According to Jeff Cordill, director of safety and risk management at Christenson Electric Inc. in Portland, Ore., the key to a successful career in safety within the line contracting industry is building trusting relationships with those in the field in a way that benefits everyone—and not just turning the safety gig into a compliance job.
Cordill shared his experiences in the profession and best practices for overcoming common challenges and changes in the line industry.
How did you get into the safety field and what do you like best about it?
I got into the safety world about 12 years ago after working in the field as an inside wireman for many years. I was approached to fill a safety role at a large job site on the West Coast and was recruited into this area of the field from there. It was not my original plan, but it has been a great ride, and I look forward to working where I am for many more years to come.
What do I like best? Every day is different—it’s construction. It’s the ability to see things being built from start to finish and providing the crews with the best tools to remain as safe as possible so they can go home to their families at night.
Have safety policies and procedures for line work changed over the years, and if so, how?
Yes, safety policies have definitely changed. One example would be the use of fall protection going from safety belts to safety harnesses, which are far superior for keeping workers safe. Also, I tell the crews that regulations come about after serious injuries or property damage have occurred, so workers will understand that new regulations are necessary. Furthermore, new policies are now much more engaging and are, in fact, results of incident reviews, and as such, they can better get the attention of workers to take them seriously.
As the head of safety for lineworkers, what are the biggest challenges and how do you approach them?
The biggest challenges are just the daily challenges that are faced by line crews. Fortunately, though, most lineworkers that I deal with have Type A personalities with a can-do spirit, which is a great asset to have given those daily challenges that are faced by line crews.
It’s also challenging when lineworkers drive equipment in an unsafe manner. They should treat equipment as if they own it—it is what helps make them successful.
Another challenge is the high turnover rate of employees who are just chasing the money—that makes it hard to have consistency of the crews.
Any advice for professionals just getting into the safety field?
I would advise new safety professionals to stay focused at first on building relationships in the field. This allows you to get to know what the line industry really does, how they do it and what they expect in return from us in safety. It is a partnership, and too often I see the safety professional make the mistake of being into compliance more than building trusting relationships that can benefit everyone.
Cordill has worked at Christenson Electric since 2010 and manages workers’ compensation claims, training, OSHA compliance, recordkeeping and hazard analysis, while updating safety policies and procedures. He graduated from Portland State University in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and affairs.
Founded in 1945 as a family business, Christenson Electric is an electrical contracting company that provides services in electrical construction, instrumentation, lighting, high-voltage utility, network cabling, telecommunications services, specialty systems, hydropower and more.
The company has expanded its territory throughout the United States and successfully completed projects in New York, Texas, Kansas, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado and Idaho.
Christenson Electric is home to a workforce consisting of more than 400 people and has become one of the largest electrical contractors in the Northwest.
With a commitment to integrity, respect, quality, safety, innovation, customer service and teamwork, Christenson Electric uses these core values to relate to customers and motivate employees.