I would like to ask those of you reading this article to reflect on your professional life in 2018. What was different from previous years? Was safety at your company better, worse or about the same? As I sit and write this article during the first week of October 2018, I know that so far this year, the electric utility industry has suffered more than 20 fatal accidents and over 30 serious flashes and contacts. I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and the end of the year, but I pray no one else gets hurt.
The fact is, our industry has suffered extremely high numbers of fatalities since around 2013. The last I heard, in 2017 we had 45 fatalities between investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, contractors and municipals. NIOSH and EPRI started doing research in the mid-1990s through approximately 2006, and they found that the electric utility industry recorded 24 to 28 fatalities each year. The causes of those fatalities included contacts, falls and vehicle accidents.
What continues to amaze me is that our industry has the investigation and root cause analysis measures to identify why accidents keep happening, but we fail to implement the measures available to us to prevent recurrences of these types of accidents. The majority of fatalities occur during energized line work, yet they keep happening. Why? On one hand, while it’s true that lineworkers are some of the best trained craft workers out there, even the most seasoned lineman is human and can make an error in a moment of stress, or if his mind wanders or for any number of other reasons.