Utility workers should be familiar with OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(c) and 1926.952, which require a job briefing before work begins. OSHA expects each briefing to include a discussion of hazards, work procedures, any special precautions, controls for energy sources and personal protective equipment needed for safe work.
Performing such briefings provides basic regulatory compliance, but taking an additional step significantly improves worker safety. Prudent electric power transmission and distribution providers and contractors require crews on their job sites to perform a task hazard analysis (THA) as part of the job briefing process. This approach is increasingly being recognized as a best practice for the industry.
A THA – which some organizations may refer to as a job hazard analysis or job safety analysis – details all of the steps involved in the performance of a task, the hazards associated with each of those steps and actions that will mitigate those hazards. While a THA is a fairly simple document, its true value arises from the process used in its development.
In our experience, the most effective approach is to have the individuals who will perform the tasks create the THAs for those tasks. Why? Two reasons. First, the people who will perform the work typically know the process, job site and inherent hazards better than anyone else. They are intimately familiar with each step of a task and have firsthand experience with problems that may arise. They recognize the strongest supports and the slickest surfaces, and they are aware of trends that may be affecting the workplace.
Second, by creating the THA, the workers take an active role in their own safety planning. They have to think carefully about each step associated with a task, visualize what could go wrong and identify the most sensible solution. Then they have to commit that information to paper. The process touches on several different learning styles, making it more memorable and meaningful for workers.
On our company’s job sites, the workday begins when the foreman provides the mandatory job briefing, which the workers sign. Next, the foreman assigns the roles and responsibilities for the day. Workers involved in specific tasks gather in groups to collaborate on the THAs for their tasks. This collaboration is a must for the process to be effective. If one worker develops the THA while the others stand around, the THA might not be as comprehensive as it should be. More importantly, the workers who aren’t directly involved won’t benefit from the process. Everyone on the crew must be vocal about the task and hazards. Once the THA is completed and signed, the foreman reviews it and makes any needed additions or comments, then signs off on it and allows the crew to begin work.
This approach focuses the workers’ attention on the job and the specific tasks that need to be completed. It’s easy for workers to be distracted when they arrive at a job site. Taking just a few minutes to develop a THA helps them concentrate on what’s important. We also recommend that every THA include information about the specific location of the site, the nearest crossroads and the closest medical facilities so workers can quickly obtain emergency assistance.
Digital vs. Paper THAs
Some contractors have adopted tablets or similar technology for developing THAs, but we believe that approach allows workers to cut corners by simply copying and pasting details from earlier tasks. Using paper forms that have to be completed by hand requires more discipline and forces workers to think through all the steps. Handwritten THAs also allow supervisors and site visitors to better understand the tasks being completed that day and to determine whether the workers are complying with their own safety planning.
The best THAs are highly detailed, spelling out even those steps that may seem obvious. Some workers try to generalize and condense steps, and they end up listing jobs instead of the underlying tasks. It’s far more effective if workers write down each step, move to the next column and list the hazards associated with that step, and then move to the next column to describe the mitigation strategy. Once that’s done, they can move to the next step and repeat the process.
Finally, THAs are living documents that should change with the project. They should be reviewed after lunch and any other lengthy breaks in an effort to ensure the information is still fresh in workers’ minds. In addition, a change in task or environment demands the development of a new THA. For example, if new crew members arrive on the job site or the work area changes – perhaps a crew is guiding the placement of steel on one side of a substation and work moves to the other side of the substation – the hazards and work angles may be very different. Before work resumes, THAs need to be developed that reflect the changes.
We’ve heard workers brush aside THAs as just another piece of paperwork, and that’s when we explain why we think the THA is the most important tool they’ll use that day – and why they should never work without one.
About the Authors: Jordan Hollingsworth, CHST, CSP, CUSP, is a lead adviser for Safety Management Group, a professional service organization that provides transmission safety advisers to support capital improvement projects in substations and on transmission lines.
Joe Clady is a safety adviser for Safety Management Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in safety management from Indiana University Bloomington.
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