It’s particularly satisfying to craft a safety program from the ground up—one that emphasizes practical and hands-on training and prepares electricians for real-life hazardous situations instead of just informational pieces that “leave it up to your imagination.”
So says Abbey Strickland, a certified occupational safety specialist and the health and safety manager at Strickland Electric Inc., a Muskogee, Okla.-based company founded in 2010 by her father, Audie. Strickland shared what led her to a career in safety and how to best handle challenges as they arise.
What sparked your interest in getting into the field of electrical safety?
I’ve always wanted to go into a profession that would allow me to help people in a meaningful way and be creative. Growing up, I was usually the voice of reason and suggested better ways of accomplishing a task with the least amount of risk. My father established Strickland Electric around the same time I finished high school. I worked for him in other roles while pursuing a different degree. When it came time to pick a major, I came across occupational health and safety management and knew it was going to be my career.
Working for a small business has given me the chance to help write policies and procedures instead of implementing what had been in place. Being the daughter of an electrician also gave me an upper hand in understanding electrical safety.
What safety training is important for employees?
Practical and hands-on training is a high priority when dealing with electricity. Videos, slideshows, pictures and stories leave it up to your imagination. When a hazardous situation arises, knowing what to do may not be enough. Physically handling equipment such as full-body harnesses and lanyards, fire extinguishers, ladders, etc., is remarkably more comprehensive. Refresher training is just as important as the initial training. I utilize the site-specific health and safety policies of each customer and integrate it into ours.
How do you encourage crews to take safety seriously on the job?
In my experience, creating relationships with employees is essential to having their buy-in. I like to explain why certain rules are in place for better understanding and to deter resistance. I ask employees to assist me in looking for safety violations, encouraging safe behavior from their co-workers and teaching me about things that I might have missed on a walk-through. I take being a health and safety manager seriously and have a passion that I think translates better than signs, slideshows or reciting regulations.
What challenges do you face in managing safety responsibilities for your company?
During my studies, I was taught that rules and regulations are meant to be black and white, even though that is not always possible. In the field, there are many situations that do not have specific guidelines, or job-site areas that do not meet the requirements of implementing safety precautions. These instances are challenging and require critical thinking, especially regarding production with foremen, project managers, customers and other contractors. Workers’ safety is often an afterthought when changes have to be made.
What resources do you find useful in your training?
First and foremost, being familiar with the objective of the training. And it’s important to review information directly from the websites of the products, equipment and devices that our electricians use. I also collaborate with other safety professionals via various social media groups, fellow university alumni, the American Society of Safety Professionals, Women in Safety Excellence, NECA, the National Safety Council and the Oklahoma Safety Council as well as with friends and family.
Do you have any advice for a new safety professional entering this field of responsibilities?
I would encourage new safety professionals to become more knowledgeable about the electrical industry. Be open and accepting of criticism or praise, ask questions, show interest, let the employees know that you are there to assist them and be friendly. Safety professionals are not always well received, as they are technically not managers or skilled trade workers. Understanding processes and exactly what employees do on a day-to-day basis is the cornerstone of being able to implement an effective safety program and get management buy-in.
Header image by Abbey Strickland.