Job planning is key to finding and eliminating hazards. This is true not only in the utility industry but in all industries. For example, in the first five months of 2008, the tower industry was saddened and rocked by seven tragedies. The seventh occurred on May 22 as a young man named Joe Reed was climbing a tower outside of Miami, Florida. He fell off the tower and lost his life that day.

In response to these workplace fatalities, the National Association of Tower Erectors took the lead by sponsoring a webcast for more than 320 of its members. The message was simple: Hazards must be identified, communicated, then controlled and managed. The best way to do that is by identifying hazards through a job briefing or tailgate session before work begins.

In addition, OSHA outlines five key elements to be covered in the briefing: hazards associated with the job, work procedures involved, special precautions, energy source controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.

The only problem with OSHA's outline is that it can be very hard for linemen to remember in the field. Here is a new approach for job briefings: the S.A.F.E. model. As always, please compare this model to your respective safe work rules. If possible, however, use the following tips to help ensure that you can go home safely at the end of each day.

S: See and say all of the hazards. A few years ago, I sat in a safety committee meeting with a substation group as my cell phone rang. Because I wanted to pay attention to the meeting, I sent the call to voice mail. The phone immediately rang again, and I reluctantly answered. It was the regional dispatcher. “Electrical contact Matt,” the voice said. “A boom contacted an overhead line. Two men are down.”

As I arrived on the scene and gathered facts, I learned that a crew had positioned a truck near a line to complete a routine job of setting a pole and transferring phases. The first task was to simply frame the pole. Unfortunately, in the process, the boom contacted the line. The overhead line was the one and only hazard on the job that could have drastically changed or ended a life.

In the end, a good person lost his life on that day, and the lives of the crew, a work group and families were changed forever. This incident could have been prevented by seeing and saying hazards before work began. Before beginning a job, linemen must ask themselves, “What are the primary hazards and what can change my life on this job?”

A: Ask what did I miss? Anyone who has climbed a pole, exposed underground cable or driven a staple has both heard and told stories regarding hidden hazards. These hard-to-find hazards are everywhere on our job sites.

Linemen and utility workers must find and eliminate these hazards. After identifying any of the obvious hazards, they must next dig deeper, ask probing questions and consider such factors as approaching darkness or changing weather or traffic conditions.

F: Follow all rules. It seems that the utility industry as a whole has prescribed to the profound words of Larry the Cable Guy, “Git-R-Done!” After all, we know we have a lot of work to do, so we don't feel the need to sit around and talk about it. Yet, that is exactly the point. After we have identified the hazards and probed deeper for hidden hazards, we need to take the next step and talk specifically about safe work rules, procedures and PPE. There will be plenty of time to Git-R-Done once everyone on the crew is on the same page.

E: Pay attention to energy source controls. With all of the hazards and rules that apply to line work and utility work, have you ever taken a moment to consider why OSHA set energy source controls as a stand-alone category within job briefings? They did so because of the life-changing or life-ending effect of a mistake or shortcut in this category.

Line switching, workers' protection assurance, lock out/tag out and other procedures can add lengthy time to a task that only takes a few minutes. Linemen need to remember that in line work, however, a line is not dead until it's tested and grounded. In job-site briefings, linemen must follow all the proper procedures and discuss all of the energy source controls to stay safe. It's that simple.

Lack of job planning plays a role in many serious injuries and fatalities. For that reason, it is crucial for line crews to always schedule a job briefing before work begins. Doing so will allow linemen to begin each job safe and finish strong.


Matthew Forck (matt@thesafetysoul.org), a journeyman lineman and certified safety professional, directs K-Crof Industries, LLC, an organization specializing in safety keynote presentations, training and safety consulting services. Download free safety tools at www.thesafetysoul.org.