Last month, we discussed safety and recognized that it is of fundamental importance to the electrical supervisor. The supervisor is at the heart of any job safety program. The electrical supervisor’s fundamental role in regard to safety is to ensure a safe work environment and to ensure everyone within that environment works and acts safely. In order to be able to fulfill this role, the electrical supervisor has several responsibilities.
First, a supervisor must be trained and up-to-date in safety. When flight attendants review airplane safety procedures before takeoff, they always tell passengers to put the oxygen mask on themselves first and then take care of anyone accompanying them who might not be capable of putting on the mask. The message is clear: If you do not take care of your own needs, you cannot help anyone else.
Second, a supervisor must be familiar with government, company, client and project safety programs, in order to develop a unique safety program. Third, a supervisor must train employees continuously, formally and informally. Finally, a supervisor must reinforce the learning and enforce the rules.
Stemming from these responsibilities are a number of activities in which an electrical supervisor must engage. The first is providing safety orientation for new workers. New workers on the site are in the highest risk category for accidents. They may be very experienced workers and highly skilled craftspersons, but when they arrive on a new job, they need to be oriented to that specific job to help them successfully traverse this initial high-risk period.
The training should include understanding job-specific safety procedures, especially emergency procedures. They need to know safety rules and requirements. They also must understand any hazards specific to this job, and they need to be introduced to the supervisor’s job-specific safety plan.
Another supervisor responsibility is continually developing safety awareness. The supervisor should hold regular toolbox safety meetings and keep these meetings interesting and relevant. Another way is to look for and always comment on unsafe practices, whether among their own workers or by others on the site. In addition, supervisors should look for ways to reward safety innovations. It is too easy to fall into the trap of admonishing for poor behavior and forgetting to recognize and reward good behavior. Lastly, electrical supervisors must be vigilant, always looking for unsafe job conditions. They should enlist the participation of all workers. Sometimes they should even carry out specific safety inspections. It is amazing how much more you see when you are specifically looking for safety issues rather than trying to notice safety problems while dealing with other concerns.
Admonishment for unsafe behavior is rarely adequate. Enforcement of rules, policies and procedures is essential if a safety program is to be taken seriously. Safety awareness should make all workers aware of the rules and the consequences for infractions of the rules. Enforcement must follow discovery of an infraction if the safety program is to retain its integrity. Consistency in enforcement is essential, both for the integrity of the program and to avoid discriminatory practices, which leads to another set of problems.
Conditions or behaviors that could lead to an accident need to be dealt with immediately and decisively. Eliminate unsafe conditions in your jurisdiction. Report unsafe conditions outside your jurisdiction, and review and report on compliance by your subs, suppliers and other visitors to your project. Recommend improvements to the job safety program at any level that you or your workers identify. Anyone who has a real concern for safety appreciates recommendations for improvements to safety programs.
If there is an accident, incident or near miss, report it immediately. Then follow up with an investigation that focuses on identifying and eliminating the causes. The primary purpose of an investigation is to determine why the incident occurred and what could have been done to prevent it, so that it never happens again. If the focus is on placing blame, the investigation is impeded by those involved, whether they are responsible or not, and much of the value of eliminating the root cause(s) of the incident is lost.
Finally, the supervisor needs to support safety training for the workers, making sure all workers have adequate and appropriate training for the tasks they are assigned. Investments in training have been documented to pay back many times over.
Next month’s article will continue with the focus on safety by looking at, identifying, and then removing or mitigating unsafe job site conditions.
ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at email@example.com.