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Tailgate Safety Topics

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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David Spooner

Confessions of a Complacent Lineman

If you have been working in the same role for a while, you know your job. People look up to you because you know what you’re doing. They count on you to get the job done the right way. You have confidence in what you do, too. But have you noticed yourself taking a few shortcuts lately, telling yourself, “I’ve done this work every day for years – I know what I’m doing”? If so, it may be time to rethink things. It’s exactly that kind of complacency that got me in trouble.

In early 2005, I was a lineman on a one-man service truck. I had been a journeyman for 20 years, so I was pretty comfortable with my skills. My main responsibilities were to catch all trouble, run temporary and permanent services, and work on streetlights. The district I worked in was very large; it took about 90 minutes to drive from one end to the other. One day, I had an order to tap up a service and set 10 meters on a condominium complex in Edisto Beach, South Carolina, which was at the far end of our service territory. The UG service was a parallel 300-MCM single-phase service. The line crew out of my base yard had been there the day before to run the service, make up the gang can and put the lugs on the transformer side of the service. Since there was no city approval when they ran the service, they did not heat it up. My job was to tap it up and set the meters. The approval had come in during the late afternoon the day before.

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Thomas Arnold, CSP, CUSP, MBA

Using Checklists to Mitigate Error and Injury

Today’s utility crews are working in an increasingly complex and fast-paced environment. Utilities and their contractors have come under intense pressure to get work done quickly and to ensure that it is done without error or serious injury. With this increased pressure comes increased risk.

So, how can we reduce the possibility of error on our worksites given such a demanding environment? One simple way is to use checklists. I realize this is hardly a new concept, but my colleagues and I have found that checklists, when properly written and consistently used, are a proven method to reduce risk and error.

The power of the checklist is well-documented in Dr. Atul Gawande’s book “The Checklist Manifesto,” published in 2009. Gawande, an endocrine surgeon, found that on average, there were over 50 million surgeries performed each year in the United States. Alarmingly, 150,000 of the patients died after surgery – and half of those fatalities were avoidable.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

One Key Question Every LIFE Guard Must Ask

I never planned to be a safety director. Rather, I think my path was chosen for me through a series of circumstances that all started when I was 16 years old and landed my first official job. Back then I was a lifeguard at a public pool in my South Dakota hometown, and I continued to lifeguard during the summers of my college years. At the pool where I worked, the safety orientation always included the tragic story of a little boy who had drowned many years ago when the pool was overcrowded one hot summer day. The story gave me and the other lifeguards I worked with a sense of the importance of our job – hearing it was an opportunity to remind ourselves that we were LIFE guards.

Fast-forward to today and I find myself still hearing stories about on-the-job tragedies, as I’m sure you have, too. We don’t want these tragedies to continue to happen, so what can we do?

I believe stories can shape our thinking and instill in us a stronger commitment to do better. Yet this commitment can only arise when stories are treated as learning opportunities. If they are merely told and then promptly forgotten about, the point is missed, the opportunity is gone, and we haven’t made our world any safer. We didn’t do anything with the story.

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Take Off Those Blinders: The Importance of Situational Awareness

Some days I feel like a broken record with my apprentice. “Watch out for …,” “Keep in mind …” and, of course, the much more emphatic “Hey, hey, hey, you can’t …” Those of us who work in the field on a daily basis and are responsible for the training of less experienced workers know this feeling well. So, how do we train our workers, keep them safe and still be productive? To me, it comes down to one simple phrase: situational awareness.

What is situational awareness? I am constantly using the analogy of blinders on a racehorse to describe it. All those horses care about is what is directly in front of them as they run down that track. In our line of work, that way of thinking is dangerous. It is easy to talk about the scope of a job and identify hazards, but once work starts, the situation changes and a worker’s field of vision may shrink. Sometimes there is so much going on in your working environment, or you become so absorbed in your own thoughts, that you fail to spot those things that could pose a serious threat to your health and safety.

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Recent comment in this post
Guest — Geoffrey Rogers
Good article and very true.
Wednesday, 29 May 2019 13:44
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Max Fuentes

Writing Utility Work and Safety Procedures

With the great number of potential hazards in the industry, high-voltage transmission and distribution line work can be risky business. That’s a considerable part of why the T&D industry is rife with regulations, policies, procedures and work practices that electrical workers must adhere to.

Work and safety procedures should be written so that there is a clear set of steps to follow in order to perform every task safely and in compliance with existing regulations. It is critical that training is in place for new procedures, and that information about the procedures is shared with affected work groups via meetings, tailboards and other methods to ensure understanding.

Engineers often are the primary developers and writers of a utility’s work procedures. If you’re fortunate enough to have a safety department, someone within that department likely will be tasked with writing safety procedures. The best scenario is to form procedures committees staffed with individuals from relevant departments who have different job skills and essential functions; these people can bring subject matter expertise to the table when procedures are being crafted. For example, the safety department can provide information about current regulations and compliance issues. Engineering can provide expertise about any new system equipment or devices that require either a new policy or procedure or a modification to an existing policy or procedure. The training department can develop, facilitate and deliver training on any new procedures, as well as develop related guidelines, job aids and other tools for affected workers.

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David Spooner

Remember Why Safety Rules Were Written

Recently I was thinking back over my career as a lineman. There was a man – we called him Big Jim – who was our safety guy from the time I started in the industry until I had been a lineman for about 20 years. Jim always sported a crew cut and a green hard hat that didn't have a scratch on it; the rumor was he waxed his hat to keep it shiny. I’m unsure if he served in the military, but Big Jim behaved like a borderline drill sergeant on the job. He got right to his point and was a stickler for safety rules.

For instance, Big Jim used to visit the crew to check on everything. He would start by going through the bins on the trucks. If he found a chainsaw or saw blade with no cover, he would toss it on the ground and continue his inspection. If tools were worn out or in need of repair? That was a big problem – he would remove them from the truck and toss those on the ground, too. Hooks with no gaff guards? You knew you were dead meat. After Big Jim was done with the bin inspection, he would interrogate us about why there were no blade or gaff guards, and why faulty tools were still on the truck.

Sometimes Big Jim would watch the crew and ask us questions: Was the line grounded properly? Were we using the handline instead of going up and down to get materials? “No seesawing that bucket, guys” was one of his favorite things to say.

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Ryan Stephens, AEP, and Amber Travis, GSP

3 Safety Measures to Mitigate Substation Risks

Any type of utility work can present a number of potentially fatal hazards, from arc blasts and flashes to extreme temperatures that can cause the human body to overheat or become hypothermic. And it’s not just severe hazards that can lead to injury or death – even the slightest negligence can bring about circumstances in which workers can get hurt. Regardless of the job or work environment, careful analysis of all risk factors is a must, along with initial and ongoing training and communication. In this month’s Tailgate, we’re going to take a look at three important safety measures that can minimize risk when working in a live substation.

1. Personal Protective Equipment
PPE must be worn that is appropriate for the potential hazards that may be encountered. Work areas must be assessed by a person qualified to determine what PPE is required for the hazards involved. PPE may not always be the first choice for protection. If a hazard can be avoided by re-engineering or changing the work plan or procedures, choose that option first. Good PPE procedures use PPE as a last resort to mitigate hazards that cannot be controlled through procedures or engineering changes. PPE for substation work might include arc-rated/flame-resistant clothing, high-visibility vests appropriately rated for the electrical environment, head protection, safety glasses with side shields, fall protection and insulated gloves.

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Tony Boyd, CUSP

Training and Certifying Apprentices

Training today’s apprentice lineworkers has become a priority that no company, large or small, can afford to ignore. Most of the old-timers who trained us are all gone now, and we are now the old-timers who are left to get out the message. The message should not be about getting apprentices to follow safety rules. Rather, the message for apprentices should be about understanding what the hazards really are, knowing how to recognize them and having apprentices learn to think for themselves to avoid the traps that can injure them.

Some apprentices believe they are 10 feet tall and bulletproof. It often is said among young apprentices, “That’s not going to happen to me!” These apprentices are overconfident in their abilities and understanding and take for granted the training they receive. If you have apprentices who are open to learning, serious about their training and ready to take part in the safety of the crew, hang on to them, give them a raise and make a good example of them.

The basic concepts of training apprentice lineworkers have not changed. Regardless of the training material used or the delivery of that training material, many of the skills needed to do the job have remained the same since the beginning. The industry has learned through the years, however, that injuries and near misses usually are the result of a performance pressures, lack of understanding the hazards or both. Misunderstanding the hazards has been the Achilles’ heel of the industry, and even today many still do not understand the consequences associated with this confusion over the industry’s best practices.

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