Tailgate Safety Topics

Tailgate Safety Topics
Tailgate meetings are a critical communication component of any strong utility safety program. Incident Prevention supplies the utility industry with topics for these important meetings. Each article can be printed out for use in the field or emailed to your crews.
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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CET, CUSP

Overcoming Slip, Trip and Fall Hazards on the ROW

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. It wasn’t too hot or too cold, and Jim, a new worker, was listening to the plan for the day with Jack and Mary as they walked on the right-of-way (ROW) to the drilling pad they would be working on. As they were walking, Jim stepped on a rock that caused his ankle to roll. Instinctively, he put his hand out to catch himself, but his arm didn’t quite make it to the right position before he hit the ground. Everyone heard a snap, and Jim felt the fracture in his left wrist. He knew that pain because he had sustained a similar injury a few years before, and he knew that it would affect his work for the next six to eight weeks. But what he didn’t know until he saw the doctor was that he also had torn two ligaments in his ankle. Regrettably, the surgery required to fix this mess wouldn’t go as well as planned, which would put Jim out of work for the next six months. In addition, this injury occurred in a non-employee-friendly workers’ compensation state, and Jim and his family would face severe financial issues as his take-home pay would be cut from $1,100 per week to exactly $442.28. The end. Not all fairy tales have a happy ending.

In real life, the contractor I work for – Supreme Industries – grew by 42 percent in 2017, which required us to hire many new workers. Surprisingly, of all the issues that could have arisen from this growth, it was slip, trip and fall (STF) injuries that popped up on our safety radar. Upon investigation, we found that approximately 70 percent of these injuries involved workers who had been with our company for less than six months and may not have been accustomed to working on a ROW. In response, we developed an STF training program and rolled it into our onboarding process, a move that – despite growing another 25 percent in 2018 on top of the 42 percent growth in 2017 – has reduced our STF injuries to zero. We at Supreme want to share with you some of our knowledge gained and lessons learned so you can help your workers do the job right and go home unharmed.

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Kelly Sparrow, CUSP, J.D.

Production, Quality, Safety and the Bermuda Triangle

We’ve all heard or read about the Bermuda Triangle, a loose geographic area with Miami, Bermuda and San Juan, Puerto Rico, serving as the triangle’s three points. Legend has it that lots of strange things have happened in the Bermuda Triangle, mostly the unexplained disappearances of ships and airplanes that sailed or flew through the area. You may remember the story of Flight 19, a group of five torpedo bombers that disappeared on December 5, 1945, over the Bermuda Triangle while on a training mission. Fourteen airmen were lost in the incident.

There is a part of the story that a lot of people don’t know about. Those in command responded to the missing Flight 19 by sending a flying boat – a plane that can land on water – to search for the lost planes. It is believed that the rescue plane had a small, undetected fuel leak that caused a vapor buildup in the fuselage. The plane exploded in midair, and all 13 crew members were lost while they were looking for Flight 19.

Experts think the five planes of Flight 19 may have been uniformly underfueled due to a faulty gauge on the tanker that fueled them before they took off. Because systems for checking the gauge failed to discover that problem, 14 men died and 13 more died searching for them. If a quality equipment inspection had found the faulty gauge on the truck, or the operator of the truck had questioned why the filling operation had been completed so quickly, or the flight crew had asked for a recheck, the Flight 19 mission might have gone off without any problems. If that had happened, the rescuers would not have died because their flight would have been unnecessary.

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Four Things We Shouldn’t Say

Throughout my years of serving as a safety professional, I have seen safety grow from simply telling people to “follow the rules” to engaging people in building safety cultures. I’ve also seen employees and managers shift their thinking about safety as they engage in it for all the right reasons – so we can all go home tonight. It’s refreshing!

Yet when an accident does happen, as much as we work to prevent it, I’ve also heard some questions and statements that make me wonder if we have truly advanced safety. I admit, those questions and statements might have been “the way we said it” in the past, but they can no longer be accepted if we are to grow our safety culture. Here are four things I believe we should never say again – and explanations as to why we should avoid them.

1. “Why don’t they just follow the rules?”
I can give you at least 10 reasons why people don’t. In fact, we have had rules in place for many years, yet we still are having accidents. Maybe the safety rules are vague, misunderstood or lengthy, leading to shortcuts. What we need to ask is if the rule system we have in place is effective – do employees know what’s expected of them? If they don’t know our rules, how can we expect employees to follow them? One solution is to move to basic life-saving rules. These are the rules we need people to know and follow.

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Richard J. Horan Jr., CSP, CUSP

Construction Workers are Occupational Athletes

Why do professional athletes compete? Well, the obvious answer is that they compete to both win and earn a living. But athletes aren’t just found in the professional sports world. The construction industry has its own athletes; they’re known as “working athletes” or “occupational athletes,” people who physically move around to work and earn a living.

Although a successful day for a construction worker may not be an actual win that gets recorded like a professional athlete’s does, it is a win nonetheless. A successful day for an occupational athlete who wants to win on the job includes a couple of things. One of those things is eating nutritiously before, during and after their shift. Years ago, I remember several journeymen linemen approaching an athletic trainer in the workplace to discuss nutrition. They were very interested in learning how to choose the right foods to buy and consume. The trainer agreed to meet them after the end of their shift to walk through the supermarket and show them what to look for on food labels. Those linemen were preparing to win.

Workplace Ergonomics
A well-developed workplace ergonomics program is another thing that helps to ensure occupational athletes have successful days. There are four essential components of such a program. The first is worker education and training, and those must take place before anything else. Athletic trainers will educate workers about musculoskeletal injuries and how to prevent them. Construction work is demanding on the body, so learning how to move safely on the job is key to prevention. Workers will learn how important it is to get close to the work and properly position their bodies. Knowing the causes of soft-tissue injuries and how to avoid them provides the working athlete with the prevention tools needed to help ensure proper body mechanics on the worksite.

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David Spooner

If You Could Talk to Your Younger Self, What Would You Say?

“The Shawshank Redemption” is one of my favorite movies. In one scene, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, is sitting in front of the parole board. He is pouring his heart out to the members of the board when they ask him, “Do you feel rehabilitated?” Red tells them, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid … I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are.” I, too, wish I could go back and talk to my younger self about one thing in particular – it sure would be saving me some heartache today.

I started working for an electric utility, SCE&G, in 1979, and I have pretty much been outside in the sun every day since. When I started at SCE&G, I worked on the coast near Charleston, South Carolina, where summers are hot and humid, and the sun is direct. Many days after work, my clothes were soaked with sweat, all the way down to my underwear and socks. I even had to dry my boots out every now and then.

When I made lineman in the 1980s, many lineworkers wore long-sleeved shirts and extra-wide shades on their hard hats. They also used company-provided sunscreen. I thought the long sleeves were for protection from creosote on the poles, and the hard hat shades were to shade workers’ eyes. I even asked my foreman, an old-timer named Ronald, “Why do you wear long sleeves? Is it to keep the creosote off your arms?”

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Kevin Ripplinger and Will Schnyer, CUSP

St. Thomas Storm Restoration: Lessons Learned

Late last year, two powerful hurricanes – Irma and Maria – carved their way across the Virgin Islands and nearby Puerto Rico before turning north. Both hurricanes left behind substantial damage to the region, including debris, flooding, communication outages, power outages, and water and food shortages. As the first deployed line crews to arrive in the region, Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) linemen were tasked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair roughly 25 miles of 34.5-kV transmission lines on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the electric utility business, it is common knowledge that energy recovery after a natural disaster can be complicated due to physical damage to the electric system and surrounding land as well as unknown hazards. Accordingly, throughout the restoration effort on St. Thomas, WAPA crews didn’t always know what they faced or the extent of the damage until after it was thoroughly evaluated. Worksite tailgate meetings and job briefings were often held several times a day because issues that affected both the scope of work and the safety of employees had to be mitigated before continuing the work.

WAPA linemen encountered numerous hazards while working to restore power on St. Thomas, including:

  • Hazardous driving conditions due to narrow and slippery roadways, and driving on the left side of the road.
  • No power to traffic lights.
  • Slips and falls due to steep and slippery work locations.
  • Falling objects, such as debris, tree limbs and damaged utility poles.
  • Electrical hazards from generators back-fed into the power grid.
  • Electrical hazards from re-energized circuits.
  • Falls from height.
  • Fatigue from working extended shifts.
  • Heat exhaustion.
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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Coaching the Crew Chief in Safety

Walk onto any job site and you will find that one person has been designated to be in charge. Although this person may have a different title from site to site – such as crew lead, foreman or crew chief – they are responsible for the work being done by the crew that day.

What do you think is the crew chief’s most important action in their role? In Minnesota, we are making an effort to send one clear message – that the crew chief’s most important job is to prevent injuries. It is not a new message, but it is critical that it has been clearly communicated to the crew chief at every worksite. And you can’t simply tell the chief that preventing injuries is their No. 1 priority – that person needs to be coached in safety. Just as in football, we don’t send the quarterback onto the field with their team if we have only shown them films and talked about how to play the game. In addition, the coach watches from the side of the field and guides the quarterback as to what skills they must use to do the job, to win the game. So, in this month’s Tailgate, let’s explore what it takes to coach a crew chief in safety.

An Overview
To begin, pair the crew chief with the designated coach; they should expect to spend a half-day together. The coach should be present at the start of the job, and their role is to observe the crew chief and interact with them as necessary, while staying conscious of whether or not the work at the site is being done safely.

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Jennifer A. Martin

Into the Woods

Having worked in the safety field for more years than I care to discuss publicly, I am frequently reminded of the continual need to adapt existing safety policies and procedures to ever-changing work environments. The safety field provides ongoing opportunities to learn and improve our work practices, with the important goal of making job sites safer for everyone. Prior to my current role within the safety industry, my boots-on-the-ground field time occurred either within four walls or during the construction of those four walls. Delving into the utility industry and experiencing the sheer isolation of some worksite locations were new experiences for me.

For the longest time, the environmental section of my tailboards looked like the cookie-cutter variety. In the summer, the section consisted of anything related to heat, including heat stress, heat cramps, heat stroke and dehydration. The winter section revolved around hazards related to cold and ice: hypothermia, frostbite, winter driving conditions and slippery work/walking surfaces.

And of course, ticks are mentioned seasonally in nearly every safety professional’s tailboard paperwork, including mine. But what about all of the other creatures that may be found in rights-of-way and other remote work locations, particularly bears, which can be found in the majority of U.S. states and in Canada? Are they being mentioned in your tailboards? They weren’t always mentioned in mine, but they are now.

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Brad Brill, CHST, CSHO, CUSP

Going Into Battle

In August 2009, I was in Okinawa, Japan, preparing to depart with my unit to Afghanistan. As we were getting in our last hugs and kisses from family members, we were summoned to meet up to receive some news from our commander. Once our families were out of earshot, we were told that one of our Marines who had arrived in Afghanistan a couple weeks prior had been killed. Captain Matthew Freeman, a Marine helicopter pilot who volunteered to leave the relative safety of the flying community to advise Afghan National Army soldiers as an embedded trainer, had been shot during a firefight with the Taliban. Captain Freeman was a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, a Naval Aviator and had married his high school sweetheart two weeks before deploying. As 150 of us stood there receiving the news of a fallen brother, we couldn’t help but think about Matt’s family as well as contemplate our own mortality. We had not even left Japan and we were down one Marine.

Over the next two months, three more Marines, one Navy corpsman and a soldier were killed in battle. The fallen were fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands and friends. The loss of those men affected people all around the U.S. and beyond. The daily threat to us was very real, and we knew that we had to be prepared to do our jobs. Prior to a patrol, we would check all our gear and equipment as well as conduct buddy checks to ensure our teams were ready for whatever was thrown our way. We knew we could not afford to overlook even a small detail because each patrol potentially was a life-or-death situation. We would ensure every single person on the patrol could repeat the plan back to us before departing so that anyone who was put in harm’s way would know their role. We understood that if you are not prepared for the enemy or other hazards that present themselves, you have a far greater chance of being injured – or worse.

The Link to Utility Safety
You may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with utility safety? Each day on construction worksites, we are essentially going into battle, potentially being confronted with many enemies and hazards. We may be working on a highway near drivers who may not be paying attention to our safety vests and barricades. We may be working in an energized substation with voltages ranging from 12 kV to 765 kV. We may be in a trench installing underground distribution or transmission lines while working near other hazards such as natural gas lines, water mains and sewer lines. We may be in a manhole with the potential for unhealthy air or traffic above, both the foot and vehicular varieties. We may be supervising a pilot who is carrying a lineman hanging by a rope off the bottom of a helicopter or setting a 340-foot transmission tower. The work we perform is hazardous, just like a battle. I would argue that most of us can name a fallen brother or sister within the utility industry, and if that is the case, we likely have pondered the events that led up to those tragedies and what could have been done differently.

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Jared Rumm, CUSP, GSP, Roger Timmons, CHST, and Kent Fogelberg, COSS

Near-Miss and Good-Catch Reporting

An employee using a GFCI-protected extension cord had to push the reset several times to get the cord to work. The cord reset finally held, and he finished his task and returned the cord to the tool room. A few days later, another employee – using the same GFCI-protected cord – noticed the GFCI breaker on the cord was warm. He also had trouble keeping the cord from tripping when he plugged it in. The cord reset finally held, and the employee finished his task and returned the cord to the tool room. Within days, a third employee selected that same defective cord from the tool room. When he plugged it in, the GFCI module on the cord flashed in his hand. He received a shock and flash burn, resulting in his death.

Few people would imagine that an extension cord reset issue could rise to the level of a fatal event, but that precisely illustrates the value of a strong near-miss and good-catch program. Unusual events prompt reports and out-of-service orders, maintenance or repairs, preventing potential incidents.

“Near Miss” and “Good Catch” Defined
Before we go any further, let’s define “near miss” and “good catch.”  

A near miss is an event during which no property is damaged and no personal injury is sustained, but where – given a slight shift in time or position – damage and/or injury easily could have occurred. For example, let’s say an employee grabs a 3/4-inch drill motor with a paint-mixer blade from a gang box. Previously, someone had removed and bypassed the switch. When the employee plugs it in, the drill motor starts unexpectedly, and the mixing blade causes the unattended drill motor to bounce wildly around the work-area floor. 

A good catch is recognition by an employee of a condition or situation that had the potential to cause an incident but did not cause one due to corrective action and/or timely intervention by the employee. For example, a good catch occurs when an employee inspects a piece of electrical equipment prior to use and notices damage or an unusual condition, which prompts him to immediately tag the equipment out of service.

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Hubert Hayes, CHST, CUSP, MESH

Managing Stress in the Workplace

I’ve worked in the electrical industry for more than 40 years, and the work has pretty much stayed the same. We set poles and towers, string conductor, build stations, dig trenches and install conductor in the ground the same way we did years ago, aside from some new tools and technology that have been introduced. The weather conditions we faced back then are pretty much the same, although maybe it’s a little warmer now. And we still get called out to work at all hours of the day and night, weekends and holidays included.

Families are still intact and function the same way they always have. Your loved ones still miss you, need you and rely on you coming home every day, safe and sound. Companies have rules about employees being fit for duty that mainly focus on our physical fitness. For instance, are we clear of alcohol, drugs and anything else that would affect our ability to safely perform our duties? Are we well-rested, fed and hydrated? If we are switching from the day shift to the night shift, have our sleep patterns adjusted so we can be alert on the job?

Somewhere along the line, however, something has changed. The demands on our employees have increased significantly. More than ever, the work moves and so do our workforces, from state to state and region to region. Paperwork has increased, and some of it must be filled out daily or even hourly. On top of that, it’s likely a monthly recap – filled with information you’ve already turned in several times before – also is a requirement. Time constraints are getting greater and greater, with little to no ability to employ scheduled outages because the country revolves around their power staying on 24/7. In addition, as our most skilled employees are promoted to fill leadership roles, they face new pressures and challenges. And as those people are promoted, there is a smaller pool of qualified people willing to put sweat equity into a job that many of them view differently than we did years ago.

So, what is one major result of all these changes within our industry? Stress.    

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Jerry Havens, COSS

3 Safety Considerations for Cold Weather Work

Cold weather safety is a topic that should be discussed at length among utility workers who perform any outdoor job functions. That’s because, as with heat stress, cold stress can be a fatal threat. When you’re exposed to freezing temperatures for long periods of time, you run the risk of losing a dangerous amount of body heat, which, if not corrected immediately, could lead to frostbite, hypothermia and even death. There are a number of things to think about prior to and when working in the cold, and while we won’t talk about all of those things in this month’s Tailgate Topic, we’ll cover three of the most important items: dressing properly, staying hydrated and eating right, and keeping an eye on your co-workers.

1. Dress Properly
The golden rule for winter weather preparation is to dress in layers. One of the biggest problems with working in the cold is getting too warm and sweaty. If it’s a cold and windy day, hypothermia can begin within just a few minutes. So, layering is key. Here are some layering basics:

  • Layer 1 (base layer): Wear a light, long-sleeved base layer close to your skin. Thinner layers wick sweat better and dry faster.
  • Layer 2 (mid-layer): This layer also should be a thin layer. Wool is a good choice; not only is it warm, but it will retain most of its warmth when wet. There are some fantastic flame-resistant wool garments currently on the market.
  • Layer 3 (heat trap): This should be a zippered jacket with a hood – hooded zip-up sweatshirts are most commonly used for this layer.
  • Layer 4 (outer shell): Choose a waterproof but breathable fabric, and make sure the garment is large enough to fit over all of the other layers.
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Tony Boyd, CUSP

Defensive Driving: How’s That Working for You?

How is your company’s driving safety performance? If you are like most, you’ve conducted defensive driving safety training companywide, invested large sums of money into these driver training concepts, hired this or that company to improve your employees’ driving safety awareness, and still there have been collisions, near misses and customer complaints about driver behaviors. Most likely, you’ve implemented safe driving rules, using programs like the Smith driving system or others, stressed maintaining safe distances and probably have an organizational policy of not using cellphones while driving, or at least being hands-free. Some companies have even placed cameras in truck cabs to record driver behaviors, hoping to ensure safe driving. And yet, for the most part, driving records, statistics and costs are still driving safety downhill (pun intended). The big question remains: How do you get every employee, on and off the job, to utilize defensive, safe driving techniques?

If I had the answer to that question, I would certainly share it with everyone, but there seems to be no magical solution. I’ve been in the electric utility business for 40 years and have seen the frequency and severity of collisions go up and down each year, just as you have. My commitment to defensive driving began about 20 years ago when I transferred from lineworker to the corporate safety department. It just made sense that if I had to teach defensive driving, assess driver behaviors and report to management about customer complaints concerning driver behaviors, I should make sure I practice safe driving techniques myself. In retrospect, I believe this is the key to improvement. If all executive management and supervisors commit themselves to demonstrating safe driving behaviors, others in the company will begin to follow.

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Mack Turner, CUSP

A Can of Soup: What We Say and How We Say It

If you look closely at the label on a can of soup, you likely will notice the ingredients section, which lists the soup’s contents from those with the greatest volume or weight down to the ingredient with the lowest volume or weight. This information is good to know before you decide whether to buy the can of soup.  

If you ask senior executives of a utility or contractor what their company goals or ideal “top ingredients” are, you often will receive responses such as “outstanding customer service,” “maximum return on investment” or “the best value for our customers.” And if you ask that same question to members of middle management or frontline workers, you’ll probably hear something along the lines of “keeping customers happy by keeping the lights on” or “making the bid units.”

These are admirable goals and valuable ingredients in the success of any utility organization, but are they the most critical ones? That’s debatable. Personally, I believe that protecting our most valuable resource – that is, our employees – should without a doubt be job No. 1, our top priority and the right thing to do.

As part of protecting our employees, one thing we must do is provide them with the right information about what is important for them to accomplish each workday. Where do our employees get this information? They receive direction from their leadership, but sometimes the wrong message may be delivered to them. Here’s an example of a somewhat common message employees hear from leadership: “We need to change out two hot poles today. We will have to work hard to get that done and, by the way, make sure you stay safe while you’re executing the job.”

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Lidia Dilley Jacobson

Do More Rules Make Us Safer?

Let’s begin this month’s Tailgate with a short quiz. Ask your employees these two questions:

  1. When is the last time you read the company’s safety rule book?
  2. If you had to take a test on its contents, would you pass?

It’s possible some of our employees are not as well-versed in the company’s safety rules as we would like because the rule book may be long and cover everything from office safety to working on overhead lines. Yet we base many of our safe work practices on our employees truly understanding these rules.

It’s also possible that we have fooled ourselves into thinking our employees have read the rule book, know and understand it, and believe in the written safety rules. The truth is, your company’s rule book could be causing problems when it comes to safety. How? Here are some possibilities.

Not all rules are known or followed. I’m aware of a cooperative that disciplined an employee for not adhering to a safety rule; the employee honestly stated, “I didn’t even know that was a rule.” In another instance, I asked a line superintendent about his cooperative’s grounding practice and then read him the rule from the cooperative’s rule book. He responded, “Oh, we don’t do it that way.”

The book includes rules that don’t tell you anything. One rule book I reviewed stated, “Disposal of trash and debris shall be done in an approved environmentally safe manner.” Yes, but what exactly does that mean? What is a worker supposed to do?

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Kelly Sparrow, CUSP, J.D.

The Power of a Tool and Equipment Inspection System

It’s a hot, muggy day in Missouri. A crew is preparing forms for a foundation that will be poured later, when it cools down a bit. Two employees are pounding in steel support stakes for the forms. They’ve used theses stakes forever, and the heads of the stakes have always looked like mushrooms due to their frequent contact with a 10-pound sledge. Santiago is on the sledgehammer, using all the force he can muster to drive the stakes deep into the earth. Jeff, waiting to hold the next support stake, momentarily removes his safety glasses to wipe the sweat from his brow. Santiago takes one last swing with the sledge and the unthinkable happens. A piece of the rusted mushroom on the head of the stake he is pounding breaks off, ricochets off a rock on the ground and enters Jeff’s left eye, causing permanent loss of vision.

In Georgia, a logging foreman gets his truck stuck in mud. The crew prepares to pull the truck out, using their truck to pull and a 20-foot logging chain as the connection between the two vehicles. The chain has been in their truck for some time and is rated for the intended purpose. They attach the chain to the frames of the two vehicles and start the pull.

It all happens so fast. About 4 feet out from the bumper of the stuck vehicle, a link gives way. Sixteen feet of heavy chain recoils, striking an employee standing by the chain in both knees. After extensive surgery, the employee retrains for work that is less demanding than the logging work he loves. Investigation reveals that the broken link in the chain was severely compromised by abrasive wear and neglect.

What could have prevented these two incidents? In the first incident, it would be easy to blame the injured employee for taking off his PPE, but we all know that PPE is the last line of defense. Good safety systems prevent unwanted occurrences before PPE is needed.

Both of these incidents could have been prevented by an aggressive inspection and removal-from-service program. Below are a few things to think about when reviewing or revamping your inspection program.

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Mark J. Steinhofer, CHST, CSP, CUSP

Don’t Blame People for Human Error

The first lineman scaled the pole and tried to perform the task on the conductor. After a minute or so, the supervisor yelled, “You’re doing that wrong!,” told the lineman he was incompetent and sent a second lineman up the pole in his place. The second lineman started the task only to hear, “That’s not how it’s done!” before returning to the ground. A third lineman took a deep breath before he climbed. He looked over the job and started to work. Soon the supervisor bellowed, “What’s wrong with you? That won’t work!”

This scenario illustrates the way the utility construction industry traditionally has dealt with human error: by blaming people instead of flawed processes. The supervisor assumed the linemen were making mistakes instead of reasoning that there must have been a fundamental flaw in the task or their training.

What is Human Error?
We define human error as undesirable human decisions or behaviors that reduce or may reduce safety and effectiveness. Errors typically fall into one of four categories:

  1. Mistakes result from ignorance of the correct task or the correct way to perform it.
  2. Mismatches occur when tasks are beyond the physical or mental ability of the person asked to perform them.
  3. Noncompliance or violations happen because someone decided not to carry out a task or did not carry it out in the way instructed or expected.
  4. Slips and lapses result from forgetfulness, habit, fatigue or similar causes.

Blaming individuals is the easy way out, and it doesn’t prevent errors. For one thing, sometimes the best people make the worst mistakes. And second, mishaps are anything but random; they tend to fall into recurring patterns.

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Ryan Dobbins, GSP, and Jordan Hollingsworth, CHST, CSP, CUSP

The Benefits of Near-Miss Reporting

As members of the utility construction industry, we must spend ample time and effort working to prevent incidents and injuries from occurring through the use of proactive techniques and leading indicators. The goals for everyone are simple: zero injuries, zero accidents, zero claims.

These goals are absolutely achievable, but they may be construed as unrealistic to the common craftsman. We have heard from this demographic that accidents are not always avoidable due to any number of factors, including scheduling pressures, financing, transient workforces, vendors and deliveries. In part, this frame of mind stems from the fact that some contractors’ safety and health programs are not ready to set these types of goals. Not only that, but the construction industry has a major handicap: people. We have humans performing hazardous and often strenuous work, and the reality is that humans make mistakes.

While managers and executives strive for zero injuries, zero accidents and zero claims, they also may be doing their company a disservice. Rather than specifically pushing for zero accidents, they should be pushing for greater transparency and a culture of reporting. After all, a reporting culture typically is a safe culture. Employees should get a vibe from management that says to them, “We’re not perfect and we need to report everything in order to identify trends, learn from our shortcomings and implement new programs and procedures.”

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Richard J. Horan Jr., CSP, CUSP

Learning from Potential Serious Injuries and Fatalities

Over the past century, there have been many changes in how companies manage their safety systems. Although fatalities were common and accepted as part of doing business in the 1920s, great strides were made throughout the following decades to reduce or eliminate unsafe conditions. Over time, safety measures continued to increase among various sectors, which led to a decline in serious injuries and fatalities. In the nearly five decades since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was signed into law, workplace deaths and reported occupational injuries have dropped by more than 60 percent, according to a January 2012 white paper published by OSHA.

And yet serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) and potential serious injuries and fatalities (PSIFs) continue to afflict companies across a wide range of industries. When a company experiences a SIF event, safety consciousness usually increases. However, when a PSIF incident occurs, some company leaders do not know where or how to take action to strengthen the company safety culture against future risk.

One solution to this problem is for leaders to consistently use an incident decision tree or assessment questions to determine PSIFs. Each PSIF incident should be treated as an actual event, and a thorough incident investigation should be conducted. The main objective in an investigation is to recognize and diminish precursors – existing conditions that are known to increase the risk of an incident – in order to avoid a future SIF or PSIF.

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Brad Brill, CHST, CSHO, CUSP

What is Your Why?

Do you have family members who rely on you? Would you like to provide a better life for your children than the one you’ve had? Is there a purchase you’d like to make with your hard-earned paycheck? Do you want to reward your hours of dedication to the company by taking a trip that’s long been on your bucket list? No matter the length of time you’ve been employed in the utility industry, I challenge you to answer the question, “What is your why?” What is it that motivates you to come to work each day and focus 100 percent of your energy on doing your job well and safely?

It’s important to keep this source of motivation in mind as you perform your daily tasks. As you are likely well aware, the work that an electric utility company’s team of employees is exposed to on a daily basis can be very hazardous. Throughout the U.S., from Alaska to Florida, you can find crews engaged in the following work and more:
• Building roads with high levels of traffic next to their work zones.
• Working around rock crushers with fast-moving conveyor belts and heavy machinery.
• Hauling enormous loads of materials out of rock pits, often up steep grades.
• Working deep underground in tunnels large enough to be featured on History Channel’s “Modern Marvels.”
• Donning a wet suit and wiggling through 24-inch pipes in preparation to line the pipes.
• Working in electrical substations with 500,000 volts overhead.
• Building bridges over frigid water with barge-mounted cranes.

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