How do you dispel the perception that the Safety Guy OR Gal is the enemy? With persistence and patience, so everyone in the company strives to do their jobs safely and effectively, according to Kelly Butler, safety coordinator for Preferred Electric Co. Inc., Charlotte, N.C. Butler shared how he came into the safety field and detailed best practices to ensure that all employees go home safely.
What sparked your interest in getting into the safety profession?
I have been a union electrician for more than 35 years. I was given the opportunity to step into a safety coordinator position when the company I was working for at the time took a project that required full-time safety on-site. I received training in OSHA and NFPA 70E. I also received “train the trainer” in the Core 4 equipment that we use: scissor and boom lifts and rough terrain and counterbalance forklifts.
I have always had an interest in safety, and being in the electrical industry this long has given me the chance to see it evolve from the days when working energized circuits and equipment was commonplace, to where the NFPA 70E has taken us with workplace practices to ensure an electrically safe working condition.
What challenges do you face in managing safety responsibilities for Preferred Electric?
Some of the challenges that we face in our industry are the older, more experienced individuals that are set in their ways and are not as receptive to new policies and procedures. The younger generation does not have old habits to break and are more receptive. Often you will see the younger setting the example for the older. Bringing our older generation up to new standards and teaching the younger generation proper safety procedures and techniques to carry us into the future.
How do you get workers to take safety seriously?
I encourage our crews to take safety seriously by using my own experiences as an example—from being shocked working on energized circuits that I should not have been, to walking off a scaffold 12 feet high.
What safety practices have been effective?
Our safety department works closely with management to develop methods of procedure, or MOPs, to ensure that our field employees are trained, informed and capable of performing the given task. A review of these MOPs is done to see if there is any room for improvement.
Employees attend continuing education courses throughout the year regarding a wide range of topics to keep them current with the latest safe work practices and technology to efficiently complete their tasks. We conduct in-house certifications for OSHA 500, NFPA 70E, first aid and CPR, hazardous environments and fall protection.
Has a specific injury or almost-injury that changed how you thought about safety on the job?
One incident that I was informed of involved a scissor lift overturning in a parking garage. Two employees suffered serious injuries. It piqued my interest in safety and the importance of training, proper inspection and use of equipment. It also made me aware of how important fall protection is and the advancements made in this area.
Do you have any other advice?
My advice to other safety professionals would be persistence and patience. It takes time to build a relationship with employees and gain their trust to get them on board with safety. So many people see the “safety guy/gal” as the enemy, and we are not. Our job is to ensure that we are doing our job as safely and effectively as possible. I feel that the future of safety in our industry lies with the younger generation and instilling safety culture in from the beginning.
Since being founded in 1984, Preferred Electric has grown to become one of the largest electrical subcontractors serving the Charlotte area, with a team comprised of more than 250 field and support staff.
The company has a diverse portfolio, including its specialty, interior office upfits, as well as data centers, retail/mixed use, commercial service maintenance and commercial construction. Over the years, Preferred Electric has developed a reputation with its customers for providing superior quality services, while keeping up with the industry’s leading technology and safety standards.