Electrical contracting firms should have a comprehensive safety and health program in place. One key component is field observation.
A field observation or audit is a proactive measure to prevent job-related incidents through the identification of potential hazards and at-risk behaviors. This includes identifying unsafe actions and conditions through systematic observations of the workplace. This practice can provide information to help predict and avoid incidents by identifying hazardous behavior and taking corrective action in real-time. However, field audits can also be used to reaffirm safe behaviors and shed light on properly mitigated hazards.
Lagging and leading
According to NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, “In order to evaluate a system, you need to know where you started and how far you have come. Metrics are measurable points to determine performance. They also can be used to determine if improvements are required and, if so, what needs to be changed. Two common metrics are used to determine effectiveness: lagging and leading. Lagging metrics provide a reactive view of a safety program. Leading metrics are used to identify and correct contributing factors before an incident occurs. A combination of these metrics can enhance a safe work program.”
As a result, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(a)(2)(iv) requires employers to make field observations. This regulation indicates, “The employer shall determine, through regular supervision and through inspections conducted on at least an annual basis, that each employee is complying with the safety-related work practices required by this section.” The standard is applicable to lineworkers, substation workers, generation electrical workers, meter personnel and relay technicians.
Field audits are typically made by a safety management professional or a supervisor. OSHA’s Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs indicate that in an effort to identify and assess hazards, employers and workers should: collect and review information about the hazards present or likely to be present in the workplace; conduct initial and periodic inspections of the workplace to identify new or recurring hazards; investigate injuries, illnesses, incidents and close calls/near misses to determine the underlying hazards, their causes and safety and health program shortcomings; group similar incidents and identify trends in injuries, illnesses and hazards reported; consider hazards associated with emergency or nonroutine situations; and determine the severity and likelihood of incidents that could result for each hazard identified, using this information to prioritize corrective actions.
When conducting field observations, it is important to look for and identify overhead powerlines, ensure safe approach distances are observed and follow all lockout/tagout procedures when necessary. It is also absolutely critical employers and workers are familiar with the hazards associated with working on or near live electrical equipment, the dangers of wet working conditions and the risks and proper safety protocols for working at heights.
Observers and workers should regularly inspect and maintain tools and equipment. It is also imperative to ensure equipment is properly grounded and used in accordance with manufacturer guidelines. Any damaged or improperly working tools must be tagged and removed from service.
Additionally, workers should be provided with and wear appropriate PPE. Electricians and electrical workers should always wear eye protection, arc-rated clothing, nonconductive footwear and insulated gloves rated for electrical work to prevent electrical shock when required.
NFPA 70E says, “In order to evaluate a system, you need to know where you started and how far you have come. Metrics are measurable points to determine performance. They also can be used to determine if improvements are required and, if so, what needs to be changed.”
Finally, when conducting field observations, inspectors may also take note of efficacy of communication, team commitment and overall safety culture. Taking pictures during the process can be helpful in identifying hazards or dangerous behavior not immediately obvious at the time of the inspection.
The field audit should be recorded and the findings shared with the workers. Keep, track and maintain the information. Problems identified during the observation may need to be addressed or incorporated into the employer’s overall safety and health program. For electrical workers, it is important to also ensure that the program is up to date and in line with NFPA 70E.