and it takes a long time to heal from them. In addition to pain, they also can cause frustration and emotional distress. Big medical bills and a loss of wages may be covered by workers’ compensation, but that doesn’t reduce pain or cover lost overtime, and it certainly doesn’t compensate for lost family time or time away from outdoor pursuits, among other things. If slips and falls happen at home, workers’ compensation doesn’t help at all. Often, these types of injuries are self-inflicted, perhaps the result of rushing or not paying attention. So, it’s important to keep your eyes open and stay focused on one thing at a time.

When working outdoors, slip-and-fall hazards can include wet or icy ground and uneven or unstable terrain. Indoors, slick floors and objects in walkways – among other things – can be hazardous.

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R. Neal Gracey

Combating Drowsy Driving

Many years ago, a young fellow who I was great friends with was on a run to fix a truck up north. He called his wife on his way back to tell her that he would be home in about four or five hours. Well, it wasn’t long before she got word that he had fallen asleep while driving, gone over an embankment and sustained fatal injuries.

Since then, I have heard dozens more drowsy driving stories, not from strangers, but from people I know. I have also been a victim of drowsy driving, waking up a few times in the past to the sound of slinging gravel. Once I actually woke up to the bright lights of a semi, and if that doesn’t scare the tar out of you, nothing will.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Is Safety a Religion?

In the utility industry, we are often connected by families. By that I mean many lineworkers enter the profession because their father, uncle, mother or other relative worked at an electric utility. As for me, my dad was a Methodist minister. I sat in the pew many Sundays, listening to him speak from the pulpit and hearing the many ways he shared his beliefs. For years, I felt as though I didn’t follow in his footsteps. I mean, I’m in safety and he was a pastor. Then, one day, I realized something: Maybe our two worlds weren’t that far apart because we both wanted the same outcome; that is, he wanted people to believe, and I do, too.

So, in this month’s Tailgate Topic, I’d like us to explore some statements that come from my dad’s world yet also make sense in the safety world as we try to do and be better. I will also share some questions you can ask yourself at the end of each day so you can continue to grow in safety.

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Terry Ehli

Are You Setting a Good Example?

Growing up, I was like most kids. All I cared about was horsing around and having fun. I also, like most kids, had people I looked up to for how they were living their lives. For example, I saw my dad work hard to provide for our family of seven. There also was my grandfather on my mom’s side, who did so much for us grandchildren. He took us hunting and fishing all the time and even was the one who gave me my nickname, “Rip.” Then there was my older brother, Bob, whose every step I watched and tried to imitate, even though he was four years older. Bob was good at everything he did, from schoolwork to music and sports. Following his example while growing up kept me out of trouble most of the time and helped me to keep working hard at my goals.

These people in my life, and especially my brother, demonstrated so many important lessons. By being around them and watching them, I learned how important it is to set a good example for others. In the Bible, the apostle Paul told Titus at Titus 2:7 to “show yourself to be an example of fine works in every way.” Getting married and becoming a father and now a grandfather, I’ve tried to follow that advice as much as possible with my own family.

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Thomas Arnold, CSP, CUSP

Mitigating the Risk of Wildfire Smoke

Wildfires have become increasingly common in recent years, and many lineworkers have found themselves working around these fires – and their aftermath – as part of their jobs. Because of the hazards that wildfires present, it’s critical that these workers understand how to protect themselves. This month’s Tailgate Topic will address the hazard of wildfire smoke.

Wildfire smoke is a mixture of small particles, gases and water vapor. The small particles are the primary health concern. The smallest particulate matter – and usually the most harmful – is called PM2.5 (solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in air with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller). This type of matter can cause burning eyes, runny noses, scratchy throats, headaches and illnesses (e.g., bronchitis). It also can worsen chronic heart and lung diseases, including asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Jerry Havens, COSS

How Does McDonald’s Marketing Apply to Your Lineworker Training?

Think of a hamburger. Now, pick a fast-food chain to get that burger from. Chances are you thought of McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s. It’s even more likely that McDonald’s was your first thought – but why? Probably because McDonald’s has been the number one fast-food chain in the world since 1975, only losing the top spot to Subway in 2011. McDonald’s typically spends $500 million to $2 billion a year on advertising. But why advertise if you are already at the top of the heap?

The answer is TOMA, which stands for Top Of Mind Awareness. For McDonald’s, TOMA ensures that when someone thinks about a hamburger, they automatically think about a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder or Happy Meal.

By now you’re probably wondering, what does all this have to do with lineworker training?

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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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Jeffrey Sullivan

Reject Risk Acceptance

The coronavirus pandemic is running wild, the economy is barely running at all, and I am running out of patience. I often hear people talk about the new normal, but personally, I am ready for the old normal: dinners out with friends, the Clemson Tigers on the football field and traveling with my son’s hockey team. All of this stuff runs through my head every day, and in some form or another, it’s likely running through your head, too. And if we are spending our time and energy thinking and worrying about everything that’s going on right now, do you know what we aren’t focusing on the way we should?

Our safety at work.

I have long said that complacency, also referred to as risk acceptance, is the biggest threat we face in life. It is the act of identifying a risk and then choosing not to take any action to eliminate or mitigate that risk. How many times has that gone poorly and caught us off guard? Perhaps there was a flash in a meter can, a broken water line at the end of an auger or a co-worker partially buried in a trench. Those things that went wrong did so because we accepted the risk that they could go wrong. We decided to leave the service hot in the meter can to fix the broken jaw and went phase to ground. We decided to use the auger even though we were a little too close to the blue marking paint on the ground. We decided to jump in the hole to splice the cable. Why did we decide to do those things? Perhaps because we were fatigued, distracted, feeling pressed for time or because almost all of us have done them dozens, hundreds or possibly even thousands of times before. The phrase “We do it all the time” usually is uttered in the follow-up meetings to these types of events. It’s complacency, it’s risk acceptance, and it’s dangerous.

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R. Neal Gracey

Situational Awareness, Mental Modeling and Developing a Coach’s Eye

This month’s Tailgate Topic discusses and explains the relevance of situational awareness, mental modeling and developing a coach’s eye.

Situational Awareness
Poor situational awareness often is a contributing factor to events that cause or could have caused serious injuries and fatalities. It is rare that such an event occurs when everyone on the job is using their situational awareness skills.

Based on information from various institutions and specialists throughout our industry – including safety professionals at our own companies – situational awareness can be distilled into three primary forms: perception, comprehension and projection.

Perception is the art of observing what’s going on around you. To help create and maintain a safe work area for crews, it’s important to look for hazards before work begins, while it’s occurring and after any extended breaks. Document and discuss identified hazards and mitigation strategies during your daily job briefings and in your job hazard analyses. If a new hazard is noticed after work has commenced, stop work to appropriately address it.  

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Bob Dunderdale, CUSP

Invest in Safety – You Can’t Afford Not To

The fact that you are reading this Tailgate Topic indicates that you probably spend considerable energy working to keep yourself and others safe. And all of us together, as an industry, dedicate vast sums of money and countless hours to this cause. Is it worth it?

While many metrics have been developed to measure safety results, it is nearly impossible to prove a negative – that something could or would have happened but didn’t. We cannot state with certainty that a particular lineworker would have been badly burned had that extra piece of line hose not been installed at the insistence of the foreman who just attended a seminar on cover-up.

Perhaps the return on the cost of safety, then, can best be determined by examining the cost of ignoring it. For this, we can look to empirical data as well as the human costs associated with traumatic workplace injuries.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP

Drug and Alcohol Awareness on the Job Site

It was a beautiful spring day when the call came in. “Jess, we need you out here. I’ve already called 911. One of the guys just died in the port-a-john. I think it’s an overdose. He’s a young guy who seemed healthy, and there’s a bottle of Percocet on the floor by his feet.”

Yes, this is a real call I received several years ago at a company I used to work for. The fact is, drug and alcohol abuse has impacted almost everyone in the U.S. to some degree. Let’s take a poll. Raise your hand if you or a member of your immediate family has had to deal with a drug and/or alcohol problem. OK, now raise your hand if a member of your immediate family or any of your first cousins has had to deal with a drug and/or alcohol problem.

You see, this isn’t a they have a problem” sort of problem – it’s a “we have a problem” sort of problem. It’s the kind of problem that we need to talk about for the sake of you and your family, your company, our industry and our nation.

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Will Schnyer

Everyone is the ‘Safety Person’

Like many of you, I follow social media power-line forums to remain engaged with current industry-related topics. One of those forums reports on nationwide electric utility incidents and accidents. Before I start reading an article posted to that particular forum, I already know a whole lot of people have been impacted by an unfortunate event and will have to confront its consequences.  

Some of those forum posts indicate that one of our brothers or sisters has sustained injuries that might leave long-lasting mental and/or physical scars. Unfortunately, I have also been a member of a crew that experienced an accident on the job site. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience. To this day, I can’t rid myself of the mental pictures I still carry from that event, even though it took place decades ago.

Why mention these things? Well, my son has chosen to follow in my footsteps and will be starting a lineman apprenticeship in the near future. Knowing what I know, I wish I could transfer my craft knowledge and experiences to him so that he could forgo the steep learning curve he will encounter in his career. However, I’m a realist and I understand that, as John Keats once said, “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” Personal experience provides the most enduring lessons.

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Bob Dunderdale, CUSP

Work-Site Safety: Get in on the Ground Level

When we think of line work, our thoughts often go directly to the action overhead that’s performed in hooks or from buckets. Upon further consideration, however, we realize a great deal of line work takes place at ground level. That’s also where many hazards present themselves and where we often assign our least experienced workers. In this installation of “Tailgate Topics,” let’s take a closer look at these ground-level hazards as well as some ways we can identify and mitigate them.

Walking/Working Surfaces
In response to injuries resulting from trips, slips and falls, OSHA recently released new rules for walking/working surfaces. Along with falls from higher elevations, falls from working surfaces (i.e., ground level) are the leading cause of workplace injuries and deaths. These types of injuries can be avoided by keeping walking/working surfaces clear of trip hazards, such as tools, materials, ice, snow and workplace debris. Be aware that fallen snow or leaves can obscure obstacles like open excavations and uneven surfaces. In addition, be mindful that ice or snow on plywood or other discarded building materials can be extremely slippery. 

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Seth T. Werling, CUSP

Effective Two-Way Workplace Communication

In the electrical utility industry, we train employees to look for hazards as a part of their jobs. Some hazards, however, can be tricky to identify. Effective two-way communication is a key component of hazard identification and mitigation. When anything is uncertain on a job site, questions must be asked and answered. This applies across the board, regardless of role, title or company structure. We must constantly seek to understand as well as to be understood.

In particular, it is the responsibility of those individuals in supervisory positions to ask the right kinds of questions. An honest answer to a good question will help reveal to you the reality of a situation, either confirming something you believe or providing you with information you did not already have.

When the questions you ask relate to someone else’s job performance, it is important to create an environment that encourages transparency. It is difficult for most people to say “I don’t understand” or “I don’t know” in a work atmosphere where such statements are used to make them feel foolish or invaluable. On the other hand, an environment that fosters discussion, learning and understanding is one in which transparency can thrive.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP

Battling Fatigue on the Job Site

The operator stared at the CAT 349 excavator that lay half in the trench. The cab had been partially crushed when the operator’s side of the trench wall had collapsed as he straddled it with the excavator’s tracks.

“I don’t know, Jess,” he said to me. “It just seemed like the thing to do at the time, but now that I look at it from here, I don’t know what the heck I was seeing and thinking. I would normally never attempt anything like that. What’s wrong with me?”

I could see genuine wonder and concern in his eyes, so I asked, “How many hours have you worked over the past two weeks?”

His reply answered his own question. “One hundred seventy-eight hours according to my paychecks, and we’ve worked 16 hours per day for the past three days. Jess, you know we’ve just been doing what we have to do to meet the outage and final tie-in deadline.”

And in that brief exchange, we see how fatigue builds and an example of how it can affect you, me and our crews.

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Richard J. Horan Jr., CSP, CUSP

Stop Work Authority is Everyone’s Responsibility

Our industry’s culture has changed considerably over the last 30 years. In the past, workers were trained to do as they were told by their supervisors – the command-and-control form of management – which kept some workers quiet even when they spotted potential hazards during the course of work. Fortunately, we have evolved over time and continue to improve our understanding of leadership and what it takes to work safely.

But as far as we have progressed, there is still much room for improvement when it comes to stop work authority (SWA). Although many workers are empowered to and do use SWA, others opt not to for a whole host of reasons, including productivity concerns and peer pressure not to stop work. Often, we hear about situations in which seasoned, experienced electrical workers ignored or downplayed another worker’s request to stop after that worker spoke up about an imminent danger. Sometimes those situations ended up being near misses, during which nothing bad happened but could have. Other times, a serious injury or fatality occurred. It is disturbing to hear of serious injuries that could have been avoided simply by listening to another person who recognized a hazard.

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Dion Creggett, MPH, CIH, CSP

The Human Body: A Forgotten Air Monitor

When working in any type of environment, employees may have concerns about the quality of the air they’re breathing. Air monitoring equipment can be used as a screening tool to help identify chemicals that are present, as well as their concentrations. There are a number of air monitoring technologies available today, from direct-read monitors that provide real-time measurements, such as a Jerome mercury analyzer, to equipment that is used to collect air samples that are then analyzed in a laboratory.

But while these technologies can help keep a work site safe, employees sometimes forget about another important piece of monitoring equipment available to them: their bodies. The human body is remarkable, with different senses that can be used to alert us when something in our environment may be unsafe or otherwise unacceptable. Our bodies use these senses to interpret and organize information, and then, hopefully, we use that information to make wise decisions. These senses are the same ones our ancestors used to help them survive.

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Terry Greene, CSC

Make Safety a Habit and a Skill

I have been a passionate safety advocate for many years. However, like most people, I was not always safety conscious.

Right out of high school, I started working as an underground electrical contractor. While on the job, I witnessed another laborer drill through a duct bank and make contact with 40,000 volts. He was killed instantly. That incident forever changed how I view my safety and the safety of others.

In our line of work, we can significantly reduce accidents and injuries when we make safety both a habit and a skill. When we talk about safety as a habit, we mean a good habit, not a bad one. Some think a habit is just a repetitious movement you make or thought you have without awareness of what you are doing. A good safety habit consists of knowing and understanding the importance of the actions we perform on a daily basis.

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Tony Boyd, CUSP

The Value of Apprenticeships

I’m not much of a “Star Wars” fan, but I’ve never forgotten one of Yoda’s statements: “Always two there are; no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.”

The U.S. Department of Labor defines an apprenticeship as a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction under the supervision of a qualified trainer or journey-level professional, during which the apprentice learns the theory and practical aspects of a specific type of work. In the electric utility industry, apprentices learn the theory and practical aspects of line work.

Apprenticeship Pros
As with anything, apprenticeships have their pros and cons. I’m always curious about the value of something versus its downsides. Some people call this return on investment, or ROI.

So, what are some of the pros of apprenticeships for apprentices? Exposure, experience, practice and increased productivity are among the benefits that these workers can discover.

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Kelly Sparrow, J.D.

Building the St. Louis Arch

Construction of the famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis began on February 12, 1963, and was completed in 1965. It was a unique project in scope, design and construction.

Designed to be 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide, the arch is made of sections of stainless-steel equilateral triangles with 54-foot sides at the base, tapering to 17-foot sides at the top. Each section has an inner steel wall that allows for reinforced concrete to be poured between the skin of the arch and the inner steel wall. The north and south bases of the arch rest on concrete supports, with a visitor center built underground between the two legs of the arch. When it was completed, a tram was installed in the hollow chamber inside the arch. Millions of tourists have taken that tram to the top of the arch, where windows afford a wonderful view.

As you may have realized, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was not signed into law until five years after the arch was completed. Actuarial tables used for estimating the arch’s construction costs included funds for 13 worker fatalities during construction. As it turned out, there were zero worker fatalities during construction of the arch.

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