May is National Electrical Safety Month. The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) commends the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) for sponsoring this annual observance to educate key audiences on preventing electrical fires, injuries and fatalities in the home and workplace. NECA, which is represented on ESFI’s board of directors, is observing National Electrical Safety Month, too.
Aside from NECA chapters leading and participating in celebratory events in their communities, however, this month isn’t that much different in terms of our association’s focus on electrical safety. It’s a subject we deal with every day.
Not surprisingly, much of NECA’s work in raising safety awareness and developing resources to help electrical contractors achieve safety excellence involves the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one way or another. The Electrical Transmission and Distribution Partnership is an example that links NECA and OSHA at the highest level, directly working together to achieve specific mutual goals.
I have already told you that the T&D partnership has identified the most prevalent and severe hazards in line work and has incorporated those findings into specialized training delivered to thousands of line workers, and to apprentices enrolled in NECA-IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) programs. The partnership has also developed recommended best practices on several high-voltage safety topics and recently came up with a ninth one to add to the collection at www.powerlinesafety.org: “Safety at Heights,” which involves work positioning and fall protection equipment for wood poles and steel structures. OSHA’s new e-Safety online tool directly references several of the best practices and links to the site.
If not an actual production partner, OSHA is at least the inspiration for many other NECA safety resources. These include all those items based on NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. This standard was created at OSHA’s behest to cover the full range of electrical safety issues and provides a template for complying with all of the agency’s electrical-safety mandates. Thanks, OSHA! NECA is grateful for NFPA 70E; it’s at the heart of the national standing policy we adopted last fall to promote zero-energy work environments as the normal and best practice because that practice saves lives.
Another potential lifesaver is the latest NECA safety resource—the Electrical Contractor Safety Program manual and CD. It was created to help contractors comply with a host of rules that OSHA enforces as part of its mission to safeguard workers from known hazards. (More information on this resource can be found on page 123 in this month’s “NECA Notes” section.)
Of course, not all current and proposed OSHA rules are equally effective in improving worker safety. When they’re not helpful, we call OSHA on it. A recent case in point is the comments NECA presented in response to OSHA’s resurrected proposal to add a column on its Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) to identify musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
We told OSHA that this focus on injuries heavily influenced by nonwork-related lifestyle issues and personal habits will be a disservice to our electricians and linemen. Contractors will tend to report otherwise unrecorded injuries to avoid citations, giving a false impression that workplace injuries are on the rise, but it won’t really do anything to protect workers on the job. We also told OSHA that “our concern is reinforced by the fact that the medical community has always had difficulty in pinpointing the sources of injury related to MSD,” one of the considerations that doomed the MSD proposal when the agency first raised it 10 years ago.
Now, you might conclude from the previous paragraph that NECA has a love/hate relationship with OSHA. But that’s not quite right. OSHA is a previous recipient of NECA’s Industry Partner Award, and our relationship is one of mutual respect. We share the same goal: We want workers to go home safe and healthy every day.
However, NECA is also the advocate for an industry made up of pragmatic, level-headed people who are keen judges of what works and what doesn’t. Taking this same pragmatic approach to safety, we will continue to work with OSHA. We’ll help each other develop and disseminate safety tools that work.
But, if the agency proposes rules or initiatives that don’t work to improve safety, we’ll counter with our insights and advice. Keeping each other focused on attaining mutual goals and overcoming distractions is what good partners do.