Tom is a legend in the utility industry. The electrical foreman, who is set to retire after 40 years in the field, is well known for his high demands, ability to motivate his crews and his knack for safety awareness.
Years ago, he gave me a small plastic ring about the circumference of a quarter. As a city slicker, I had no idea what purpose it served. I quickly learned that this device called a “chicken ring” was used to mark chicken's legs and necks, signifying that they would live another day.
Tom, however, bought the green chicken rings by the bushel for an entirely different purpose. As he conducted a job briefing or safety talk, he would insist that his workers take a chicken ring or two. Linemen slipped these rings on hard hats, boots, door handles, steering wheels and bucket controls.
This green chicken ring had a simple yet powerful meaning: circle of safety. The following are five keys to using this approach to heighten linemen's safety awareness.
- Be mindful of changing conditions
After a job is finished, yet before they drive to the next job, linemen must perform a complete walk around of the work site and vehicles to make sure their load is secure, bin doors are closed, and all tools are picked up and properly stored. Linemen need to perform a circle of safety before they back up their vehicles because they can't see what's behind them.
Case in point: Joe was in a hurry, and he needed to pick up some materials for the next job. He buzzed into headquarters, parked his bucket truck and dashed inside. He quickly returned with a handful of material, which he put away in the driver's-side bin. He thought about a circle of safety, but reasoned that he had been there less than five minutes. He then climbed into the cab and backed out directly into another truck parked in his blind spot.
- Expect the unexpected
By not being mindful of the area around a work truck, linemen can also put themselves as well as others at risk. For example, I remember hearing of an old troubleman who completed a job in the backyard of a home. He then walked from the work location to the front yard and to the street, where his truck was parked. He knew he would need the same tools for the next job, so he set his tools on the passenger floor board. He did not walk around the truck. Instead, he jumped in and drove to the next job. As he got out of his truck, he heard a crying sound coming from the back of his truck. He ran to the rear of the truck to find a young boy lying there in tears.
It turns out that while the troubleman was in the backyard working, the young boy was playing on the truck. When the troubleman returned, the boy panicked and froze, remaining on the truck. The incident could have been tragic if the child had chosen to jump off the moving truck. The whole incident could have been avoided by a simple walk around.
- Survey the work area
For years, the utility industry has promoted a circle of safety when backing up a utility truck and before climbing a pole. In fact, the principles of a circle of safety can be applied to just about any situation.
For example, before you begin a task, walk through the work area to identify any hazards, and then address and resolve them. If linemen could use this formula on each job, they would have a formula for safety success and injury prevention.
- Eliminate hazards
The circle of safety encourages that we not only identify hazards, which is the first key step to safety, but it requires that we also eliminate them. Through this circle of safety, maybe the next generation of utility workers won't have tragic stories to share like our generation does.
For example, as a former safety professional for a utility, I have several stories of tragedies that have occurred out in the field. The one incident I'll never forget, however, is when a crew inadvertently raised a boom into a 12-kV phase. When the phase made contact, a worker on the ground was getting material off the truck, and he received a fatal electric shock.
The linemen on that job had more than 100 years of combined experience. Everyone on the job saw the overhead wires and where the truck was parked. The energy source was the only thing that could have caused serious injury or death. While it was recognized, it was not eliminated with a rubber cover. As a result, the crew lost a co-worker and friend that day.
- Hand out reminders
One of the keys to performing a circle of safety is awareness. Utility workers need constant awareness, and one of the best ways to create awareness is through a visual reminder like a chicken ring.
Just like Tom, other utility professionals also can make a significant impact in the safety of their workers by teaching the circle of safety. By keeping our people safe through simple yet memorable awareness activities, we can ensure that our crew members can leave work as healthy as they arrived.
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.