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Getting to the Heart of At-Risk Behaviors with Facilitative Learning

This educational technique is ideally suited as a resource for those wanting to improve the effectiveness of safety training.
In a recent workshop with a client in southeast Louisiana, a breakout session reached a tipping point. The rhythmic flow of dialogue among the seven supervisors in the group found an unscripted but purposeful path of its own. The task given to the group involved identifying at-risk behaviors or shortcuts likely to occur in their […]

FR/AR Apparel Use: Are Your Workers Properly Trained?

Here are five topics to consider integrating into your team’s protective garment training.
Many workers in the utilities space bravely put their personal safety at risk every day on the job. Facing potential hazards such as arc flashes, flash fires and unpredictable elements of nature, these workers’ personal protective equipment – particularly their garments – is their last line of defense. However, proper apparel use can sometimes be […]

ESG: Health and Safety Obstacle or Opportunity?

Few utility businesses currently meet all of the transformational ESG requirements, placing them at odds with the future of work.
Over the past few years, much has been written and discussed about the role of environmental, social and governance, commonly referred to as ESG. Investors and customers are increasingly applying these nonfinancial factors as part of their analysis process to identify material risks and growth opportunities in the companies they decide to invest in. According […]

Pattern Disruption: Don’t Start with ‘Why’

A simple change in language can lead to more productive incident investigations – and fewer incidents overall.
In the northern latitudes, Mother Nature is deeply vested in a cycle of pattern disruption. The four seasons change the ecosystems and habitats. As the seasons shift in New York, the lake that I live on moves from a warm thermocline with colder layers on the bottom and warmer water on top to the opposite. […]

February – March 2024 Q&A

Q: We were driving ground rods with a hammer drill for a switch pad on a construction site when OSHA inspected the site. OSHA was there to see the general contractor, but they cited our crew for not using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) where we were plugged into the site’s construction temporary. That […]

Game-Planning for Safety

Combine pre-job briefings, two-minute drills and post-job briefings to make job briefings an ongoing process.
Given a relatively equal amount of talent on both sides, the sports TEAM (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) with the best game plan will likely win. Examining what champions – especially those that create dynasties – do well provides us with insight into achieving excellence in safety. Job and Task Hazard Analyses Most champions excel at […]

What’s Missing in Your Training?

Author’s note to readers: Be careful not to judge this article before you finish reading it. Even some members of Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board were concerned the wrong message might be sent. I don’t think so. We have a great history of training and a lot of good trainers in the college-operated programs, the […]

Determining Reasonable Energy Estimates

During a recent audit at a utility, it was discovered that the method used to determine incident heat energy was not appropriate for the utility’s application. Discussions with other utilities and subject matter experts indicate that the methods to determine the amount of exposure are challenging. It is unknown whether these are localized findings or […]

Am I My Brother’s Keeper – Or Not?

I am sure that the safety leaders reading this Tailgate Topic have heard some or all of the following phases: “I’m my brother’s keeper,” “Don’t get hurt,” “Work in a manner that prevents injury,” and “Keep your head in the game.” These phrases are well-intended; they serve as a reminder to keep safety top of […]
Bigfoot Pole Stand

Utility Pole Stand

Bigfoot Construction Equipment offers a new pole stand that allows for the secure and elevated placement of utility poles, making it seamless to place, pick or store the poles. The stand is made of the same custom composite material as the rest of Bigfoot’s quality outrigger pads. That material is one-seventh of the weight of […]
This educational technique is ideally suited as a resource for those wanting to improve the effectiveness of safety training.

Getting to the Heart of At-Risk Behaviors with Facilitative Learning

In a recent workshop with a client in southeast Louisiana, a breakout session reached a tipping point. The rhythmic flow of dialogue among the seven supervisors in the group found an unscripted but purposeful path of its own. The task given to the group involved identifying at-risk behaviors or s…
Here are five topics to consider integrating into your team’s protective garment training.

FR/AR Apparel Use: Are Your Workers Properly Trained?

Many workers in the utilities space bravely put their personal safety at risk every day on the job. Facing potential hazards such as arc flashes, flash fires and unpredictable elements of nature, these workers’ personal protective equipment – particularly their garments – is their last line of defense. However, proper apparel use can sometimes be overlooked or deprioritized, putting workers at greater risk of injury. Whether you’re responsible for a few employees or 1,000, getting your team properly trained in the appropriate use of flame-resistant and arc-rated (FR/AR) apparel helps to …
Few utility businesses currently meet all of the transformational ESG requirements, placing them at odds with the future of work.

ESG: Health and Safety Obstacle or Opportunity?

Over the past few years, much has been written and discussed about the role of environmental, social and governance, commonly referred to as ESG. Investors and customers are increasingly applying these nonfinancial factors as part of their analysis process to identify material risks and growth op…
A simple change in language can lead to more productive incident investigations – and fewer incidents overall.

Pattern Disruption: Don’t Start with ‘Why’

In the northern latitudes, Mother Nature is deeply vested in a cycle of pattern disruption. The four seasons change the ecosystems and habitats. As the seasons shift in New York, the lake that I live on moves from a warm thermocline with colder layers on the bottom and warmer water on top to the …

February – March 2024 Q&A

Q: We were driving ground rods with a hammer drill for a switch pad on a construction site when OSHA inspected the site. OSHA was there to see the general contractor, but they cited our crew for not using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) where we were plugged into the site’s construction temporary. That brought up these questions: Why GFCI? What does GFCI do and how does it work? A: The GFCI or GFI (ground fault interrupter) was invented by University of California at Berkeley Professor Charles Dalziel. A GFCI does not limit voltage; you can still be shocked, but you won’t be ki…
Combine pre-job briefings, two-minute drills and post-job briefings to make job briefings an ongoing process.

Game-Planning for Safety

Given a relatively equal amount of talent on both sides, the sports TEAM (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) with the best game plan will likely win. Examining what champions – especially those that create dynasties – do well provides us with insight into achieving excellence in safety. …

What’s Missing in Your Training?

Author’s note to readers: Be careful not to judge this article before you finish reading it. Even some members of Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board were concerned the wrong message might be sent. I don’t think so. We have a great history of training and a lot of good trainers in the …

Determining Reasonable Energy Estimates

During a recent audit at a utility, it was discovered that the method used to determine incident heat energy was not appropriate for the utility’s application. Discussions with other utilities and subject matter experts indicate that the methods to determine the amount of exposure are challenging…

Am I My Brother’s Keeper – Or Not?

I am sure that the safety leaders reading this Tailgate Topic have heard some or all of the following phases: “I’m my brother’s keeper,” “Don’t get hurt,” “Work in a manner that prevents injury,” and “Keep your head in the game.” These phrases are well-intended; they serve as a reminder to keep s…

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Getting to the Heart of At-Risk Behaviors with Facilitative Learning

In a recent workshop with a client in southeast Louisiana, a breakout session reached a tipping point. The rhythmic flow of dialogue among the seven supervisors in the group found an unscripted but purposeful path of its own. The task given to the group involved identifying at-risk behaviors or s…

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This educational technique is ideally suited as a resource for those wanting to improve the effectiveness of safety training.

Getting to the Heart of At-Risk Behaviors with Facilitative Learning

In a recent workshop with a client in southeast Louisiana, a breakout session reached a tipping point. The rhythmic flow of dialogue among the seven supervisors in the group found an unscripted but purposeful path of its own. The task given to the group involved identifying at-risk behaviors or s…
Here are five topics to consider integrating into your team’s protective garment training.

FR/AR Apparel Use: Are Your Workers Properly Trained?

Many workers in the utilities space bravely put their personal safety at risk every day on the job. Facing potential hazards such as arc flashes, flash fires and unpredictable elements of nature, these workers’ personal protective equipment – particularly their garments – is their last line of de…

Few utility businesses currently meet all of the transformational ESG requirements, placing them at odds with the future of work.

ESG: Health and Safety Obstacle or Opportunity?

Over the past few years, much has been written and discussed about the role of environmental, social and governance, commonly referred to as ESG. Investors and customers are increasingly applying these nonfinancial factors as part of their analysis process to identify material risks and growth op…
A simple change in language can lead to more productive incident investigations – and fewer incidents overall.

Pattern Disruption: Don’t Start with ‘Why’

In the northern latitudes, Mother Nature is deeply vested in a cycle of pattern disruption. The four seasons change the ecosystems and habitats. As the seasons shift in New York, the lake that I live on moves from a warm thermocline with colder layers on the bottom and warmer water on top to the …

February – March 2024 Q&A

Q: We were driving ground rods with a hammer drill for a switch pad on a construction site when OSHA inspected the site. OSHA was there to see the general contractor, but they cited our crew for not using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) where we were plugged into the site’s construction…
Combine pre-job briefings, two-minute drills and post-job briefings to make job briefings an ongoing process.

Game-Planning for Safety

Given a relatively equal amount of talent on both sides, the sports TEAM (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) with the best game plan will likely win. Examining what champions – especially those that create dynasties – do well provides us with insight into achieving excellence in safety. …

This educational technique is ideally suited as a resource for those wanting to improve the effectiveness of safety training.

Getting to the Heart of At-Risk Behaviors with Facilitative Learning

In a recent workshop with a client in southeast Louisiana, a breakout session reached a tipping point. The rhythmic flow of dialogue among the seven supervisors in the group found an unscripted but purposeful path of its own. The task given to the group involved identifying at-risk behaviors or shortcuts likely to occur in their work environment. Participants were also asked to discuss motives for the identified behaviors and strategies for shifting perspectives regarding them. The intent of the three-part exercise, which was deliberately constructed to achieve the resulting outcome, was to pull information from the collective experiences of those in the session needed to improve operational safety. My role in the process wasn’t to instruct but to guide this group learning experience. The described scenario characterizes an educational technique commonly known as facilitative learning. A construct perfectly aligned with the needs of the emerging workforce, the process results in a transformational experience for those involved. Based on adult learning principles, it’s also ideally suited as a resource for those wanting to improve the effectiveness of safety training. Recognize Limitations To recognize the limitations of a traditional chalk-and-talk approach to safety training, one doesn’t have to look very far. Over the course of my career, working with clients across a wide spectrum of industries, I’ve received countless examples of mindless behaviors that resulted in serious injury or death. With rare exceptions, the policies, procedures and standard practices needed to prevent those tragic events already existed. Furthermore, training and qualification processes to verify understanding of defined expectations in job performance were most often in place. And yet, that wasn’t enough. As an example of a firsthand account, a safety director for a co-generation facility in the Southeastern U.S. shared with me details involving the death of a coal unloading operator. The operator had been assigned the role of spotter in the movement of railcars on a neighboring facility. As part of his duties, the operator was limited by procedure – as conveyed through annual training – to walking the track to identify obstructions. The primary role of the spotter was to ensure safe movement of the 120 coal cars being positioned for unloading. At some point during the course of his shift, the operator made the decision to ride on the side of the lead railcar during movement, a time-saving practice that had developed over a period of months and one that other spotters later acknowledged doing themselves. As for the cause of death, the operator attempted to ride on the side of a railcar through a coal-shaker shed where several very narrow clearances existed. In proceeding into the shed, he was caught between the affixed ladder on the lead car and a vertical support beam for the structure, instantly suffering fatal injuries upon contact. The described scenario exemplifies why a better understanding of human behavior is essential and highlights why a new perspective for learning and development is needed, especially in high-hazard working environments. Within every industry, common at-risk behaviors exist. These behaviors are voluntary actions involving elevated or unnecessary levels of risk, incurred for an anticipated benefit that outweighs any perceived cost or consequence. Routinely recognized as taking shortcuts or chances in the performance of a job, at-risk behaviors occur far more frequently than we may realize. They are often viewed as involving poor judgment and are highly representative of our irrational nature. In many instances, they’re precursors to serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs). If a shift in behavior is needed, a facilitative approach is well worth considering. But while most SIFs are the result of at-risk behaviors, most at-risk behaviors don’t result in harm or loss. This juxtaposition is a primary reason why traditional instructional models have limited effect on behaviors. When a chance or shortcut is taken without harm or loss, the behavior is reinforced. When the behavior results in an anticipated benefit, it’s intrinsically rewarded. This outlined process is a slippery slope upon which bad habits form. The role of habits is commonly overlooked in the administration of workplace safety. It’s also seldom accounted for during instructional design. Training techniques used most often in the workplace are instructional by nature. A subject matter expert conveys knowledge that trainees are expected to retain, recall and later apply. While facts, figures and information are important, they’re not inspirational or moving for adults. This is especially true when information received is counter to actual experience. As humans, we process information in several fundamentally different but important ways. Knowledge received for the purpose of shaping thoughts is handled primarily by the neocortex region of the brain. This “thinking” brain, as it’s often described, processes analytical data, logical reasoning and higher-order content well. In contrast, the limbic region or emotional brain is where automatic and intuitive responses originate. The source of feelings, the emotional brain handles exponentially more information than the thinking brain and operates routinely on autopilot, below our threshold of awareness. The limbic region is also where most real-time decisions are made each day. To improve the effectiveness of learning and development, it’s important for instructional designers to account for how conveyed information is received and processed. Most importantly, we must focus more on influencing decisions and less on controlling behaviors. As a rule of thumb, while knowledge makes you think, it’s emotions or feelings that lead to action. Create a Shift A goal of facilitative learning is to create a shift in how employees feel about a topic, situation or circumstance. Instead of focusing on content shared by a subject matter expert to inform, emphasis is placed on the learning process and the collective experiences of those in the session to influence. This shift in design transfers primary responsibility for learning from a central authority figure or subject matter expert to the participants involved in the learning cohort. Emphasis is placed on creating dialogue involving actual scenarios, specific to challenges faced, and promoting discourse on possible options in response to them. When effectively executed, this process surfaces the consequences of at-risk behaviors through the collective accounts and experiences of the learning participants. If we could rewind the hands of time, the opportunity to reach those lost on the job wouldn’t involve doing more of the same. Impacting those suffering harm or loss to the degree required to alter their course of behavior would require a shift in perspective, something knowledge and information alone likely wouldn’t do. To impact perspectives, we would need to focus more on the why, not the what. This redirection in strategy requires reaching the heart – not just the head. For anyone interested in facilitative techniques and open to giving them a try, there are several important points of distinction worth noting. An instructor presents information from a lesson plan whereas a facilitator guides the learning process. In a workshop setting, an instructor’s goal is to provide the right answers. A facilitator focuses on neutrality and providing the right questions needed to prompt dialogue, discovery and reflection. As for achieving desired outcomes, an instructor is responsible for determining what students need to know. In a facilitated session, participants work with the facilitator to determine what information and skills they need to obtain. Aside from the benefits facilitative learning offers in helping shift perspectives to reduce at-risk behaviors, the collaborative nature of the process also aligns with management practices most preferred by Gen Z. Whereas a traditional instructor-led training session is authoritative by its very nature, facilitation is participative. The incoming generation’s most preferred leadership style and management practices are participative. Learn More As for learning more, there are numerous resources available. OSHA offers a 52-page brochure titled “Resource for Development and Delivery of Training to Workers” (see www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/osha3824.pdf). The document covers principles in adult education, highlights the criticality of past experiences among participants, and outlines the role of facilitators in leading workplace safety discussions. Other options available on the web include resources from both public and private organizations. While some content is free, access to other information is available only through purchase. For more formal training in facilitative learning, check with local universities or community colleges, especially those with teaching or educational curricula. While some may offer only on-campus instruction, others will offer online or other remote options for participation. Whether or not you subscribe to one learning theory over another really isn’t important. Having more tools in your kit is. If growth or improvement is desired, changes in strategy are in order. Recognizing and responding to developmental needs more holistically is a key to success and ultimately what we should all be striving to do. Where it doesn’t now exist, facilitative learning is a resource in learning and development well worth considering. About the Author: Joseph White is the director of AEU LEAD, a management development company specializing in the specific needs of frontline supervisors. He has more than 30 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont, where he led a task team assembled to develop the next generation of safety practices using advancements in neuroscience as a foundational basis. Reach White at joe.white@aeulead.com.
Here are five topics to consider integrating into your team’s protective garment training.

FR/AR Apparel Use: Are Your Workers Properly Trained?

Many workers in the utilities space bravely put their personal safety at risk every day on the job. Facing potential hazards such as arc flashes, flash fires and unpredictable elements of nature, these workers’ personal protective equipment – particularly their garments – is their last line of defense. However, proper apparel use can sometimes be overlooked or deprioritized, putting workers at greater risk of injury. Whether you’re responsible for a few employees or 1,000, getting your team properly trained in the appropriate use of flame-resistant and arc-rated (FR/AR) apparel helps to ensure that they will return home safely at the end of every shift. In the remainder of this article, we’ll explore five topics to integrate into your team’s apparel training so that your workforce is knowledgeable and prepared. 1. Workplace Hazard Assessments It is critical to assess job-site hazards and their potential severity to determine what kind of garments are needed. Among the many common hazards facing utility workers are thermal hazards, chemical exposures and outdoor environmental hazards. Thermal Hazards Arc flashes typically occur in environments where energized electrical equipment is present and there is both a gap between conductors and a breakdown in the insulation. Workers who are responsible for opening electrical enclosures or working on live equipment are at risk of experiencing an arc flash. Gas service utility workers may be exposed to flash-fire risks during certain tasks. A risk assessment for thermal hazards for the tasks to be performed should be completed by qualified safety personnel. Chemical Exposures Chemicals such as insulating oils may be on-site and pose potential hazards. Workers who are responsible for handling such chemicals are at risk for exposure to leaks and spills. If a risk of intermittent chemical exposure exists, use of coated FR disposable coveralls worn over proper FR/AR clothing may be appropriate. If FR/AR garments become heavily soiled with flammable contaminants, they must be replaced with clean garments and laundered properly to remove contaminants. Outdoor Environmental Hazards Poor visibility conditions due to time of day or weather may require workers to don high-visibility FR/AR apparel. To determine the proper apparel for the conditions, heat and cold stress hazards must be assessed. In addition, be sure to confirm that the proper insect repellent best practices are being used by your team. Some repellents are flammable and should not be applied to FR/AR clothing. 2. Understand the Standards From NFPA to ANSI, the world of standards can begin to look like alphabet soup. Consider supplying trainees with a glossary of terms and breaking down the specific garment-related standards and regulations designed to protect them from work-related hazards. Doing so will help to make it easier for trainees to learn about and truly understand the standards that apply to them and their FR/AR garments. The following are some of the most common apparel-related standards utilities workers should know. For electric utility workers, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l)(8)(v) states that the “employer shall ensure that each employee exposed to hazards from electric arcs wears protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the heat energy estimated under paragraph (l)(8)(ii) of this section whenever that estimate exceeds 2.0 cal/cm2.”  All FR/AR garments should meet ASTM F1506 requirements and list the arc rating in cal/cm2 on a label on each garment. The wearer must make sure the AR garment or layered FR/AR clothing ensemble has an arc rating (or a layered arc rating) greater than the potential estimated incident energy exposure based on the arc flash hazard assessment. Utility gas service personnel at risk of flash-fire exposure should be aware that the best protection is provided by FR clothing that meets the certification requirements of NFPA 2112. An NFPA 2112 label or tag in the FR garment indicates that it has been third-party certified to meet the NFPA 2112 requirements, providing both validated protection and peace of mind. For all utility workers working in poor-visibility outdoor conditions, ANSI 107-compliant labeled garments/vests meet high-visibility performance requirements. Be aware that the high-visibility garments worn must also have appropriate FR/AR garment labels as indicated above. 3. Know What You’re Wearing If the goal is greater adoption of and personal pride in safety apparel, workers should know what’s protecting their bodies. During onboarding, spend ample time reviewing the required PPE for trainees’ jobs. Consider in-person wear trials to make sure employees feel comfortable in the apparel. Trainers should also spend time walking through the construction of the materials and the types of fabric used in the garments so that employees have a deeper knowledge and understanding of their last line of defense. If you’re responsible for sourcing PPE, a daily-wear FR/AR program may be a worthwhile investment for your team. This takes away one barrier to proper apparel use: relying on busy workers to take time out of their workday to change their clothes for a new task. While daily-wear programs are commonplace for electric utility workers, that is not necessarily the case for gas utility workers, so again, it is strongly recommended to consider a daily-wear program over a task-based clothing program. 4. Review the Basics In a perfect world, everyone would wear their PPE properly every day with no issues. But as we all know, we don’t live in a perfect world. One simple safety solution is to review the basics on a regular basis. Consider including signage on the job or providing a cheat sheet in work vehicles that asks workers these questions:
  • Are your garments fully buttoned?
  • Are your garments tucked in as necessary?
  • Are there any rips or holes in your garments?
  • Does every garment layer you’re wearing meet the appropriate FR/AR requirements?
5. Develop and Encourage a Culture of Safety Safety leaders know it takes vigilance and consistency to keep safety top of mind. Employers bear the lion’s share of risk in most electrical hazard situations. They are responsible for not just creating a safe environment but also communicating with and properly training workers regarding the hazards they could face on the job. Regular and consistent communication can play a major role in the proper use of PPE. NFPA 70E states that employers are responsible for flagging any hazards that might not be recognizable to employees and ensuring they’re instructed on how to mitigate that risk. Communication between employers and employees is key, so when performing job briefings, a proper PPE reminder should be on the agenda. Training utility employees in the proper use of FR/AR apparel is a regulatory necessity, but beyond that, it’s a crucial step in ensuring the safety and well-being of the workforce. Successful, comprehensive training programs are designed to educate workers on understanding FR/AR apparel, assessing workplace risks, learning about the apparel material and basic use, and fostering a safety culture. As utility companies invest in the training and development of their employees, they contribute to both individual safety and the overall success and resilience of the industry. In closing, continuous improvement in safety practices should not simply be a goal; it’s a responsibility that every utility organization must embrace to protect its most valuable asset – its people. About the Author: Scott Francis serves as a technical manager for Westex: A Milliken Brand. He earned a master’s degree in inorganic chemistry and has been involved with the safety industry since 1991, gaining extensive experience in protective apparel fabrics and programs. Reach him at scott.francis@milliken.com.
Few utility businesses currently meet all of the transformational ESG requirements, placing them at odds with the future of work.

ESG: Health and Safety Obstacle or Opportunity?

Over the past few years, much has been written and discussed about the role of environmental, social and governance, commonly referred to as ESG. Investors and customers are increasingly applying these nonfinancial factors as part of their analysis process to identify material risks and growth opportunities in the companies they decide to invest in. According to research from the Weinreb Group, in publicly held U.S. companies, the position described as chief sustainability officer has grown from 29 such officers in 2011 to 183 in 2023 (see https://weinrebgroup.com/2023-cso-report-press-rele…
A simple change in language can lead to more productive incident investigations – and fewer incidents overall.

Pattern Disruption: Don’t Start with ‘Why’

In the northern latitudes, Mother Nature is deeply vested in a cycle of pattern disruption. The four seasons change the ecosystems and habitats. As the seasons shift in New York, the lake that I live on moves from a warm thermocline with colder layers on the bottom and warmer water on top to the opposite. In the coldest months, the top of the lake freezes entirely. The ground freezes, too, while the monarch butterflies leave and many of the birds fly south. But even those pattern disruptions – the four seasons – become a rhythm, an expected ritual during which we trade lawnmowers for snowblowers and put away the outdoor furniture, only to reverse those actions when the weather becomes warm once again. You may already know that the human brain loves rituals and patterns. That’s because the brain is challenged by any unexpected disruptions and must work harder to address them. At only 2% to 3% of a person’s body weight, the brain utilizes more than a quarter of all the body’s resources, essentially making it a gas hog. Using heuristics, or rule-of-thumb reasoning, makes thinking quick and easy with low cognitive load – which pleases the brain. In the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” author Daniel Kahneman describes the human brain as having two systems. System 1 uses shortcuts and heuristics to make quick decisions. System 2 is slower, engaging in deeper, more deliberate thought. Because the brain wants to operate with the lowest cognitive load possible, we like things that make immediate sense, and they don’t even have to be correct; we accept them when they seem to be logical and then we move on. It’s not surprising, then, that as soon as we find a ritual that makes sense to us, we build fortresses around it to hold that ritual or belief safe. Take religion, for example. If we are Catholic and believe in Catholic rituals, we build Catholic churches. If we are Methodist and believe in Methodist rituals, we build Methodist churches. Muslims build mosques, followers of Judaism build temples, and so forth. Humans love rituals because they please our brains and help us make sense of the world. Why Not Start with ‘Why’? Simon Sinek is well-known for his book titled “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.” And in analyzing incidents, we often use the 5 Whys. There’s a reason asking why is so popular, and that’s because it seems like a logical approach when trying to determine the causal factors behind an incident. But does using that particular word produce the answers we’re looking for? Asking why makes sense to us because it has become a ritual in our industry – and that is a problem. As noted above, when something makes sense to our System 1 brain, we move on because it seems logical, even if it’s not correct. Kahneman’s math problems in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” are good examples of this. Here’s one of those examples to consider: Five machines can make five widgets in five minutes. How long does it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? The first number to jump to many people’s minds is 100 minutes – although the correct answer is five minutes. But once the wrong answer enters your mind, your System 1 brain is done. It doesn’t want you to expend energy calculating for a different answer since it already has one it believes is logical. And so it is with starting with why. Doing so sounds reasonable and simple, not to mention that we have created an entire incident investigation system around asking why. That means it must be the correct ritual, right? Here’s something else to think about: The research and logic behind James Reason’s Swiss cheese model are sound, but the model with all the holes in the cheese lining up is not entirely sound. We love that model because it is easy to understand. All we need to do is adjust the cheese or add more layers to prevent an occurrence from happening again. However, the reality is that the Swiss cheese model is modeling an anomaly. Events don’t often happen in a straight line, and it is exceedingly rare that all the holes line up. But we still create layers of protection for something that likely will not happen. Start with ‘How’ and ‘What’ Instead of asking why something happened, perhaps we should start by asking how it happened – and then pinpoint the small course corrections that would have eliminated the event altogether. The time we spend on controlling risk might be better spent on predicting risk since that is what the human brain is designed to do. Humans operate in autopilot mode during much of our day, acting subconsciously based on our life experience. There is one problem, though. When we haven’t had certain experiences, we are considered experientially blind to the potential outcomes of those experiences. That means our brain does not subconsciously consider how to mitigate those potential outcomes. So, what caused something to happen may be as simple as we didn’t know or believe it could happen. As a species, we can choose our rituals. Keep in mind, however, that our power to change the future exists only in the present. The trouble with asking why is that it puts us in the past. Yes, we can learn from our mistakes. The problem is language. As soon as we start asking why questions, the person to whom the questions are directed moves toward becoming defensive. Defending our position usually requires us to justify and rationalize why something made sense to us – when it’s possible that we simply didn’t know how things might turn out due to our experiential blindness. Those why questions mean we are now spending lots of time in the past. Asking “how” and “what” questions, on the other hand, moves us into forward thinking. Our choice of language can both open and close doors. Here’s an example of a “clean” language question that might be asked after an incident has occurred: When you decided to use that piece of equipment, what was that for, and what did you want to have happen? Note that asking questions using the words and phrasing that have come from the person you are asking opens the door to a psychologically safe conversation. On the other hand, when we ask why questions – that we often already know the answer to – or when we lean toward our predetermined beliefs, we are adding our bias to the conversation. And again, why questions automatically create a defensive posture in the person being questioned regardless of our intentions. It is easy for a person to interpret “Why did that make sense to you at the time?” as “Why would that have made sense to you at the time?” The latter question adds judgment with use of the word “would.” Our brains can easily convert the question to a feeling of shame or blame. Implying or flat-out telling people that they are lazy, unintelligent or incompetent puts them in both defense mode and a lower cognitive state – neither of which does anything to foster a productive conversation that will help determine what happened to allow an incident to occur. Further, consider for a moment that the implied message of, say, putting everyone in cut-resistant gloves is this: If our workers were capable of learning to not cut themselves, we wouldn’t have to force them to wear these gloves. Now, let me ask you, when your child burned their hand on that hot pan in the kitchen, did you mandate that they wear flame-resistant gloves from that day forward? In truth, it is rare that any of our workers are lazy, unintelligent or incompetent. By using language that displays curiosity and interest, rather than judgment and blame, we are operating closer to our highest potential. One Small Change If you were to take an improv class, you would likely learn that two of the best words to create conversational flow are “Yes, and …” (e.g., “Yes, and when your team made that decision, what did you think was going to happen next?”). The ritual we have adopted in our industry – asking why – may be outdated and not as effective as asking how and what. Incident investigations should not solely be about figuring out what we did wrong; they should also be about understanding what was driving the decisions behind the actions. More than 40 years of being a ski instructor has taught me not to focus on what a skier is doing wrong but instead on the small movement or adjustment the skier needs to make to improve. With pattern disruption, you make one small change and everything else changes. Change nothing and, well, nothing changes. So, if you want to effect change, consider starting with a change in language – because sometimes language can set us back in our effort to move forward. About the Author: Bill Martin, CUSP, NRP, RN, DIMM, is the president and CEO of Think Tank Project LLC (www.thinkprojectllc.com). He has held previous roles as a lineman, line supervisor, project manager and safety director. Author’s Note: This article was inspired by “Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say – and What You Don’t” by L. David Marquet.

February – March 2024 Q&A

Q: We were driving ground rods with a hammer drill for a switch pad on a construction site when OSHA inspected the site. OSHA was there to see the general contractor, but they cited our crew for not using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) where we were plugged into the site’s construction temporary. That brought up these questions: Why GFCI? What does GFCI do and how does it work? A: The GFCI or GFI (ground fault interrupter) was invented by University of California at Berkeley Professor Charles Dalziel. A GFCI does not limit voltage; you can still be shocked, but you won’t be killed if the GFCI is successful. In a tool or appliance circuit, the GFCI operates at the speed of light when it senses a current imbalance between the hot side of the circuit and the circuit’s neutral side. Let’s get basic and use the example of a drill motor. First, most drill motors today are double insulated with no external conductive parts that can become electrified. Those drills have two-wire plugs and are marked as double insulated. Plugs with the third pin are called grounded plugs and used when the external case of an electrical appliance could become energized if there is a fault in the appliance. The ground wire in the electrical cord is internally connected to the metal housing of the drill. Under normal operation, the drill motor draws a finite amount of current through the motor. If the electrical circuit in the drill shorts out or becomes defective, that condition can electrically charge the conductive housing of the drill. Grounding of the drill-motor housing creates a fairly resistance-free pathway back to the circuit source. The resistance-free pathway causes a high current on the circuit, tripping the circuit breaker and removing the continued exposure risk caused by an energized drill housing. Ground wires don’t route current away from the person holding the drill. If you are holding it when it short-circuits, you can still be electrocuted even if the circuit breaker trips very quickly. That is where the benefit of the GFCI comes in. GFCIs are designed to trip before a short circuit can deliver enough current into the circuit to electrocute the worker holding the drill. Normally, the power current going to the drill is the same level of current as the neutral current returning to the source through the circuit breaker. The GFCI has a balancing coil in both the hot wire and the neutral wire. As long as the currents are equal, the coils hold a magnetically held spring-loaded switch closed and the circuit breaker stays operating. If current leaves the path through the motor, a net change occurs in the hot circuit and the neutral circuit, releasing the magnetic hold into the spring. If that change is greater than 3 to 5 milliamps, a spring-loaded switch is tripped, opening the circuit. The intent is that the GFCI opens before the current leaking into the drill housing or appliance can become great enough to injure the user. Q: Our sales rep told us blast blankets are required in energized manhole work. Is that accurate? A: Blast blankets are not required by any particular rule and certainly not by OSHA. The employer may choose to use blast blankets as a method of protecting employees from the electrical arc blast that could occur in a cable failure, but that depends on the hazard analysis and the choices the employer has to protect employees. Distance from a blast source, likelihood of a blast, condition of cables, work being conducted, and types of cable or bus in the manhole all have a role in the hazard analysis. A blast blanket does not necessarily solve the hazard of an arc blast. Poorly installed blast blankets have been reported to be the mechanism of injury when a blanket blew away from a fault, striking and injuring a manhole occupant. Another reported incident occurred due to the concentrated blast energy that was directed outside of the open end of a wrapped blanket. We don’t have a simple solution; it’s certainly not throwing in a blast blanket because it’s a hot manhole. You should study the application, uses and limitations of blast blankets and perhaps use them as part of a system of protection for workers. Q: If we have double circuits, one at 34.5 kV and one at 13.8 kV, can workers have both Class 2 and Class 3 gloves, or do they have to use the gloves rated for the highest voltage? Can they change them for the voltage they are working? A: Because somewhere a reader is going to say that “cradle to cradle” means one pair of gloves unless you cradle and then change, let’s clear that up right away. Cradle to cradle is a legitimate working policy that has value but is not required by OSHA. Cradle to cradle, ground to ground and lock to lock are all methods of increasing the safety buffer in hot work. These policies have existed sporadically in some form across the industry, but they became more popular with employers when they were adopted and published as best practices by the OSHA Electrical Transmission & Distribution Partnership. Obviously, Class 2 gloves tested for use at 18 kV would not meet the phase-to-ground 19.9 kV of a 34-kV circuit. Gloves must meet the voltage exposure. If you enter the minimum approach distance of an uncovered bus, you are exposed and required to don gloves for the exposure voltage. If a crew has 34 kV and 13.8 kV on the same structure, there is no reason two classes of gloves could not be issued in the same bucket and changed as needed. When you back out of the MAD for the 34 kV, it would be legal to remove the Class 3 gloves and don the Class 2 gloves before you enter the MAD for the 13.8 kV. Some readers may protest this line of thinking, but we are simply stating the requirements of insulate or isolate under OSHA rules and industry standards and practices. Whatever method the employer chooses, they must be able to defend it as compliant with the minimum standards required by OSHA. We suggest that your training and policy documents require that, when changing gloves, the workers in the air call out the glove change and the workers on the ground reply, acknowledging that a glove change is occurring. Q: What would you suggest as appropriate PPE for hydro-vacuuming around hot cable? We are aware of companies that require arc-rated clothing, and insulating personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves and dielectric footwear) seems common. We have also seen EPZ requirements for this work. Do any organizations require arc-rated face shields? A: PPE requirements are always based on an assessment of the hazards involved with the work. The whole idea of hydro-vac is to avoid damaging underground facilities. Good practices typically require a good cable location and depth determination, followed by routing the vac operation from outside toward an undermining cable to prevent any contact with the cable. Still, there are obvious risks involved that require protection of the operator. If a worker has their hands on a vacuum chute in the ground, they might have an exposure if the vacuum contacts energized cables. In that case, voltage-rated rubber gloves would certainly be required. Footwear protection would also be a consideration since a circuit would be made from vacuum chute to worker to ground. It is also reasonable to assume an arc flash could occur below the worker, resulting in a heat rise out of the vacuum hole, so an arc-rated shirt and arc-rated pants might be required. As to EPZ, grounding the vac truck might be in order. If the vacuum blows up a cable, grounding the truck will help to speed the clearing of the circuit’s protective devices. Grounding the truck will not protect a worker who is not on an equipotential mat bonded to the truck. Q: When does OSHA require that we place a circuit on non-reclose? We have been operating under the assumption that non-reclose is not required if we are working behind fuses. A: It is probably a mistake to assume a lateral fuse negates the need for a one-shot on the feeder, and this is not true. All you need to do is look at your breaker relay curves and lateral fuse curves to see that a breaker will trip and reclose on instantaneous before many lateral fuses will clear. An instantaneous is about the speed of light, but even a speed-of-light reclose is a lifetime at 30,000 degrees. Non-reclose limits the duration and thus the exposure. The other mistake is to assume customer convenience is more important than lineworker safety. Many utilities are concerned that a non-reclose might cause an outage if some other part of the circuit has a tree branch strike a lockout feeder, so they want to limit non-reclose use. We must be very careful to judge the relative difficulty and hazards associated with live-line work in comparison to the needs of the users on the circuit. OSHA is not too wordy when it comes to when to use non-reclose, except on two occasions. One is found at 29 CFR 1910.269(q)(2) regarding stringing in an energized environment, and the other is found at 1910.269(q)(3) regarding barehand live-line maintenance. You will see much discussion on non-reclose as a way to prevent transient overvoltage (TOV) during live work. That typically applies to transmission. TOV is not an issue below 72 kV. Following is a reference from the National Electrical Safety Code that the nature of the work typically determines when non-reclose is used. Non-reclose is used most often on distribution when:
  • Pulling conductors near or over/under live circuits.
  • Transferring dead-ends or moving conductors.
  • Gloving distribution.
  • Replacing insulators.
  • Climbing above distribution.
  • Maching out jumpers and removing or installing jumpers.
  • Setting poles in conductor.
  • Climbing and working on distribution.

This educational technique is ideally suited as a resource for those wanting to improve the effectiveness of safety training.

Getting to the Heart of At-Risk Behaviors with Facilitative Learning

In a recent workshop with a client in southeast Louisiana, a breakout session reached a tipping point. The rhythmic flow of dialogue among the seven supervisors in the group found an unscripted but purposeful path of its own. The task given to the group involved identifying at-risk behaviors or s…
Here are five topics to consider integrating into your team’s protective garment training.

FR/AR Apparel Use: Are Your Workers Properly Trained?

Many workers in the utilities space bravely put their personal safety at risk every day on the job. Facing potential hazards such as arc flashes, flash fires and unpredictable elements of nature, these workers’ personal protective equipment – particularly their garments – is their last line of de…
Few utility businesses currently meet all of the transformational ESG requirements, placing them at odds with the future of work.

ESG: Health and Safety Obstacle or Opportunity?

Over the past few years, much has been written and discussed about the role of environmental, social and governance, commonly referred to as ESG. Investors and customers are increasingly applying these nonfinancial factors as part of their analysis process to identify material risks and growth op…
A simple change in language can lead to more productive incident investigations – and fewer incidents overall.

Pattern Disruption: Don’t Start with ‘Why’

In the northern latitudes, Mother Nature is deeply vested in a cycle of pattern disruption. The four seasons change the ecosystems and habitats. As the seasons shift in New York, the lake that I live on moves from a warm thermocline with colder layers on the bottom and warmer water on top to the …

This educational technique is ideally suited as a resource for those wanting to improve the effectiveness of safety training.

Getting to the Heart of At-Risk Behaviors with Facilitative Learning

In a recent workshop with a client in southeast Louisiana, a breakout session reached a tipping point. The rhythmic flow of dialogue among the seven supervisors in the group found an unscripted but purposeful path of its own. The task given to the group involved identifying at-risk behaviors or s…
Here are five topics to consider integrating into your team’s protective garment training.

FR/AR Apparel Use: Are Your Workers Properly Trained?

Many workers in the utilities space bravely put their personal safety at risk every day on the job. Facing potential hazards such as arc flashes, flash fires and unpredictable elements of nature, these workers’ personal protective equipment – particularly their garments – is their last line of de…
Few utility businesses currently meet all of the transformational ESG requirements, placing them at odds with the future of work.

ESG: Health and Safety Obstacle or Opportunity?

Over the past few years, much has been written and discussed about the role of environmental, social and governance, commonly referred to as ESG. Investors and customers are increasingly applying these nonfinancial factors as part of their analysis process to identify material risks and growth op…
A simple change in language can lead to more productive incident investigations – and fewer incidents overall.

Pattern Disruption: Don’t Start with ‘Why’

In the northern latitudes, Mother Nature is deeply vested in a cycle of pattern disruption. The four seasons change the ecosystems and habitats. As the seasons shift in New York, the lake that I live on moves from a warm thermocline with colder layers on the bottom and warmer water on top to the …