Most electric utilities created safety teams more than a decade ago. Often, companies formed not only one team but rather multiple committees for electrical distribution, transmission, metering, underground and substation. However, chances are that many of these teams are underperforming.
In my experience, I've found that quality safety teams are the exception rather than the rule. At most utilities, safety teams meet at regular intervals, but they're often not sure what they should be doing or how it should be done.
The fact is that utility workers like linemen, substation mechanics and meter professionals are trained to work with their hands. They have great physical skills, such as climbing poles, operating equipment and making things work. They are adept at job planning, hazard recognition and simply getting things done. That being said, these same men and women are not always as effective at setting safety committee team goals, drafting an effective agenda or leading an effective safety team.
Electric utility professionals need a clear path to safety committee success. That path begins with a safety committee Monthly Awareness Plan (MAP). The following is the outline for a monthly plan guaranteed to get your committee focused and get results.
Begin the Drive
To begin the MAP process, the committee must brainstorm ideas using the following questions: Where are the workers taking shortcuts? What are the biggest hazards and exposures? What safety rules are most important and which ones are neglected? What training does the company need?
Twenty minutes of brainstorming can produce 100 or more possible topics, such as rubber gloves, minimum approach distances, grounding, slip and trips, ice and snow, and defensive driving. Once the committee has finished brainstorming, pick 12 from the larger list that the members feel are the most important. Then match one hazard to each month to give you 12 safety themes for the year. The committee should have the discretion to change a theme if needed. This preplanning session, however, will help you to establish a preliminary framework for the year.
Shift into Gear
For each theme, the committee should develop a MAP, which should include the following five action items:
- Spread the word
To raise awareness of safety and your monthly theme, try taping a note to a locker, creating stickers for linemen's hard hats, or displaying awareness items in trucks or at workstations.
- Get your team involved
During a weekly safety meeting, you should involve the entire group through a game, activity or exercise. For example, if your topic is rubber gloves, have the work group bring their rubber gloves to the safety meeting and then follow the proper steps for testing them. Or, if the topic is rubber cover up, bring some line hose and blankets to the safety meeting, have the attendees inspect them and award a prize to the one who finds the pin hole.
- Bring in an outside safety speaker
Invite an individual from outside of the work group to share his or her insights on the monthly theme. It might be a subject-matter expert from the community (police officer, doctor), an individual from another part of the company or another worker who can share a near-miss story. Learning about the topic from an outside speaker keeps the message alive.
- Distribute at least one type of safety educational material during the month
For example, pass out a quiz, crossword puzzle or other educational game. These tools can be used during a safety meeting to educate the group on the monthly theme.
- Hand out at least one safety awareness item
Committees should consider giving a tangible item to bring continued awareness to the monthly safety theme. For example, a Nestlé Crunch candy bar can be used to remind coworkers not to be caught in a “line of fire” crunch. The point is to keep the awareness high and get the group talking.
Once each activity, speaker and involved safety meeting is chosen, assign responsibility for each activity to members of the committee. This ensures the task is completed on time.
In the end, to foster safety committee success, we must create involvement, teamwork, high energy, focus, communication around the most important hazards and the drive to change behavior. The safety committee MAP process can do all of that and more. The only real question is: Are you ready to open the MAP?
Matt Forck (firstname.lastname@example.org), a certified safety professional, worked as a meter reader and journeyman lineman, and was a member of his utility's safety staff. Today, as the president of K-Crof Industries, he speaks and consults on utility safety. Learn more at www.thesafetysoul.org.