Since 1994, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (www.esfi.org) has promoted electrical safety across North America by facilitating public education throughout the year and observing National Electrical Safety Month (NESM) each May. The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) contributes to the foundation and is represented on ESFI’s board of directors.
Like this important ally, our organization promotes electrical safety every day. However, NECA contractors also like the idea of focusing on avoiding and abating electrical hazards into a month-long campaign. We like it so much that NECA has established an NESM tradition of our own.
I am referring to the annual NECA Safety Professionals Conference (NSPC), presented in May with support from Westex, a leader in flame-resistant fabrics manufacturing and a NECA Premier Partner.
The purpose of the NSPC is to bring up-to-the-minute information on regulations, compliance, management techniques and standards development to the people who manage safety and health programs or have similar responsibilities within NECA-member companies—project managers, human resource professionals, safety professionals, supervisors and anyone else responsible for safety oversight. Electrical construction is subject to rapid shifts in technology, techniques and corresponding changes to the codes and standards that govern our daily work. It is essential that the people we make responsible for our company’s safety performance have all the information they need to do their jobs.
Like its predecessors, the sixth annual NSPC in Chicago offered plenty of information that can be applied on the job immediately. As always, the speakers and educational sessions reflected the wide diversity in interests, professional roles and skill levels among the participants. Again this year, the NSPC featured programs specific to line contractors and others targeted to the inside segment of our industry.
Many sessions grappled with the question of who is responsible for project safety. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Randy Cadieux gave the keynote address about team leadership and teamwork. Cadieux is the founder of V-Speed LLC, a risk management, leadership, resilience and human performance consulting and training organization. He discussed taking safety out of the safety department, describing some of the responsibilities for employee safety incumbent on organizational leaders and managers. He and other conference speakers made it clear that all project stakeholders—employers, workers and customers—bear responsibility for creating and maintaining safe construction workplaces. Levels of obligation and specific duties vary, of course.
The Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) contends that, “Project owners are the best candidates to lead the construction industry toward consistent achievement of safe projects” and should bear the greatest burden. CURT’s view has not been adopted universally, but a beneficial trend involving customers as members of the safety team is taking hold across the industry. It’s all about improving information exchange and building better working relationships between contractors and customers, including mutually beneficial relationships that extend beyond the duration of the project.
Recent revisions to applicable standards are spurring on this trend in the electrical industry with the force of law. For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s newly updated Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution standards (1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V) contain tighter provisions, requiring host and contract employers to share information on safety-related matters and coordinate their work rules and procedures. Before those standards, NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, was revised with requirements that should provide for closer interaction between host employers and contractors to the benefit of both.
To reiterate, NFPA 70E mandates that all covered employees be retrained on the standard at intervals not to exceed three years, and the employer must document the content of this training as well as who received it and when. Retraining is triggered sooner if noncompliance is determined. Similarly, employers and contractors are required to audit their electrical safety program content at least every three years to ensure compliance with 70E. Additionally, NFPA 70E requires host employers to hold and document a formal meeting with contractors brought in to work on electrical equipment and systems.
These new provisions provide us with new opportunities to make our customers understand why we do what we do and thereby get them to improve their compliance with NFPA 70E. If we can assist them in conducting those required annual inspections, help them establish good electrical safety programs, meet the new paperwork rules, and even provide required employee training, we have opportunities to offer better value-added services.
That’s a new way of thinking, but it reinforces a very old concept: Safety pays!