In the transmission and distribution world, we don't often get back our lost opportunities. Our work is unforgiving. One safety mistake is life changing, not only for the one making the mistake, but also for his or her family and coworkers. Yet, within our experiences and those of our coworkers, there are hidden secrets to safe work. The key is to find them and use them. Below are five hidden secrets that I have discovered.
Safety Secret 1: Always ground equipment. Unfortunately, in the utility business, workers are injured and killed when equipment contacts distribution lines and linemen on the ground are in contact with that equipment. Years ago, I was the lead on such an incident, analyzing a fatality that resulted when a worker received a fatal electrical contact from a piece of equipment. The equipment had contacted a distribution line while a worker was in contact with the equipment.
While reviewing the incident, we studied equipment grounding practices and read white papers written by leading experts. One of the engineers wrote, that in his experience, he has never known of a fatality resulting when a grounded piece of equipment contacted a line. The point is that linemen shouldn't debate whether or not to ground the equipment. Instead, they should know their rules on proper grounding and just do it.
Safety Secret 2: You pay when you get hurt. A couple of years ago, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released one of the more-comprehensive studies on the dollars associated with one year of personal injuries. The report revealed workplace injuries occurring in 2000 cost a combined $505 billion.
Yet, the true takeaway from that report was the personal financial impact of a workplace injury on an employee. The CDC looked at the traditional costs paid by the employer such as medical costs, physical therapy and workers' compensation. In addition, for the first time ever, they were able to put a dollar amount to the loss of wages, a reduction in fringe benefits and standard of living due to an injury. These are costs that each individual person and his or her family will shoulder. In the end, the study showed that for every dollar an employer pays for an injury, the worker who was hurt will pay three dollars, and that's a secret worth remembering.
Safety Secret 3: Be an educated lineman. Several years ago, when I was a very young journey line worker, I was working with a seasoned crew leader and an apprentice. We were terminating underground residential distribution cable in a new subdivision. I had just finished a weeklong school on undergrounding and subjects included cable terminations, so I took time to train the apprentice about proper terminations.
When it came time to clean the cable, the old salty crew leader, with six times more field experience than both me and the apprentice, grabbed a can of lubricant and sprayed the cable. I had just learned that using lubricant as cleaner can degrade the cable, so I voiced my opinion. The crew leader looked at me, threw the can in the ditch and said, “That's all we need now, educated lineman!” The truth is that our work is changing every day, and the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our safety is to be educated linemen.
Safety Secret 4: Know the rules. Shortly after I was promoted into a safety role for a utility, I was performing some job inspections, and I pulled up on a crew working on some 34.5 kV. The six linemen on the job had more than 150 years of combined experience. I noticed, however, that something was wrong with how the line was grounded. We stopped work and huddled up. I pointed out the fact that the line wasn't grounded according to the rules. They looked at me like I was nuts, agreeing simply, “This is the way we have always done it.”
Over the tailgate of a truck, we opened the rule book and learned the proper way to ground the line. When the crew was returning to work, one of the guys asked me if this was a new rule. We looked back at the rule book and found that the section had not been revised for two decades.
Safety Secret 5: Fight for your own safety. This scenario, or something like it, is repeated across the utility industry hundreds of times each day. A safety supervisor will show up on a job and discover a few issues that aren't “right.” It could be something thought to be minor, such as a lineman not wearing safety glasses, or it could be a major violation, such as inappropriate cover up. In either case, the safety supervisor will stop the job, call the crew together, and explain the rule violation and why it's important. The crew members will then tell the safety supervisor why they can't comply. Rather than arguing against your own safety, be responsible for it. If someone is trying to give you feedback, don't fight it because the person is trying to help you.
In the end, grounding, the true cost of injuries, education, knowing the rules and fighting for your safety are all key elements to safety success. They are good reminders, hidden secrets if you will, to safe and productive work.
Matt Forck (firstname.lastname@example.org), a former journeyman lineman and certified safety professional, directs K-Crof Industries LLC, an organization specializing in safety keynote presentations, training and safety consulting services.